Big Ten expansion talk is all the rage, even here in SEC country, and, while the Notre Dame Fighting Irish remain atop the list despite being obviously unattainable and the Pittsburgh Panthers make the most sense, much attention is being paid to the apparently interested Missouri Tigers, with respect to whom Big Ten aficionados not only have an idea, they have a plan.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that happens. Short of the Golden Domers climbing down from their high horse (which isn’t going to happen now that the arrival of Brian Kelly has ensured Notre Dame’s inevitable return to
relevance competence dominance), conference expansion is a zero-sum game; if the Big Ten increases from eleven teams to twelve by poaching Mizzou, the Big 12 decreases from twelve teams to eleven. The Big 12 is going to need a new team.
Maybe it’s just the traditionalist in me, but it seems to me that there can be only one choice for Big 12 expansion should Missouri bolt for browner pastures. The Arkansas Razorbacks have a longstanding rivalry with the Texas Longhorns, currently have a series going with the Texas A&M Aggies, and have deep Southwest Conference roots. Turnabout is fair play, so a Big Ten that includes Missouri could mean a Southeastern Conference sans Arkansas.
If the first domino falls, the line could topple all the way to the SEC’s doorstep, raising the question . . . where would the SEC turn if it had to replace the Hogs? The options, it would seem, are these, in no particular order:
Louisville Cardinals: U. of L. shares an in-state rivalry with the Kentucky Wildcats and just hired longtime SEC defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. The ‘Ville would bolster the league’s basketball reputation but the Cardinals have been only intermittently good at football. Still, as a current member of an automatic BCS-qualifying conference, Louisville would have to get a look, although it’s too bad the Cards would be brought in to replace Arkansas, because a series between Bobby "Pignocchio" Petrino’s current and former schools would be fun to watch.
South Florida Bulls: I’m not saying they deserve it, but any number of SEC coaches would love another annual opportunity to travel to the recruiting hotbed of the Sunshine State. Tampa is an attractive market and USF has been consistently respectable (albeit no more than that) since making the jump to the Big East. You’d have to think the Florida Gators would scream and howl at having to add an in-state conference rival to their existing slate, though. This brings us to . . .
Florida St. Seminoles: Let’s not mince words here. If you were an SEC football fan in 1991, you thought Bobby Bowden ducked the SEC in order to pad FSU’s schedule with ACC games. It’s time to atone for that gutless decision now that the Jimbo Fisher era is underway. This would make great sense for the Gators, whose season-ender against the ‘Noles would count as a conference game, although it likely would increase the pressure on the Saurians to schedule the Miami Hurricanes more frequently. Regular trips to Tallahassee by the Georgia Bulldogs would please the conspiracy theorists among the Red and Black fan base, who would wonder regularly whether Mark Richt would just stay put once he got back to his old stomping grounds. While we’re on the subject of in-state out-of-conference rivals, I suppose I should mention . . .
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: I would be 100 per cent opposed to this idea, but you’d have to admit it makes sense. The Engineers played in the SEC for many years and were a part of some of the league’s great rivalries at one time. The Ramblin’ Wreck left the conference at the tail end of the Bobby Dodd era and had their efforts to rejoin the league rebuffed, so both sides might be lukewarm on a reconciliation. After both of this year’s ACC division champions fell to middling SEC East outfits that came into their battles for local bragging rights sporting 6-5 ledgers, it’s doubtful whether the Orange Bowl-bound Golden Tornado would want to trade a shot at a big-money bowl in the soft ACC for a lower spot in the league pecking order. In theory, Georgia Tech could enjoy home town advantage in an SEC championship game, but, honestly, that’s not much of a risk.
Clemson Tigers: Admittedly, I’m biased, but this option makes the most sense to me. The Country Gentlemen are comfortably within the SEC’s geographic footprint and share longstanding rivalries with the ‘Dawgs and the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Fort Hill Felines also share a common heritage with several other SEC schools which would make league games intriguing: Walter Riggs and John Heisman established strong ties between Clemson and the Auburn Tigers; the Alabama Crimson Tide have produced numerous coaches for the Orange and Purple, including Frank Howard, Danny Ford, and current skipper Dabo Swinney; Charley Pell landed both Clemson and Florida on probation; the LSU Tigers could host the Country Gentlemen in Death Valley before traveling to face them in Death Valley. Culturally, the Tiger faithful are a much more comfortable fit with the rabid fans of the Southeastern Conference than with the Big Ten wannabes of the Atlantic Coast Conference and an SEC association certainly wouldn’t hurt the proud Clemson baseball program. Should we be willing to trade the Razorbacks for the Tigers? Ken Hatfield certainly was, and he was an Arkansas alum.
If it were up to me, the Big Ten would add Missouri, the Big 12 would add Arkansas, the SEC would add Clemson, and the ACC would . . . actually, I don’t care what the ACC does. I say let’s ship the Hogs back to their old stomping grounds, move the Tennessee Volunteers over from the SEC East to the SEC West (where the Vols properly belong, given their natural rivalries with Alabama and Auburn), add Clemson to the SEC East, and have at it.