The biggest thing in college football this week might not happen on the field but at an airport hotel in Dallas. That's because the Big 12 presidents are meeting there Monday and are expected to decide whether to expand the conference as early as next year. For months, it seemed like the conference would go to 12 teams, adding Houston and either BYU or Cincinnati.
But now reports are that the Big 12 will decide to stay put because the conference's TV partners, Fox and ESPN, don't want any new additions. Basically, those companies are going to pay the Big 12 not to expand. "We don't think expansion in the Big 12 is a good idea for the conference," Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said recently to the Sports Business Journal. Sure, if a Notre Dame or another Power 5 school with some cache wanted to join the Big 12, that's one thing. But the likes of Houston, BYU and Cincinnati aren't all that attractive apparently. I do tend to think the last thing the Big 12 needs is another Texas school. Non-expansion would be a big blow for Houston as it attempts to hang onto Coach Tom Herman.
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But you never know what the Big 12 might do as it's pretty unpredictable. Earlier this year, the conference gave one of its marquee players, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, an extra year of eligibility -- a day after it originally decided not to. And really any expansion will be decided by the presidents of OU and Texas as they are the two power brokers in the conference.
I do think the Big 12 will miss out on the College Football Playoff for a second time, becoming the first conference to do that and maybe the presidents revisit this next year if so -- although the Big 12 will add a conference title game in 2017 regardless. Both Baylor and West Virginia are unbeaten but neither has played anyone of note yet. They close the regular season against one another in Morgantown. I fully expect each to lose at least once before that game. No. 9 Baylor is off this week, while No. 12 WVU is -4.5 at home vs. TCU. The Frogs are off their bye and hoping center Austin Schlottman and receiver KaVontae Turpin can return from injuries.
Here are a few Week 8 opening lines that caught my eye. Rankings from AP poll and games Saturday unless noted.
Purdue at No. 8 Nebraska (-24): The second job opening at a Power 5 school opened on Saturday as Purdue fired coach Darrell Hazell following a 49-35 home loss to Iowa. Really not sure why he wasn't fired after last season. Hazell finishes his Purdue career with a 9-33 record in three-plus seasons and 3-24 mark against the rest of the Big Ten. You already hear Les Miles' name tied to this job, although I'd imagine Miles could do better. It's the worst job in the Big Ten as Purdue doesn't have the best facilities and gets third billing in its own state behind Notre Dame and Indiana. You've also heard the name of Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, but Purdue might not want to go the Mid-American Conference route after it did so with Hazell. Frankly, Fleck can also aim higher. Wide receivers coach Gerad Parker will finish the season as the interim coach. The Huskers are the only Big Ten West team without a conference loss but they have played a really weak schedule overall this season. I could see NU perhaps looking past this one and toward a big trip to Madison next week. The pick: I'll take the points, hoping this line rises and I think it will as NU is taking a big early lean.
No. 22 North Carolina at Virginia (+7.5): It was a good and bad Week 7 for the Heels. It was good in that UNC went to Miami and knocked off the ranked Hurricanes 20-13, while the other Coastal ranked school, Virginia Tech was upset at Syracuse. The Heels still need the Hokies to lose once more for North Carolina to control its destiny to win the division a second year in a row as Virginia Tech won the head-to-head matchup. But the Hokies could always lose at home Thursday night at home vs. Miami. The Tar Heels did lose starting receiver Mack Hollins to a season-ending broken collarbone vs. the Hurricanes. The senior ends his career with 81 receptions for 1,667 yards and 20 touchdowns (those are No..3 in school history). The Wahoos came off their bye Saturday and lost 45-31 at home to Pittsburgh. The pick: UNC.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama (-17): This might be the most important game of the year at least until No. 3 Michigan visits No. 2 Ohio State to close the Big Ten regular season. Expect to hear plenty of whining from Nick Saban that his team had to play at a good Tennessee team on Saturday while Texas A&M was on the bye. Saban always thinks the league office has something against him. The Aggies are the 28th opponent in Saban's 10 seasons in Tuscaloosa to have an idle week before playing the Tide. No other SEC team in that period has had more than 16. Coincidence or not? Alabama sure looks unbeatable after that 49-10 win over the No. 9 Vols. The Tide had 438 rushing yards, the most they have had since the 1986 season. It was the most lopsided victory by either team in that rivalry since a 51-0 Alabama victory in 1906. Don't count the loser here out of the College Football Playoff if it's a close defeat but the winner is in control of the SEC West. The pick: Aggies won't win -- they haven't beaten Tide since Johnny Manziel's Heisman-winning game in 2012 -- but will cover.
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