College football headlines have thankfully been bereft of conference realignment this offseason, but the impact of previous years’ reshuffling will still be felt in the coming campaign.
Seven teams are set to play in new conferences, two independents rejoin the conference-affiliated ranks, and another two programs make the jump from the Football Championship Subdivision.
For those trying to navigate the ever-rocky waters of conference realignment, consider the following your guide.
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
OUT: Louisville, Rutgers
No automatic berth in the College Football Playoff was going to prove problematic for the American Athletic Conference, and the system’s first year is proof. Louisville and Rutgers are the latest outbound members in a seemingly constant flux.
Since it was the Big East, the American has struggled to maintain membership. Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech all bolted amid the modest conference realignment era of the mid-2000s.
Losing automatic-qualifying status further doomed the American’s ranks, as Pittsburgh and Syracuse headed to the ACC.
West Virginia bolted for the Big 12 in 2012. TCU also reversed course for the Big 12, before ever officially joining the league. Boise State and San Diego State both opted to remain Mountain West members despite accepting initial invitations, and BYU balked at flirtations.
IN: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa
As it had done in the mid-2000s while carrying the Big East banner, the American Athletic replenished its ranks with former Conference USA members. Three such new arrivals join the league in 2014.
Former C-USA programs have found success in the American. Louisville won the Big East title in just its second year after moving, and the Cardinals were contenders for much of their time in the conference.
Cincinnati moved along with Louisville in 2005. By 2008, the Bearcats won the first of their four conference championships.
Last year in its American debut, UCF claimed both the conference championship as well as the Fiesta Bowl.
Both East Carolina and Tulane come into the American off bowl seasons. Tulsa suffered a surprising slide in 2013, but the Golden Hurricane were regular contenders in C-USA for almost a decade. East Carolina brings similar consistency.
THE BYU BONUS
Despite once turning down the American, BYU is forging a partnership with the conference in 2014. Last month, the university announced its agreement to play in the inaugural Miami Bowl at season’s end, facing a member of the American.
The Cougars also face three members of the American in the regular season: Connecticut, Houston and UCF. The informal affiliation extends into 2015, with Connecticut, Cincinnati and East Carolina on BYU’s docket.
COMPLETE CONFERENCE OVERVIEW
11 members, single-division
- Cincinnati Bearcats
- Connecticut Huskies
- East Carolina Pirates
- Houston Cougars
- Memphis Tigers
- SMU Mustangs
- Temple Owls
- Tulane Green Wave
- Tulsa Golden Hurricane
- UCF Knights
- USF Bulls
Over six decades of membership comes to an unceremonious, if not acrimonious end at the conclusion of this academic year. Maryland was a founding member of the ACC in 1953, but the allure of revenue possibilities in the Big Ten outweighed history.
A winner of 23 games in the last two seasons, Louisville brings the ACC some added credibility in its first season of membership. Adding Louisville while Maryland exits has to be considered an upgrade, based on the overall performance of each program in the last 16 years or so.
This year’s Cardinals will look quite a bit different from the 11-and-12-win teams of the past two seasons, however. Bobby Petrino is back in Louisville after an eight-year absence. He’ll have to live up to his billing as a quarterbacks coach with UL replacing three-year starter and first-round NFL draft pick, Teddy Bridgewater.
NOTRE DAME ALLIANCE
The ACC scored a minor coup when it brokered the closest thing to formal membership any conference has had with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are in their first year of playing four ACC opponents, as outlined in an affiliation with the conference through the membership of its other sports.
Now, this is not much of a deviation from the status quo. In 2012, Notre Dame played Miami, Boston College and Wake Forest, as well as then-Big East/current ACC member Pitt.
Nevertheless, that contracted relationship with Notre Dame ensures the ACC marquee nonconference games, while helping the Fighting Irish maintain a Playoff-worthy docket.
14 members (plus affiliate Notre Dame); two divisions
- Boston College
- Florida State
- NC State
- Wake Forest
- Georgia Tech
- North Carolina
- Virginia Tech
IN: Maryland, Rutgers
The conference long synonymous with the Upper Midwest expands its geographic (and thus television market) footprint to the Atlantic.
The Big Ten’s motivations for adding Maryland and Rutgers are transparent. Maryland occupies the DC television market, the ninth largest in the nation; Rutgers is in the nation’s premier market, New York City.
Both football programs have had their ups and downs.
14 members, two divisions
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
OUT: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa
Conference USA spent the 2013 season working around the always difficult proposition of playing with an uneven number of members. Losing three teams seemingly solves that problem, right?
IN: Western Kentucky
Lucky No. 13!
C-USA loses more members to the American, but offsets some of its loss with a new addition from the Sun Belt. Western Kentucky is the fourth Sun Belt program to jump to C-USA in the last two seasons. FAU, FIU, MTSU and North Texas all made the same transition a season ago.
In its first year as a C-USA member, North Texas contended for the West division title en route to nine wins. A change in conference did UNT a world of good; Western Kentucky comes in under different circumstances, trying to maintain its success from the Sun Belt.
Western Kentucky was a bottom-feeder in its first few seasons of FBS membership. However, current USF head coach Willie Taggart performed a minor miracle in turning around the Hilltoppers.
Petrino maintained the program’s winning ways, though Western Kentucky earned dubious distinction for becoming an eight-win team skipped over for a bowl bid for the two times in three years.
Though neither was in Bowling Green, Kentucky long, Taggart and Petrino set a high bar for first-year head coach Jeff Brohm to meet in the Hilltoppers’ first C-USA season.
13 teams, two divisions; C-USA will not have an even number until 2015, when Charlotte makes the move to FBS.
- Old Dominion
- Western Kentucky
- Louisiana Tech
- North Texas
- Southern Miss
- UT-San Antonio
SUN BELT CONFERENCE
OUT: Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky becomes the fifth former Sun Belt member to jump to Conference USA in the last two years. The Hilltoppers were one of the most consistent Sun Belt teams in the last three years, thus their departure leaves a significant void.
IN: Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho, New Mexico State
Two former FCS powerhouses in Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, as well as WAC refugees Idaho and New Mexico State jump into the Sun Belt fray.
The Sun Belt provided Idaho and New Mexico State with proverbial life preservers after each program spent the 2013 season as independents. Both were left out of the conference realignment shake-up that ensued following the demise of the WAC.
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern can each lay claim to being the best FCS program since college football’s Div. I split into two subdivisions in the late 1970s. Finding that same magic at the FBS level will prove difficult.
11 teams, no divisions
- Appalachian State
- Arkansas State
- Georgia Southern
- Georgia State
- New Mexico State
- South Alabama
- Texas State