The next domino in realignment fell on Friday when the Big 12 officially invited Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and BYU to the conference. The four teams will replace Texas and Oklahoma, who announced in July that they are leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. The news out of the Big 12 begs the question -- what is going to happen to the American Athletic Conference? Three of the four teams headed to the the Power Five currently play in the AAC, which bills itself as a "Power Six" conference.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco quickly addressed the defections of three of the top programs in his conference in a statement released Friday morning.
"Today's news confirms what we have said all along regarding our status as a power conference," Aresco said in the statement. "The irony that three of our schools are being asked to take the place of the two marquee schools which are leaving the Big 12 is not lost on us. Our conference was targeted for exceeding expectations in a system that wasn't designed to accommodate our success."
It's time for the AAC to start figuring out where it goes from here. It'll have eight football programs once the dust settles, and Aresco is open to adding more.
"Our remaining schools are unwavering in their commitment to competing and succeeding at the highest level and we will not allow external factors to put a ceiling on our potential," he said. "We remain unified and resolute and will consider all of our options as we move The American into our second decade and beyond."
It's a safe assumption that it will try to find similar markets to the departed three schools either from a media market or geographic perspective. Let's break down a few of its options
The major media market plan
Candidates: UAB, Georgia State, Charlotte
If the AAC chooses to go after media markets, it bodes well for a program like UAB, which sits in the middle of football-crazed Birmingham, Alabama, has a brand new stadium that's opening this year and is a consistent winner under coach Bill Clark. The fan base is so passionate that it successfully won the fight to bring the program back after it was shut down following the 2014 season.
It could look to Georgia State which, while relatively young in football, is smack dab in the center of downtown Atlanta and plays in Center Parc Credit Union Stadium -- which is the former Turner Field and 1996 Olympic Stadium.
Charlotte would also be a fit here. The Charlotte, North Carolina, media market isn't as big as Atlanta and the 49ers program is still in its infancy, but it has a coach on the rise in Will Healy and hasn't finished below .500 in conference play since 2017.
Dennis Dodd joined Chip Patterson to break down everything on Big 12 expansion including if it will add any more members, who could be next, why SMU wasn't invited, what this means for other conferences and much more. Listen below and subscribe to the Cover 3 College Football podcast for top-notch insight and analysis beyond the gridiron.
The recent success plan
Candidates: Liberty, Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State, Louisiana
Football drives the bus in college athletics, so one route Aresco and the rest of the AAC could take is the one that leads to recent football success. Several teams mentioned above fit that bill, but there are others to be examined.
Liberty went 10-1 and finished ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25 last year and has a coach in Hugh Freeze who's widely known as one of the most innovative coaching minds in the country. It has only been an FBS program since 2018, but hasn't finished below .500 since 2005 when it went 1-11 as a member of the Big South conference in the FCS.
Coastal Carolina would also be a solid option. The Chanticleers went 11-1 last year -- its fourth season in FBS -- and has one of the most sought-after coaches in the country in Jamey Chadwell.
Fellow Sun Belt squads Appalachian State and Louisiana could also fit this bill. Neither team is in a major media market, but the history of the Mountaineers is well-chronicled and the Ragin' Cajuns have played in every Sun Belt Championship Game since it began in 2018.
The nationwide plan
Candidates: Boise State, San Diego State
The AAC has limited itself to the Eastern and Central time zones, and has a large footprint in the Southeast and in Texas. Does it have to stay that way, though? Not necessarily.
It could expand to become a national brand by poaching Group of Five power Boise State away from the Mountain West. The Broncos have 17 double-digit win seasons since 1999, have finished in the Top 25 13 times since 2002 and have been to the Fiesta Bowl three times.
It wouldn't hurt to get the state of California in the mix, and San Diego State checks several boxes. The Aztecs are in a major media market, have double-digit win seasons in four of the last six seasons and will be opening a new on-campus stadium in 2022.
If the AAC can add those two in the mix in addition to other teams within its established footprint, it'll truly be a national brand.