Southern Methodist University’s announced move from the American Athletic Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) makes the Mustangs the envy of aspiring big-time college football programs nationwide. After decades of toiling as a mediocre to middling football program, the Mustangs are now joining a proverbial “power conference.”
This of course assumes that the ACC will stay together for the next several years — at times, it appears that Florida State, Clemson, Miami (Fla.), and maybe North Carolina are ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.
As college realignment continues, several promising Group of Five schools are well-positioned to emulate SMU’s leap to a power conference.
SMU’s move is now thrown into perspective with the Mustangs’ upcoming matchup against the defending conference champion, Tulane, in the league title game in New Orleans. The Green Wave are ranked No. 22 in the latest CFP rankings as the highest-rated Group of Five team and is positioned for a New Year’s Six bowl berth with a win.
Tulane is a roughly 4.0-point favorite on Saturday afternoon and is 11-1 (8-0 AAC), with its only blemish an early loss to Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss. SMU (10-2, 8-0 AAC) has plenty of offensive talent and will play with nothing to lose against Tulane — even if it’s playing with a backup quarterback.
SMU was a major program in the 1980s, including the fabled days of the “Pony Express” that led to the NCAA’s death penalty for several years after several rules violations. With the dissolution of the Southwest Conference after 1995, the Mustangs were left to float from the WAC to the Conference USA and the AAC.
Although SMU will forego its share of ACC television revenue for several years, the move to the conference is a big win for the program. The ACC will get inroads into the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, one of the nation’s largest urban areas, and into the state of Texas. The Mustangs will get more exposure, more eyeballs, and more overall attention on the recruiting trail.
Before SMU, three schools from the American (Cincinnati, Houston, and Central Florida) and one Independent (BYU) made the jump from Group of 5 to power conference in 2023 by joining the Big 12.
Which Group of Five schools could be the next in line to move to one of college football’s power conferences?