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Monday, August 8, 2011
2011 college football landscape: Expansion

By Ted Miller

The big story in college football heading into this season is change. The conferences are dramatically different heading into 2011 than they were just a year ago.

Of course, we're talking about expansion -- and contraction in some cases -- which the Pac-12 was on the forefront of because, well, the conference was the Pac-10 last year and thereby changed more than anyone else.

The Big Ten, which was once 11 teams, is now a 12-team league with the addition of Nebraska. And still it's called the Big Ten.

The Big 12, which was once a 12 teams, is now a 10-team league with the subtraction of Nebraska and Colorado. And is still called the Big 12.

This, of course, is bat-pooh stupid, but perhaps counting is an overrated skill.

The Mountain West now features Boise State, late of the WAC. BYU, spurned by the expanding Pac-10, took its football and bolted the Mountain West to become an Independent. TCU will bolt the Mountain West for the Big East next fall.

The Pac-12 -- new owner of 12 teams; thus the new moniker -- added Colorado of the Big 12 and Utah of the Mountain West and then signed the biggest TV contract in the history of the universe. The college football universe, at least.

But you know all of this. The question going forward is how expansion makes the Pac-12 better, other than revenue.

And by better we mean on the field. We mean winning national titles, which the conference hasn't done since USC won two in a row from 2003-04.

Do all these changes -- within the conference and, tangentially, outside the conference -- bring the Pac-12 close to hoisting the crystal football, the BCS championship trophy?

The short answer is maybe.

Because it is now a 12-team league, the conference has split into North and South Divisions and will play a championship game. Nine of 13 BCS titles have been won by 12-team leagues that played a championship game.

Of course, seven of those are from the SEC and none from the ACC in its 12-team configuration (Florida State won in 1999 when the ACC had nine teams; Miami won in 2001 as a member of the Big East).

So 12 teams has been dandy for the SEC. Not so much for the ACC, an academically elite conference that better compares to the Pac-12.

What a 12-team league with a title game does do is present an extra opportunity for a team to distinguish itself. If the nation is comparing unbeaten or 1-loss teams for one of the top-2 spots in the BCS standings, a victory in the title game over a highly rated conference foe from the opposite division could bolster a Pac-12 team's chances.

Or, an unbeaten or 1-loss Pac-12 team could faceplant in the title game and end up not playing in any BCS bowl at all, as a, say, 3- or 4-loss Pac-12 team goes to the Rose Bowl as a upset winner.

Further, the Pac-12 is continuing to play a nine-game conference schedule even though that no longer provides a true round-robin format. That ensures the conference will hand deliver itself an extra six losses every season, losses the SEC, ACC and Big Ten (until 2017), which play eight-game conference schedules, will not be burdened with.

The nine-game conference schedule not only severely damages the Pac-12's national title hopes, it also lowers the annual number of bowl-eligible teams.

On the other hand, if the Pac-12 features a number of ranked teams -- say five or six -- and a champion emerges unbeaten or with one defeat, it should stand in good stead in the BCS standings.

So, again, the answer is maybe.

The newly expanded Pac-12 might have a better shot at winning a national title than the old Pac-10 did. And it also might not.

But you know what the real secret will be?

Recruiting good players and coaching 'em up. That would really help the Pac-12's chances.