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Big 12 Expansion: Breaking Down the Top Options

Houston Cougars 
Two years ago, the College Football Playoff was ushered in with tremendous success. The inaugural Playoff had the debate and controversy (TCU, Baylor and Ohio State), while also setting up wonderful matchups between powerhouses like Alabama, OSU, Florida State and rising Oregon. However, it made one thing very clear: conference championships were going to be very important. TCU and Baylor who did not play a conference championship were hopped over in the polls by Ohio State, who used a dominant showing in the Big Ten Championship to get in. The Big 12, the only member of the "Power Five" conferences that doesn't have a conference championship game, soon realized they would need one to really compete with the cash-making machines of the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12. The addition of two or even four schools would give them the guaranteed number of teams for a championship game (12+). The conference is in a precarious position, with Oklahoma and Texas both known to explore other alternatives and some staple members ditching for greener pastures over the past few years (Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado). Even so, the conference has a number of options it can add for expansion. Here are the best options, with their pros and cons to joining the Big 12:

Houston Cougars, American Athletic Conference
Houston's football program has quickly risen to national relevance under head coach Tom Herman, winning 13 games and the Peach Bowl last year. They will be perhaps the best Non-Power Five team in the nation this season, and would compete with the Big 12 if they were placed in it. Houston is a great market for the Big 12 to expand, and even if Herman takes another job, coaches can recruit the rich talent that grows there. That would help instill the Cougars as a power player in the Southwest, and a good fit in the conference. Basketball hasn't been great lately, but has a rich history and a big name head coach in Kelvin Sampson. Obviously that could change, but it is still a program that could compete in the Big 12, contrary to what TCU has done in its first few years. Geographically, Houston makes even more sense, as they are right in the heart of where the Big 12 calls home with Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all within reach. If I were to pick a program today, Houston would make the most sense and inject some life into the conference.

Cincinnati, American Athletic Conference
Cincinnati has boasted a successful football program for years now. Names like Brian Kelly and Butch Jones have ascended to major heights by using the consistent Bearcats as a base. The Bearcats also have great recruiting opportunities, nestled right in the hotbed that is Ohio and the other surrounding areas. That hotbed would give them the athletes necessary to compete in the rugged Big 12. Cincy's basketball program has also been consistently strong, becoming an every-year player in the March Madness field. Mick Cronin is back healthy, so the Bearcats will likely be playing great basketball for awhile, and would match up well with Kansas, Texas, Iowa State and West Virginia. Another advantage to Cincinnati would be their location, which would help connect West Virginia more, by bridging the distance between many of the members.

BYU, Independent in Football, West Coast Conference in Basketball
BYU made waves a few years back when they opted to become an independent in football and move to the West Coast Conference in basketball. They have always been consistently strong at football, with some big names passing through the school over the years. They would immediately bring a strong program to the equation in the Big 12, and one built to last. They have been solid in the WCC over the years in basketball, although the conference has still primarily run by Gonzaga. The program still recruits well and has strong stability so well a move to the Big 12 would be a step up, they would adjust. BYU is great on paper, but they are far away from the main campuses of the Big 12 in Texas, as they are over in Provo, Utah. They are also greatly different from many Big 12 schools in the culture of the school and its fans. That could pose possible problems down the line. Even so, BYU would still be a strong fit, even though adjustment may be awkward at first.

UCF, American Athletic Conference
The Big 12 could very well try to expand their markets eastward into Florida, at UCF. The Knights attract decent attention from viewers in Orlando and Miami, and would bring a tropical appeal to the conference. The football team went 0-12 this past season, but was consistently great in the AAC and C-USA before that. It recruits pretty well, and could still play with teams in the Big 12. The question would be basketball, as UCF has never boasted much of a basketball team, although new head coach Johnny Dawkins can win. Central Florida may not have the reputation or history of a BYU, but they would be popular because of their destination and unique style.

UConn, American Athletic Conference
It may be an awkward fit being all the way in the Northeast, but University of Connecticut is still a strong possibility. The Huskies have proven they are a college basketball powerhouse, with two national titles over the past few years. However, they have been unable to get much respect playing in the AAC, a shadow of the old Big East. A move in basketball could give us some great new rivalries between powerhouses (imagine a Kansas-UConn battle twice every year!). Football-wise UConn has been downright mediocre over the past few seasons, but the program has had some success, as they made a Fiesta Bowl a few seasons back under Randy Edsall. Football may have a tough time adjusting, but basketball could carry them.

Boise State, Mountain West
For years, Boise State has been a constant name for expansion. The Broncos have been a lovable underdog, beating down opponents in the weak WAC and Mountain West, and giving us some magic against the blue bloods of the sport. They have proven they can win even through a coaching change (Bryan Harsin is in Year 3) and a move to another conference. Back when the Big East was falling apart, Boise State was a serious name, and this move would be relatively similar. The basketball program's success has also helped Boise. The program had always lagged beyond football, but has made a few NCAA Tournaments and become much stronger under Leon Rice. They would fit well in the Big 12.

Other Options
Colorado State, Mountain West
SMU, American Athletic Conference
Marshall, Conference-USA
South Florida, American Athletic Conference
Tulsa, American Athletic Conference
Memphis, American Athletic Conference

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