With the College Football Playoff likely expanding, and the cash flow ramping up to more and more schools for high-market TV deals, the entire nation is one big conference Rubik’s Cube. Oklahoma and Texas no longer feel the need to hide from the SEC in pursuit of a CFP spot and nationwide marketability. So, now that two of the most historic football programs are headed to the most historic football conference, it’s time for the ACC to follow suit and try to keep up. Here’s who they need to bring in to do so.
1. West Virginia
All of a sudden, without Texas and Oklahoma, and Kansas potentially on the way out, the Big 12 feels like a Group of 5 conference, and the Mountaineers could be on the move. If they decide to leave the Big 12, the ACC makes the most sense for WVU. In terms of proximity and rivalry relationships with other ACC schools, this move seems like the only viable option for them right now. Like the other programs on this list, West Virginia has a balanced athletic department and would be competitive in football and basketball tomorrow. The ACC needs West Virginia in their rivalry with other conferences. Adding an entire state as a fanbase to generate more revenue and bring needed ammunition to the football side would be paramount.
The Bearcats might be the most exciting candidate because they would inject real legitimacy into the ACC football scene and their own by joining a Power 5 conference. UC would no longer have to worry about strength of schedule. One loss would be sustainable in their path to the College Football Playoff. At this point, especially on the gridiron, it seems like Cincinnati is a little too big for the American Athletic Conference. Throughout the rest of their athletic department, there could be questions on fit. On the hoops side, Cincinnati has been good, but run into the same problems as most Group of 5 programs do. Head Coach Mike Cronin, the only Bearcats coach to ever defeat a superior seed in the NCAA Tournament, took his talents to UCLA in 2019. The Bearcats had to stir and watch him lead the Bruins to the Final Four. But between a Power 5 membership and their new arena as of 2018, there are plenty of reasons for Cincinnati to feel optimistic about their competitive chances in the ACC. Not to mention the Louisville-Cincinnati rivalry would rival other matchups for the second-best in the conference overnight.
Alright, the skeptics of this move are justified. Memphis to the ACC would not make as much sense as West Virginia or Cincinnati, but it would make some sense. Coming from the AAC, the Tigers have good football and good hoops. Neither is ready to compete at the level the ACC would need them to right away in this arms race. However, both have the potential to be viable options. Basketball is the biggest draw for Memphis athletics right now. The star power of Head Coach Penny Hardaway has that program on the rise, and if they can carry this tidal wave of momentum further, they have a real case for a spot in the ACC. The only problem is, despite how bad the ACC fared from a basketball perspective in 2021, the league is set on the hardwood. Duke and North Carolina will continue to draw eyes to television sets. It’s football the ACC needs the most help with.