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Big 12 Expansion: Bring on the Colorado State Rams?

Looking beyond the normal list of candidates for a school to help the process of getting the Big 12 back to, well, 12 teams.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

So where was I?

When I started writing about realignment in college football the better part of a decade ago, I was advocating for the Texas Longhorns to join the Big 10. Others saw the Pac-Whatever as our land of opportunity. Some even called for Texas independence. The world was our oyster!

And now? I'm about to promote the merits of being in the same conference as the Colorado State Rams.

And that has me just a bit depressed about how times have changed.

It does seem as though realignment is rearing its ugly head again.  Ever since the Big 12 was reduced, twice, to ten schools, many have speculated that the conference would eventually need to expand back to 12.  This speculation superficially comes from the perception that a conference championship game would boost the conference's chance for representation in the College Football Playoff.

But more relevant for the conference's chance to survive and thrive in the emerging era of superconferences, the thought is that the conference must expand its geographic and media footprints to keep up, as best it can, with the other four Power Five conferences.  Evolve and grow or become the SWC 2.0.  And we saw how that worked out the first time around for TCU.

Oklahoma president David Boren, more than anyone, seems to be pushing the conference towards resolving, once and for all, whether the conference stays at 10 or expands to 12. Other conference leaders seem to have taken a vow of silence on expansion.

It's not entirely clear whether Boren is speaking just for himself or for a silent majority in the conference. It seems to me that, more than anything, Boren is attempting to take advantage of the leadership vacuum resulting from all of the recent changes at the 40 Acres to become the Big Swinging Dick of the Big 12.

Unfortunately for those who see the need for the Big 12 to expand in order to survive another decade, the reality is that no top-tier, can't-miss expansion candidates exist.  This reality seems to be widely acknowledged as well, even by advocates of expansion.

At this point, the conference needs to decide which poison is better -- staying at 10 schools, with easily the worst overall collection of media markets among the Power Five, or taking the chance that adding two not-particularly-desirable schools would be what is necessary to help position the conference to survive the next inevitable round of realignment once various grants of media rights start expiring in the 2020s.

My personal best guess is that the conference stays put at ten schools.  It doesn't seem clear that the consensus needed to add the schools exists among conference members.  Additionally, from a Texas-centric perspective, why would Texas decide to attach two additional potential anchors on any ambitions it might have one day to escape.

Of course, I was the guy who was so sure we'd all be enjoying our road trips to East Lansing by now, so what the hell do I know?

So if the Big 12 decides that it has to return to twelve schools (whether for all sports or for football-only, which has also been speculated), which is the 12th school?  (I'm going to take it as a given that Cincinnati would be the 11th school, for the many reasons articulated by others besides me, primarily giving West Virginia a geographically-convenient partner.) Schools seemingly in the mix include Boise State, UConn, Central Florida and BYU.  Memphis and Houston have also been mentioned at times.

None of those schools do anything for me. Among the top four candidates, all of them are huge geographic outliers, as only one of them is within 800 miles of any existing Big 12 school, and that particular school (UConn, about 540 miles away from Morgantown) is over 1200 miles away from nine of the ten other schools. Boise State has awful academics. UCF would give us the fourth most-popular school in a state dominated by two other conferences. Houston is Houston.

And BYU? The conference already has one egotistical school with its own network which likes to play by its own rules. Would adding a second such school be particularly healthy for the conference's stability?

But what if I told you that there was a large (over 32,000 students) state university conveniently located in a contiguous state with a pretty decent (okay, with a not completely historically awful) football program and good-enough academics?  (Yes, damning with faint praise, but whatever.)  And what if told you that this school was also located close enough to a large media market and had a brand new, 41,000-seat football stadium opening in 2017? Wouldn't that school seem to make at least as much sense as an expansion target than the others supposedly being looked at?

Yet I almost never see Colorado State on these lists of possible Big 12 targets, even though it seems to meet the criteria better than any other school realistically available. (And, by realistically available, that of course means any non-Power Five school or Notre Dame.) What am I missing?

One potential contentious issue to keep an eye out for if expansion occurs is the divisional structure. As before, a north/south structure would make the most geographic sense, but one football division with the four Texas schools and the two Oklahoma schools, and another with the two Kansas schools, ISU, WVU, UC and Team 12 (whoever Team 12 is) is a bit unbalanced (at least as the college football universe exists in 2016) to say the least. But is there any other possible structure which would both keep all schools from the same state in the same divisions and keep the conference's most important historical rivalry untouched?

So, what say you, BON readers: (1) should the conference expand; (2) if expansion is agreed upon, whether or not you agree that it should, which two schools should the conference invite?