Conference realignment has hit college football once again. After the news that Oklahoma and Texas will depart for the SEC in the next few years, the Big 12 responded by adding independent program BYU, as well as AAC powers Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. Now, the American Athletic Conference is looking to make a big splash.
Losing the Bearcats, Cougars, and Knights is a big blow to the AAC. All three programs have spent time at the top of the Group of Five over the last few years, and are among the best small-conference brands in the sport.
According to CBS Sports‘ Dennis Dodd, the AAC won’t rest on its laurels though. In looking to keep separation between itself and the next-best Group of Five league, the Mountain West, the AAC is targeting some of its best schools. Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, and San Diego State are all in the mix, as is Conference USA program UAB. FAU and UTSA are considered backup options, per Dodd.
“Boise State and UAB have been discussed most prominently among the five expansion candidates,” Dodd writes. “Inclusion of any or all of the four aforementioned Mountain West candidates could destabilize that league to the point the that the AAC would remain the clear top conference in the Group of Five.”
American is targeting Group of Five domination with Mountain West powers Boise State and San Diego State among a group of teams being considered for conference expansion, via @dennisdoddcbs. https://t.co/sPoUgZACCa
— Adam Silverstein (@SilversteinAdam) September 16, 2021
The AAC, which has topped out at 11 members, is expected to make a move up to 12, which would mean adding four programs per the report. Not everyone thinks a jump from the Mountain West to the AAC is an obvious one, though. That includes MWC commissioner Craig Thompson.
The AAC is selling Boise State based on the potential to be the league’s most powerful program, one that could chase a playoff spot each year based on the structure of the proposed 12-team playoff.
The AAC has earned five of the seven automatic New Year’s Six bowl berths in the College Football Playoff’s seven-year history.
What’s emerging is a tug-of-war for the best brand names available at the Group of Five level. Presented with the possibility that an expanded AAC could monopolize a Group of Five playoff berth in ongoing realignment, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson stood firm.
“I would just say that same argument could be made if [those teams] remain in the Mountain West Conference,” he said.
There is also the possibility that the Big 12 isn’t staying pat at 12 schools, which could change the equation for a school like Boise State. Without definite news on College Football Playoff expansion, which could be up in the air after all of this movement, it is hard to know exactly what makes sense for each entity involved here. The only thing that seems clear is that no league wants to be caught flat footed the way that the Big 12 was at the start of this latest carousel.