Happy Conference Realignment Day. On this day, July 1, 2014, another round of realignments are scheduled to finally take place. It seems like this happens every year, and every year certain teams benefit more than others. Texas A&M and Missouri both benefitted from the move to the SEC, but West Virginia’s move to the Big 12 has yet to show anything positive. Here is a ranking of the top 5 teams with the most to gain from switching conferences.
5. Appalachian State- FCS to Sun Belt
A good season their first year in FBS could make a lot of noise for one of FCS’s most successful programs. However, the Mountaineers looked much less prepared for the jump to FBS after last year’s 4-8 debacle, but there’s not too much to worry about. A jump to the Sun Belt, with many teams who just came from FCS as well, should make things easier. A case could be made that Appalachian State has an easier schedule this year than last year. Georgia Southern is joining the conference with them, and Georgia State joined last year. Both schools recently came from FCS, and Georgia State, which began football in 2010, went 0-12 last year in the Sun Belt. They are also both on Appalachian State’s schedule. The schedule also includes other weak Sun Belt teams such as Troy, South Alabama, and Louisiana Monroe. They also have a meeting with Idaho, who was 1-11 last year, and FCS schools Liberty and Campbell. Liberty, Campbell, Idaho, and Georgia State should all be wins, and if they can sneak in 2 to 4 more wins, it will do wonders for their profile and recruiting at that level. The Mountaineers have much more to gain than lose by this move.
4. Georgia Southern- FCS to Sun Belt
Like Appalachian State, Georgia Southern’s schedule doesn’t get that much harder with the move to the Sun Belt. Oh, and they were 7-4 last year. So they have to play Troy, South Alabama, and Louisiana Monroe now? Who cares? There are also should-be wins on their schedule too. The Eagles should beat Georgia State, Idaho, Texas State, and non-conference opponent Savannah State. Their schedule allows for them to maybe get to 6, 7, or 8 wins as well, which would be great for the program. This move in the long-term is sure to pay off, and in the short term the Georgia Southern-Appalachian State rivalry looks like it won’t lose a beat in FBS. Look for those two teams to eventually take the top two spots in the Sun Belt and move up the FBS latter in the future. Both programs have been run very well at the FCS level, and what their success in FBS will highlight is how watered down the lower level of the league is. Conference realignment right now shows a difference in power at the top, not at the bottom. The Sun Belt is not far off from FCS, and the next few years will prove it.
3. Rutgers- AAC to Big Ten
The Scarlet Knights will struggle severely initially in the Big Ten. Let’s get that out of the way. However, the move is still a great move in the long term. Even if they do struggle severely, so what? They struggled last year in the AAC, and the long-term future for this move is great. Rutgers has enough to squeak out 6 wins at some point over the next three years, and if that happens, who will be able to compete with them for recruiting in the northeast. The Big Ten network now has a presence up there, and elite athletes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York will be able to get exposure to them. It’s also worth pointing out that although they are in the toughest division of the conference, the Big Ten right now has fallen behind the Pac 12 and SEC. It’s a conference that has a few cupcakes Rutgers could beat up on to get a few more wins. Again, they will struggle early, and nobody is denying that. But once you factor in the state of the Big Ten, recruiting in the northeast, and television markets, Rutgers has a lot to gain from this move.
2. Louisville Cardinals- AAC to ACC
This is obviously the move that will almost surely work out for the Cardinals in both sports. Television exposure, involvement in power bowl games, and a seat at the power table is all they need to boost their recruiting with Bobby Petrino at the helm. Louisville’s schedule gets harder in some areas, but not by too many teams. The ACC is weak enough for them to beat up on and still become a regular 10-win team, and the school is in a pretty good location in proximity to Ohio, and not too far from Virginia, and North Carolina. Because of the loss of Teddy Bridgewater, I’m expecting the Cardinals to struggle little bit anyway this year, but they’ll be back pretty quickly and will almost certainly succeed with Petrino behind them. Building a Top Ten program in a high-profile conference with enough mediocre teams to beat up on is a dream recipe, and Louisville will build its profile very quickly.
1. Maryland Terrapins- ACC to Big Ten
We’ve heard every bit of controversy about this possible. “Maryland has no business in the Big Ten.” “They’ll get killed in football.” “They don’t have the power to compete.” Now let’s look at some facts. Under the current alignment, two of Maryland’s last four recruiting classes would have been in the top half of the Big Ten, according to Rivals. Currently they have the fifth best class in the conference for 2015 and the 26th best overall. Add to that the fact that superstar wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long return with a sixth year senior who is a dual threat in C.J. Brown returning to run a spread-style offense in a power-over-speed conference, and the Terps have a great chance to make a lot of noise. Okay, so they won’t beat Ohio State or Michigan State this year, and road games against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan won’t help. They are in by far the toughest division of the conference. But if they steal one of those road games, the Terps have enough talent when healthy to run the table against everybody else, which includes Iowa, Indiana, and Rutgers and non-conference games against James Madison, South Florida, West Virginia, and Syracuse. An 8-win season in the midst of everybody predicting an embarrassment for their first year in the power conference will go along way, especially because the Terps are in the fertile DMV recruiting ground and are already in one of the largest television markets in the country (Washington, D.C.). There’s no reason to think this can’t be a great short-term and long-term move.