What is next on the college football expansion landscape?
At this time last year, the Big 12 was soliciting candidates for expansion. It turned into a big tease, and no expansion happened. In reality, it probably never will.
Never mind how the Big 12 has lost the Houston market to the SEC, is top heavy, and has too many small-market programs. As long as Texas and OU are in the fold, they feel they have enough cache to carry on. And it's hard to argue with that.
So, what happens to Houston, which dumped tons of money into facilities, a new state-of-the-art stadium and continues to have on-field success and strong ratings in the nation's fourth-largest city?
There are really only three options:
1. Help raise up the American Conference
The AAC is pushing the "Power Six" narrative, and it's probably a little forced. Still, there are some solid programs. UH, Temple, Navy, South Florida, Central Florida and Memphis are all borderline Power Five type programs, and better than a lot of the bottom feeders in the other conferences. Miami lifted the Big East to then-BCS status, while Florida State did the same for the ACC.
If one program can emerge as a solid year-in, year-out TCU type program, it could elevate the AAC's profile just enough. The conference has to find a way to keep its coaches, losing several talented ones over the last two years to Power Fives, but this is the most likely path to big boy football.
2. AAC expansion
Boise already bolted once, but raiding the top four schools in the Mountain West — most likely Boise, San Diego State, Air Force and Colorado State and going to 16 teams — would add depth and quality throughout, and another potentially transcendent program in Boise. The rest of the conference has fallen off, so this might have some appeal to Boise this time around.
A better option would be adding BYU, but the Cougars seem content on staying independent. If they changed their mind, knowing — like UH — the Big 12 is never happening, then all the better.
3. Go west, young men
The Pac-12 seems content where it is, but adding a major foothold in Texas would make sense. Picking up the Houston TV market (or at least a significant share; the SEC is pretty entrenched) would be a coup. The problem? Who is a viable second candidate to get to an even number? There is no easy answer. The Pac-12 needs to figure something out regarding its TV network as well.
It all really comes down to which major conference wants to make the jump to 16 first and pick off the few viable candidates out there. If they want to do that. The SEC, ACC and Big 10 all seem pretty stable and unlikely to move. The Pac-12 is probably the only option, if it is one at all.
So the reality for UH is probably answer No. 1. That means continued success on the field; other teams emerging, like South Florida; and other programs joining the arms race and spending money. That might be the best path longterm.