Ranking the 20 college teams most likely to join a super conference next

·12 min read

The world of college football has changed under our feet. The balance of power has shifted, and the traditional way of thinking — fiver power conferences could work together and create an equal but inclusive landscape across the nation — no longer seems to be feasible.

Now it’s a power grab.

A couple of dominoes have fallen over the past year that led to this. Last summer, the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners kicked things off by announcing that they would leave the Big-12 for the SEC starting in 2023. Just this past week, the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins were the next pieces of the puzzle, announcing that they would be departing the Pac-12 for the Big Ten starting in 2024.

With the way things are going, it looks increasingly likely that in the not-so-distant future of college football, things will potentially be ruled by two or three mega-conferences that contain upwards of 20 teams. If you’re in, you’re in. If you’re out, good luck…

That’s what gives this all a sinking ship feeling. The iceberg has been struck, and people are flooding to the lifeboats, trying to find a sustainable home before the world of college football changes for good. In my mind, the three super conferences that will remain standing when all is said and done are the SEC, the Big Ten, and a merger between the Big-12 and the Pac-12. Each will likely contain 20-plus teams, and the Power 5 will become the Power 3.

With that idea in mind, we wanted to take a look at the current landscape and try to identify the teams who are most likely to move conferences in the coming months or years.

It should be noted that a number of ACC schools were included in this rankings despite those teams having a significant hurdle to clear before seeking a new conference to play for. The ACC has a television deal that would take revenue rights away from any team who tries to leave before 2036. That is a lot of money. However, with the momentum that this new era has, and the money that could potentially be thrown around in a new TV deal for the Big Ten from Fox, it’s not crazy to think that the hurdle could potentially be cleared.

If that were to be the case, there are a number of teams currently in the Power 5 that will need to find a place to go, and quickly. But which teams should we be looking at to make a move?

We ranked the most likely candidates:

California Golden Bears

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: Football Tradition. The Bay Area media market.

Analysis: It’s not hard to imagine the California Golden Bears being one of the teams that the Big Ten brings over from the Pac-12, but they won’t be among the first to go. Cal holds a nice place in the media market world, offering viewers from the Bay Area, but they don’t stand out from the rest of the pack in any revenue-driving sports.

Syracuse Orange

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Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: Historic basketball dominance.

Analysis: More of a basketball plan than a football one, the Syracuse Orange make sense to join the Big Ten because they can bring some real gravitas on the hardwood. Syracuse’s football team leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s room for improvement.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Where they would go: Big-12

What they have to offer: Solid football and basketball programs. Part of the Arizona media market. A whole lot of potential drama and sanctions.

Analysis: Despite the ongoing drama surrounding Herm Edwards and the Arizona State Sun Devils, they still offer a valuable piece in the world of realignment because they have a solid brand and a decently sized media market. ASU stays competitive in both football and basketball and would fit well alongside teams like Baylor and Oklahoma State.

Stanford Cardinal

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Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: Prestigious academics. Powerful alumni base. At times elite football program. Unrivaled Olympic sports success.

Analysis: If you want to look at one of the power players in the Pac-12 over the past two decades, you can see Stanford near the top of the list. They may have had some down years as of late, but the Cardinal are still among the most well-respected academic universities in the nation, and they have elite sporting programs, with championship-winning teams across the board.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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Where they would go: SEC? Big Ten?

What they have to offer: A good football program. A strong brand.

Analysis: This one is tough because the Oklahoma State Cowboys now stand as one of the strongest members of the Big-12, a conference that is in a potential spot to gain a lot of power should the demise of the Pac-12 take place over the coming year. However, the Cowboys also offer a perfect team for one of the super conferences to poach in order to bolster their resume. Would OSU join Oklahoma in the SEC if the number was right? What about joining the expansion in the Big Ten? It may be a longshot, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Duke Blue Devils

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: A legendary basketball program.

Analysis: Another basketball play rather than a football play, throwing Duke in the Big Ten automatically makes them the best basketball conference in the nation. The ACC is currently the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to basketball strength, but they lack a bit in the football region outside of the top few schools. If the Big Ten could pilferage the ACC for basketball schools, Duke is among the top choices.

Baylor Bears

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Where they would go: SEC

What they have to offer: A really solid football program. A championship-level basketball program.

Analysis: Much like Oklahoma State, the Baylor Bears are currently in a position of power being one of the top teams in the Big-12. However, they would be an attractive piece for either of the super conferences to try and snag in the coming years. The football team consistently ranks in the top 10 or 15 in the nation, and Baylor is coming off of a national championship on the hardwood in 2021 (Men’s) and 2019 (Women’s).

Colorado Buffaloes

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Where they would go: Big-12

What they have to offer: A large media market. A solid football and basketball program.

Analysis: The Colorado Buffaloes may not be the most dominant on the gridiron or hardwood, but they are in a big media market in Colorado and have a large fanbase in that portion of the country. While they may not be prominent enough to get invited into the Big Ten, they make sense to be one of the solid members of the Big-12 should a merger with the Pac-12 happen.

Arizona Wildcats

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Where they would go: Big Ten or SEC

What they have to offer: An elite basketball program. A football program on the rise.

Analysis: Arizona has come up often in conversations about who might be among the next group of teams to leave the Pac-12. They are in a solid media market in Arizona and have an elite basketball history that is once again on the rise and among the best in the nation. That has to be enticing to the Big Ten or SEC. Arizona’s football program also seems to be building something, with a couple of great recruiting classes that may see things get turned around over the next few years.

Louisville Cardinals

Where they would go: SEC

What they have to offer: A great basketball program. A solid football program.

Analysis: Louisville is a borderline blue-blood when it comes to the hardwood, and they’ve shown that they can garner a fanbase on the gridiron when they are good. Remember the Lamar Jackson-era Cardinals? That was a lot of fun. You have to think that if the SEC were going to pillage the ACC, Louisville would be one of their targets.

Utah Utes

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Where they would go: Big-12? Big Ten? SEC?

What they have to offer: A great football program.

Analysis: The Utah Utes are a hard team to figure out. They have a great football program that is coming off of a Pac-12 Championship, and they have a solid fanbase in a decently sized Salt Lake City market. However, outside of the football team, there isn’t much to make money off of. THey may not offer enough for the Big Ten to take, but the SEC might be enticed by their football team. In the end, it feels like Utah could end up being a pillar program for the revamped Big-12/Pac-12 merger.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: An elite basketball brand. A solid football program.

Analysis: Again, when it comes to conference realignment, sometimes you have to think about more than the football programs. If the Big Ten had a chance to add both Duke and North Carolina, you don’t think they would take it? That would easily make them the best basketball conference in the nation, and you would also get what is a growing football program with the Tar Heels.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Where they would go: Big Ten or SEC

What they have to offer: A great football program. A decent basketball program.

Analysis: The Cincinnati Bearcats are seemingly that kid at school that everyone wants to try to go to the dance with. After their recent run of success on the gridiron, Cincinnati already accepted an invitation to join the Big-12 starting in 2024. Is it possible that they would take another step up and join the Big Ten or SEC if invited? To be honest, I don’t know all of the logistics there, but they seem like a program that should be coveted.

Kansas Jayhawks

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Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: An elite basketball program.

Analysis: You know the drill by now. While Kansas may not have a ton to offer on the football side of things, they are the defending champs in college basketball and one of the most historic blue-bloods in the sports. Can you imagine a conference with Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, and Syracuse in it? That conference championship tournament would be must-watch TV every year.

Florida State Seminoles

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Where they would go: SEC

What they have to offer: A really good football program. Solid basketball program.

Analysis: If we’re looking at teams from the ACC that might be prime targets for the SEC, then Florida State has to be near the top of the list. The Florida Gators already play in the SEC, so bringing in Florida State just makes too much sense.

Miami Hurricanes

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Where they would go: SEC

What they have to offer: A historic football program.

Analysis: Much like Florida State, the Miami Hurricanes have to rank near the top of the list of ACC teams who are prime candidates for the SEC. They have a long and rich football history and are making a bounceback on the gridiron thanks to Mario Cristobal and his elite recruiting.

Washington Huskies

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Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: A large media market. Good Football program. Strong brand.

Analysis: The Washington Huskies may be experiencing some down years in both football and basketball, but they are still a strong brand in the Pac-12 and have found great success in the past. They have a long history of being good and are buoyed by the large Seattle media market.

Clemson Tigers

Where they would go: SEC

What they have to offer: A championship-caliber football program.

Analysis: There have arguably been no teams more impressive than the Clemson Tigers over the past decade. What they’ve done to lift up the ACC — making the College Football Playoff 6 times since 2015 and winning two national championship in that time — makes them among the most appealing options on the board. They may not offer much outside of football, but if there are any ACC teams who are going to find a new home, Clemson has to be at the top of the list.

Oregon Ducks

Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer: National brand. Nike. Elite football program. Really good basketball program.

Analysis: There’s a reason that the Oregon Ducks have been widely mentioned as one of the next schools to follow suit and leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. They are one of the strongest brands in all of college athletics, and they have been knocking on the door of winning a championship in both football and basketball for years. With Phil Knight and Nike at its back, Oregon has to be among the most desired additions for a super conference there is.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Where they would go: Big Ten

What they have to offer:  Prestigious academics. Powerful alumni base. Elite brand. Elite football program.

Analysis: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been among the most coveted conference realignment pieces for years now. They are technically independent but align themselves with the ACC at times. It’s been said that there will be no other teams that join the Big Ten in the coming weeks until Notre Dame decides whether or not they will accept an invitation. They are the next domino to fall, and after that, the floodgates may open.

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