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The Football Nomads: TCU's Conference Future

Today news came out confirming that our old friends in College Station have sent a letter to the Big 12 to officially withdraw from the conference. And just like that, the uncertainty of the college football landscape is back to where it was last year when the Big Ten and Pac 10 almost wiped the Big 12 entirely off the map and superconferences looked like a sure bet. Now it seems all too certain that the SEC will officially break the threshold of 12 teams, and the impact of who else they choose to add to the conference to reach their new magic number will likely impact every conference that does not have an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl. There is even some mention of TCU being a good SEC fit which leads to the question of just what is TCU's role in this latest round of conference shuffling (and what should we Frogs be hoping happens)? Plentiful scenarios come after the jump.

The Death of the Big X, The Big East prospers edition: The SEC takes Virginia Tech to be their 14th team and stop there, the ACC attempts to add West Virginia to replace them but finds that without a reunion with their rivals in Blacksburg to look forward to, the Mountaineers stay put. The Pac-12 grabs Oklahoma and Okie State to go to 14 as well and the Big East hits the mother lode as Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State join the Big East. Texas Tech becomes the 12 ACC team, Texas gets their independence (and an even bigger check from ESPN) and Baylor and Iowa State join the Mountain West to get to 12 and a championship game. TCU's Fate?: An AQ conference that they will have a great shot to win with regularity, but also one with some cache to it's name.

The Wetzel Scenario: The SEC takes Texas A&M and decides that they're in a Fort Worth state of mind, picking up the Frogs as well. In this scenario, not a lot changes in the rest of the nation: BYU fills the gap left by A&M in the Big X, the Big East bring Houston on board to fulfill the "successful Texas school with a smallish following in a big market" niche that has suddenly become empty, and the other conferences stand pat- at least until they see how the SEC fares in its 14 team experiment. TCU's Fate?: "The Best Conference in Football"! Immune to raiding, TCU will have a spot at the table in any and all future changes to the landscape. TCU risks being overshadowed in this instance though. I'm 98% sure that last year's TCU team would've beaten Auburn, but joining a conference with our traditional tormentor Texas A&M (Last win against the Aggies? 1972.) means that there's a significant risk that we could be overshadowed. With two teams in Texas in the SEC, Texas recruiting opens up to the freewheeling and poaching of the SEC whole, and though the Longhorns will still get more than their share, the kind of recruits that TCU counts on will likely have more offers on the table as teams expand their scouting in Texas. TCU's ceiling as a private school in the SEC is about the role Arkansas currently plays in the SEC- a real threat to win the division every three years or so, but not a year-in, year-out contender. The floor is more in the Kentucky range: a middling bowl almost every year, occasionally doing more but occasionally missing out entirely.

The Big SWC: A&M leaves for the SEC and in the interest of not having Texas teams in three different AQ conferences, TCU is offered A&M's spot in the Big X (BYU and Pitt get added too to get to 12- 12 is the only scenario in which TCU would reasonably be picked for the Big X). Half of the dream scenario for a lot of TCU fans is in play here- TCU is in the Big 12 (Sadly, the "Baylor gets kicked into the Sun Belt" half is not in play here), reunited with its traditional rivals, Tech can't duck us and Texas is going to find out just how far we've come. TCU's Fate?: I'm a firm believer in Gary Patterson being the best coach in the nation, and I think that if we could definitely compete for Big 12 titles. However, that belief is tempered by my knowledge of TCU's historical place- below Texas. In a one game season I'm more than happy to stack our guys up against Texas, Oklahoma or really just about any team you can name, but playing a season of them was our downfall back in the SWC. For those of you who don't remember these darker days of TCU football, I'll explain how a typical game against Texas would go (in a year where TCU is pretty good): The game is tight for the first half, maybe TCU is even leading at halftime. The game wears on, however, and even though our front lines aren't too far off of their's talent wise, they have depth that we can't begin to aspire to: four star after four star comes off the bench and eventually our O-line gets worn down and the points stop piling up. Meanwhile, the Texas offense gains steam on the second unit, and the runs that were going for three yards are suddenly going for six. Final score: Texas 34, TCU 13. This is a classic SWC game- except it actually happened in 2007, with the Gary Patterson era in full swing. In a division with Texas and Oklahoma every single year, I see us falling into the rut Miami has fallen into in ever since they joined the ACC- some good seasons, a lot of talent, but failing to be the team that they were for a decade before. And having the Longhorn Network and longterm uncertainty over the conference's viability isn't a strong selling point either. That said, it's still probably preferable to...

Mountain West Redux: The megaconference era is in full effect as the SEC takes Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech to form their new 16 team alliance, and the ACC replenishes itself the only way it knows how- with the best programs in the Big East. Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia depart the Big East and suddenly TCU is left once again without a BCS conference to call home. The bridge back to the Mountain West is unburned, however, and TCU and Boise State get a chance to add fuel to their budding rivalry. TCU's Fate?: Not good. In the current system, most years the TCU/Boise winner would get a BCS bid, but if a playoff does emerge as a result of the superconference era then it's a good bet that the non-AQs will not be getting a fair shot at those spots.

So those are the likely scenarios, barring a 16 team ACC making a surprise bid for TCU in the last example. TCU's future is once again in the hands of fate (leave it to the Aggies to screw up our good time), but there is still reason for hope. The factors that have columnists like Dan Wetzel holding us up as SEC material will still be there if every AQ-conference decides to go to 16, and in that scenario we would have plenty of potential landing spots. Just be glad that we're having our greatest sustained era since the thirties in a time when it's most important to look as good as possible.