Conference realignment news has settled down. Conference realignment has not. Which means conference realignment effects haven’t, either.
No school has jumped ship in, what, 16 months? The ACC voted to add Louisville in November 2012. The Cardinals officially joined the ACC this summer, as did Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten. And we have a good idea how the newcomers will do.
The schools that come from a fellow power conference largely keep their identity and success rate. The schools that step up a class are in for rugged times. Which is bad news for the mid-majors that would like to crack the new College Football Playoff.
The new format leaves one automatic spot for a mid-major in either the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach bowls. Which is nice for the little guys. Boise State, TCU and Utah have proven that mid-majors can play big against the big boys. But even though the playoff format has expanded from two teams to four, don’t look for a mid-major to crack the code anytime soon.
The lack of success in their new conferences by the likes of TCU, Utah and West Virginia has to have subliminal effects on the committee that will choose the four-team field.
Truth is, the Frogs, Utes and Mountaineers have struggled to be reasonably competitive in their cushy new digs.
TCU went 12-1, 13-0 and 11-2 in its final three seasons as a Mountain West Conference member. The Frogs have gone 7-6 and 4-8 in two Big 12 seasons.
Utah went 13-0, 10-3 and 10-3 in its final three Mountain West seasons. The Utes have gone 8-5, 5-7 and 5-7 in the Pac-12.
West Virginia went 9-4, 9-4 and 10-3 in its final three Big East seasons. The Mountaineers have gone 7-6 and 4-8 in the Big 12.
“One of the challenges that we knew going into Big 12 play several years ago is you better have depth, depth that can compete at a high level,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who coached the Mountaineers to an Orange Bowl victory in his first season, 2011, but has struggled since. That’s “probably the biggest difference in the conference that we used to be in and the conference that we're in now. That needs to happen if you want to win.”
The schools that jumped from a fellow major conference have performed at roughly the same level they had established as their norm.
Nebraska went 9-4, 10-4 and 10-4 its final three Big 12 seasons. In the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers have been 9-4, 10-4 and 9-4. The Huskers are nothing if not consistent.
Missouri went 8-5, 10-3 and 8-5 its final three Big 12 seasons. The Tigers have gone 5-7 and 12-2 in two SEC seasons.
Texas A&M went 6-7, 9-4 and 7-6 its final three Big 12 seasons. The Aggies have gone 11-2 and 9-4 in two SEC seasons, which is slightly better, a phenomenon easily explained by Johnny Manziel.
Colorado went 5-7, 3-9 and 5-7 its final three Big 12 seasons. The Buffs have gone 3-10, 1-11 and 4-8 in three Pac-12 seasons.
We can argue all day about the relative strength of the major conferences, but whatever gulfs exist between the power leagues, it’s nothing compared to the difference between the power leagues and the mid-majors.
“In this league, the margin of error is different,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “There were good teams in any league we've played in. But on a week-to-week basis, the margin of error is less. And so you have to be able to understand that when those four or five plays happen that you've got to make, make sure that you make them.”
Which brings us to the committee. In the past, a small sample of games determined the reputation of mid-majors. The mid-majors looked strong when Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, when Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and West Virginia beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
But now we’ve seen former mid-majors asked to prove themselves over a longer haul, and success is slow to come. That will absolutely weigh on the committee’s mind.
So if a committee is deciding between a 12-0 Brigham Young or a 12-1 Michigan State, the Spartans are likely to get the nod. If the committee is picking between a 13-0 Marshall or a 12-1 Stanford, it’s the Cardinal. If the committee is picking between a 13-0 Boise State or an 11-1 Oklahoma, it’s the Sooners, the memories of the hook-and-lateral and statue of liberty be damned.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.