Conference Realignment: Is Big 12 Expansion With Florida State and Clemson Imminent?

Bob Bowlsby's Said the Big 12 Could Expand. But Will They Do So at the Expanse of the ACC?

Bob Bowlsby’s Said the Big 12 Could Expand. But Will They Do So at the Expanse of the ACC?

Just when we thought things could settle down for a little while among the five power conferences and their conference expansion dreams, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had this to say on Wednesday (via CBS Sports):

“We could be proactive [in conference alignment], I think,”

Simple phrasing that could potentially mean nothing. Or could potentially mean the next dominoes start falling on January 28 and 29 when the league meets in Dallas. Personally (and yes, I understand there’s some bias), I don’t see them adding a team from the ACC. Based on the current legal battle around Maryland‘s $50 million exit fee, the soon-to-be-renegotiated-again TV contract, conference television network talks and four incoming new members, it becomes more difficult to create a compelling case for any school to exit. Further, Bowlsby himself at least hints at an unconventional add, should they decide to expand:

“Look at Maryland and Rutgers. They don’t bring programs that are of the ilk of the others in the Big Ten. The philosophy clearly is: ‘As members of the Big Ten we can grow them.’“

There’s two ways to look at that statement. First: they’re willing to take a flyer on a developing program (Connecticut, Cincinnati?) and allow them to reach their full potential within the constructs of the Big 12. For the ACC, this is obviously the ideal situation for the time being — it keeps its best schools in the fold, which at this point, is the most important goal. But for the long-term, the league loses its top two expansion candidates, should the Big Ten pick off a few more schools (not impossible at all).

The other way you can look at this statement is the one that worries ACC supporters right now. Clemson and Florida State surely don’t need to be “developed” into major programs by joining the Big 12. But neither is necessarily the “ilk” of the current Big 12 schools either. You can make similar statements about nearly every other school in the conference, save maybe Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh (solely based on their respective rivalries with West Virginia). Additionally, it’s an unknown which schools are on the conference’s rumored “quality” expansion list. This short list, supposedly built into their television contract, is supposed to enact automatic increases in per-school payouts when schools are added. I’d assume those names include Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Miami and Notre Dame, with BYU as another possibility.

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Final 2012 ACC Football Power Rankings

Clemson's Big Upset Over LSU Was One of Several Wins to Help the ACC Save Face This Postseason

Clemson’s Big Upset Over LSU Was One of Several Wins to Help the ACC Save Face This Postseason

Well that was a pleasant surprise now, wasn’t it? After getting knocked around on and off the field all season, the ACC found itself when it counted — the postseason — and (including Pitt & SU) managed a 5-3 slate, it’s first winning bowl record since 2005. If you want to include Louisville (and I sure do, given their big Sugar Bowl win), that brings the league to 6-3, with wins over the SEC (LSU & Florida), Big 12 (West Virginia) and Pac-12 (pre-season no. 1 USC). But sure, keep laughing at this league. They proved themselves and more during this year’s bowl season, and hopefully it’s a building block for even more excellent football.

1. Florida State Seminoles (12-2) (7-1) (LW: 1): Knock FSU for their schedule, their two losses (why are we criticizing a 12-win team again?) or their lack of a chance at a national title this season. But at the end of the day, they’re exactly where they were slated to be. The ‘Noles will be back in that conversation again this decade. It just takes some time, and this — winning both the ACC and the Orange Bowl — was the first step. Jimbo Fisher’s team will need to get past several big losses going forward, most notably Bjoern Werner and EJ Manuel, but the foundation’s there for a bright future.

2. Clemson Tigers (11-2) (7-1) (LW: 2): Despite not making it to a BCS bowl game, I’d say the Tigers’ consolation prize was still well-worth the trouble, no? On a national stage, Clemson beat mighty SEC’s LSU Tigers, and in the process, ended up being part of the most-watched non-BCS college football game in ESPN’s history. Most stunning in Clemson’s 25-24 victory, however, was the oft-maligned defense. Down 11 points heading into the fourth, the Bayou Bengals could’ve just run the clock out throughout the final stanza. Instead, it was Clemson that stayed strong, shutting out LSU and setting up a defining win for the Dabo Swinney era.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4) (5-3) (LW: 4): It’s tough to look at UNC’s 2012 season without imagining what could’ve been for a squad that seemed to finally turn the corner here in Larry Fedora’s first year. Knocking on the door of a division title for quite some time, the Heels finally put it all together, only to be ineligible for the postseason. So while it’s a disappointment for North Carolina fans to watch an eight-win season get laid to waste, it’s also built this program some street cred. Despite Giovani Bernard‘s departure to the NFL Draft, QB Bryn Renner will stick around for his senior year, meaning this team returns plenty of firepower; most of which this season only served as a preview for.

4. Syracuse Orange (8-5) (LW: 5): As if it was meant to be, Syracuse closed out their time in the Big East — the conference they built — by putting together its most impressive season in a decade. Up against one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, and a top-heavy league to boot, the Orange still managed to win six of their final seven games. The exclamation point, however (on top of a split conference title), was their resounding victory over rival West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. As someone who braved the cold to watch in-person, it was amazing to see this squad’s transformation from the season’s opening-week struggles to the machine-like execution against the Mountaineers.

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Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25: Final Poll

After Yet Another Title Game Win, Alabama Takes its Place in the History Books

After Yet Another Title Game Win, Alabama Takes its Place in the History Books

Another great year of college football, another unfortunately forgettable title game. While we can’t necessarily count Notre Dame as an ACC team officially, it still stings a bit to see the Irish get so thoroughly throttled last night. Regardless of what Alabama coach Nick Saban says, the Crimson Tide are a dynasty and they proved it on Monday. Congratulations to them, and let’s all collectively make an effort to end the SEC streak next year, since we failed so miserably again in 2012.

Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25 (Final Poll)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1) (LW: 3) (First-place votes: 6)

2. Oregon Ducks (12-1) (LW: 5)

3. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0) (LW: 2)

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1) (LW: 1)

5. Georgia Bulldogs (12-2) (LW: 7)

6. Stanford Cardinal (12-2) (LW: 8)

7. Texas A&M Aggies (11-2) (LW: 10)

8. Florida State Seminoles (12-2) (LW: 13)

9. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2) (LW: 11)

10. Clemson Tigers (11-2) (LW: 14)

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Belk Bowl Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

Can Duke's High-Powered Offense Lead Them Past Cincinnati's Aggressive D-Line?

Can Duke’s High-Powered Offense Lead Them Past Cincinnati’s Aggressive D-Line?

Duke’s back in the postseason for the first time since 1994. Cincinnati, after tying for yet another Big East title, feels a bit burned after the ACC‘s realignment decision to take Louisville over the Bearcats. Will they take out their anger on the reeling Blue Devils?

Bowl Game: Belk Bowl

Location: Charlotte, N.C.

First Year: 2002 (Continental Tire Bowl)

2012 Participants: Duke Blue Devils (6-6) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3)

Last Meeting: Never

***

Duke (previous bowl game: 34-20 loss to Wisconsin in 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl)

Through eight games, the Blue Devils were the darlings of college football. At 6-2, they clinched their first bowl trip in 18 years all the way back in October. And yet, we’re looking at Duke much in the same way we normally do now, after four straight rough contests knock them down to 6-6. Simply put, Duke has one thing going for them: a prolific passing offense. Racking up over 277 yards per game, it’s hard to find a more impressive unit than this one, led by veterans Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon. Unfortunately, the defense has done little to stop other teams from putting up similar numbers in their own passing games. Ranked 97th in the country in passing yards per game, the Blue Devils have struggled mightily stopping big gains through the air (hammered home by the 25 passing touchdowns put up against them). When you make former Stanford starter Josh Nunes look like a Heisman contender, those numbers shouldn’t surprise you.

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ACC Bowl Matchups: Keys to Success

Will Andre Ellington and the Clemson Run Game Be the Key to the Tigers' Bowl Success?

Will Andre Ellington and the Clemson Run Game Be the Keys to the Tigers’ Bowl Success?

We’ll be previewing each ACC bowl matchup individually as the games get closer, but for now, it’s worth at least taking a top-level look. Once again, the ACC’s up against a pretty formidable group of opponents, but all isn’t lost just yet.

Below, you’ll find the keys to each game laid out, along with the easiest path for the respective ACC teams to find success. Obviously, none of these are guaranteed results, and there’s still plenty more left to discuss (and we will as December wears on).

Keys to Success

Belk Bowl (Duke vs. Cincinnati): For Duke, it’s all about executing their passing game against a Cincinnati defense that will be reeling without head coach Butch Jones in the picture. The Bearcats, while very formidable on defense overall, ranked just 73rd in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game (243.5). They got by, however, forcing turnovers in the passing game, and buckling down in the red zone. Cincinnati’s defense allowed just 11 passing scores, compared to 14 picks. If Duke can avoid errors while throwing the football, and live up to their 32nd overall ranking in that department, they can find a clear path to victory.

Russell Athletic Bowl (Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers): The best way to beat Rutgers is by controlling the pace of the game; something Tech has struggled with significantly this entire season. For as well as that defense has played this year, the offense has been another story. Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas will be relied upon to lead a brisk attack and make the Scarlet Knights play from behind. Virginia Tech was also 4-1 when scoring 30 or more points this year, while Rutgers was 0-1 in the only contest where their opponents reached that mark.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Syracuse vs. West Virginia): While Syracuse has benefited from a torrid pace in many of their wins this year, the key this time around will be generating a significant pass rush to pressure WVU quarterback Geno Smith. As the second half of the Mountaineers season and last year’s SU/WVU game proved, Smith still struggles when forced to deliver a quick ball under duress. If Syracuse allows him to stand and deliver to Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin all game, the Orange are certain to lose. But if SU’s Brandon Sharpe and Jay Bromley can put heat on Smith, that’s when the mistakes begin.

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Conference Realignment: Would Penn State Have Ever Left the Big Ten?

Could Penn State Ever Leave the Big Ten?

According to Barry Alvarez, Appeasing Penn State Drove This Round of Realignment

Friday, on the three-year anniversary of leaking the news that the Big Ten was looking to add a 12th team, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez told the school’s athletic board the conference was driven to add a 13th and 14th team — in part — to keep Penn State in the fold.

“Jim (Delaney) felt that someday, if we didn’t have anyone else in that corridor, someday it wouldn’t make sense maybe for Penn State to be in our league,” Alvarez told the board, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “That they would go into a league somewhere on the East Coast. By doing that, it keeps us in the Northeast corridor.”

So is there any truth to this? Was there a threat by the PSU administration to leave? Since the Big Ten’s grant of rights only covers the length of the current television contract, the timing would make sense. And Penn State’s recent issues with the conference have been well documented, too. While we certainly never believed PSU — or any team, for that matter — would truly leave the Big Ten, here’s the sales pitch we advocated for the conference to push to the school back in November:

“We know the Big Ten has it out for you. That fumble call against Nebraska was part of a much larger conspiracy by the league and the NCAA to truly stick it to you in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. They’re going to continue to do so. Oh, and remember when Penn State was able to claim a good chunk of the New York market due to its proximity and affiliation to the B1G? Well that’s gone too, now that Rutgers has joined the conference. Speaking of the Scarlet Knights, we have a proposition for you: trade matchups with them and the Terps at noon for games against FSU, Notre Dame and Miami. We’ll even let you restart your old, bitter rivalries against Syracuse and Pitt. And we’ll let you win games and compete for a national championship. Seriously.”

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Ranking the ACC Bowl Games

Syracuse/West Virginia is Just One of Several Great ACC Bowl Matchups This Postseason

Syracuse/West Virginia is Just One of Several Great ACC Bowl Matchups This Postseason

After a frustrating regular season, the ACC earned itself six bowl bids (plus another three if you want to count the incoming members), and will now try and avoid the dismal showing it’s put on for more than half a decade now. Since 2005, the conference (if you’re including Pitt and Syracuse) is 18-32 in the postseason, with just one BCS bowl win in that time frame (Virginia Tech beat Cincinnati in 2009).

But maybe 2012 changes things? I make no guarantees, and these won’t be predictions just yet (we’ll get to those once bowl season officially starts), but there’s always hope the conference can turn things around. Below, all nine games involving ACC squads are ranked, in (reverse) order of game quality, with some brief notes on each matchup. Feel differently about any of these? Feel free to share your thoughts below:

9. Hyundai Sun Bowl (December 31): Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. USC Trojans

Tech’s defense didn’t look terrible against FSU in the ACC Championship Game, but this game could be a major black-eye for the Jackets and ACC as a whole. On paper, the Trojans have some of the country’s best offensive playmakers, and there’s a high potential for embarrassment here if Georgia Tech’s defense performs as it has for most of 2012.

8. Allstate Sugar Bowl (January 2): Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida Gators

While Louisville looked impressive in their final win over Rutgers, it’s hard to overlook their paltry schedule overall when trying to evaluate them against Florida. The Gators have tallied 11 wins against one of the nation’s toughest slates, and that defense will put a ton of pressure on QB Teddy Bridgewater from start to finish.

7. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (December 31): NC State Wolfpack vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

The ‘Dores have been on a roll, and are one victory away from tying the team record for a season (nine). NC State, on the other hand, has struggled for consistency all year, with a shaky defense and now, a departed head coach. Four of Vandy’s last five opponents haven’t come within two scores and their offense has been firing on all cylinders in the second half — both recipes for a potential win over the Pack.

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