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Big 12 Realignment: What's In Store If West Virginia Heads West?

It appears that another program is about to leave the car crash that is the football portion of the Big East. What awaits West Virginia in the Big 12, and what happens to the other Big East remnants?

When teams leave the Big 12, it takes a while. Texas A&M's departure for the SEC took weeks, and now Missouri's departure is approaching a similar duration. But when teams leave the Big East, it seems to happen instantaneously. "Syracuse and Pittsburgh leaving for the ACC?" went from rumor to fact in a weekend. And on Tuesday, West Virginia went from seemingly becoming the leader to replace Missouri in the Big 12 to becoming a "DONE DEAL!!!" in a couple of hours. (Of course, it then dropped back to "not quite done deal" status, but it still looks likely.)

Leaving the Big 12 is like getting a divorce -- messy, dramatic and lengthy. Leaving the Big East, on the other hand, is evidently like fleeing a crime scene -- you don't care where you go, as long as you get out of there quickly.

So what is in store for West Virginia if they do indeed move to the Big 12 (aside from the natural, killer rivalry with Iowa State, of course)? To begin to answer that, let's look at how the future Big 12's lineup would have taken shape in recent history, using F/+ rankings as a guide.

(And yes, I'm breaking my own "don't assume anything is true until the ink dries" rule here by more-or-less assuming WVU is leaving. This will backfire horribly.)

  • 2011 (to date): No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 27 Baylor, No. 30 TCU, No. 31 Kansas State, No. 41 Texas, No. 42 Texas Tech, No. 45 West Virginia, No. 88 Iowa State, No. 110 Kansas.
  • 2010: No. 6 TCU, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 14 Oklahoma State, No. 18 West Virginia, No. 52 Kansas State, No. 61 Texas Tech, No. 62 Baylor, No. 65 Texas, No. 81 Iowa State, No. 113 Kansas.
  • 2009: No. 3 TCU, No. 5 Texas, No. 11 Oklahoma, No. 21 Texas Tech, No. 30 West Virginia, No. 37 Oklahoma State, No. 55 Kansas, No. 71 Baylor, No. 82 Iowa State, No. 88 Kansas State.
  • 2008: No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Texas, No. 6 TCU, No. 15 Texas Tech, No. 20 Oklahoma State, No. 25 West Virginia, No. 41 Kansas, No. 64 Baylor, No. 90 Kansas State, No. 108 Iowa State.
  • 2007: No. 3 West Virginia, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 19 Kansas, No. 21 Texas, No. 30 Texas Tech, No. 36 Oklahoma State, No. 44 TCU, No. 61 Kansas State, No. 93 Iowa State, No. 98 Baylor.
  • 2006: No. 7 West Virginia, No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 17 Texas, No. 22 TCU, No. 29 Oklahoma State, No. 35 Texas Tech, No. 56 Kansas, No. 58 Kansas State, No. 83 Baylor, No. 87 Iowa State.
  • 2005: No. 1 Texas, No. 13 West Virginia, No. 14 Oklahoma, No. 22 Texas Tech, No. 23 TCU, No. 32 Iowa State, No. 38 Kansas, No. 60 Baylor, No. 69 Kansas State, No. 84 Oklahoma State.

In terms of college football's recent history, there is no doubting that the additions of TCU and West Virginia would add heft to an already strong conference. Missouri has been a Top 25 program over the last five years, and Texas A&M is obviously gathering itself together again after a rough few years, but using recent history as our guide, TCU and WVU are clear upgrades. (We should probably not overreact to the fact that both have taken steps backwards in 2011.) Four times in the last six years, one of the two teams would have served as the best team in the conference, which is somewhat staggering to note.

West Virginia's Big East schedule has typically featured seven games broken out as follows: one Top 20 opponent, two Top 21-40 opponents, two Top 41-60 opponents, and two 60th-or-worse opponents. They tend to schedule some interesting non-conference opponents -- LSU, Auburn, Colorado, Maryland -- to fill in the gaps, but as current Big 12 members can tell you, if the conference stays at 10 teams with a nine-game schedule, the Mountaineers will be taking on a pretty brutal new slate: in terms of five-year history, they will face four Top 20 opponents (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU), a Top 40 team in Texas Tech, surging Kansas State and Baylor squads, and two dregs (Iowa State, Kansas). If they retain future non-conference series with teams like Florida State and Michigan State, their opportunity for both grand success and failure will be quite high in the Big 12.

Beyond simple logistical and quality arguments, the aesthetics of a potential West Virginia move are just as interesting. First, you get Dana Holgorsen leading his new team back toward his old stomping grounds. He coached at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Houston and would play quite a few games near familiar recruiting areas; plus, he would get home-and-home series versus his most recent team, Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State Cowboys. With the style Holgorsen wants to play, the Big 12 is a pretty familiar place to play.

But the largest impact of this potential move could perhaps come with what happens next. There will be five Big East football-playing members left once WVU, Pitt and Syracuse leave: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida. These programs have all experienced solid success at some point in the last six years and represent at least semi-attractive commodities. Big East members have all been carrying themselves as free agents over the past few weeks, with UConn and West Virginia both seemingly shopping themselves around to whoever will listen. In the past, Rutgers has had at least some appeal to the Big Ten, while Louisville and Cincinnati have both been connected to the Big 12 (Louisville has also been loosely tied to the SEC) and UConn has tried to align itself with the ACC (to Boston College's objections). Does the Big 12 attempt to move to 14 or 16 by pulling some of these schools in? Do they all scatter? Do they end up in the dreaded Conference USA-Mountain West merger?

(This says nothing, of course, of Notre Dame, who hitches its non-football programs to the Big East's wagon and may be looking for a new home soon.)

We knew that Missouri's potential move to the SEC might have serious repercussions for the Big East, but it appears West Virginia may not even be waiting for that to ensue. The Big 12 has had plenty of issues -- to say the least, losing one-third of your members in 16 months qualifies as "issues" -- but it is currently showing that it is clearly ahead of the Big East in the pecking order and is assisting in pecking it apart.