IDEAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Texas Western (UTEP)
Does anyone remember the American South Conference? (This is the first of several pop quizzes along the way, so sharpen your pencils.) The ASC was a basketball and baseball conference that existed for several years beginning in 1987, then blinked out of existence when it merged with the Sun Belt in '91. Well, I always thought it was a good idea, and lodged it in the back o’ me brain all these years. The charter members were Louisiana Tech, New Orleans, SW Louisiana, UTPA, Arkansas St and Lamar. While figuring out what to do with the six members of the SWC that were not going to be included in the new ICFB iteration of that conference, and knowing intuitively that these six schools needed to stay together as a unit, it dawned on me that this would be the new American South. Thus, what we have are those six holdovers from the old SWC (Texas Tech, TCU, SMU, Baylor, Houston & Rice), along with Arkansas St and La Tech from the original ASC. Add in a pinch of Memphis and a dash of Tulane and…bazinga, the new ASC! Genius, I know - hugs all around. As for the other schools, SW Louisiana and Lamar are better matches for the Southland (see Div 2), while UNO and UTPA have been reunited in a rebuilt Trans America in Division 10 (see way below).
The Pac-10 is the Pac-10 is the Pac-10…although with recent expansion, at least the NCAA Pac-12 got their math right. The Pac-10 just works better as a 10-team configuration: you’ve got the Washington schools, the Oregon schools, the NorCals, the SoCals and the Arizonas. It works. It’s not that Utah and Colorado are necessarily horrible fits a la the Big 10 and ACC expansion efforts, it’s that those schools work far better in the Mountain West (see below). We’re keeping the Pac-10 as it has been since 1978 when the Arizona schools joined.
The Big 10 is the Big 10 is the Big 10. If you call yourself an association of 10, then by God have 10 members. Sheesh. Truth is, the inclusion of Penn St - which occurred in 1990 - is not a bad move. Pennsylvania is contiguous with the eastern edge of the conference, and the Nittany Lions conceptually fit with the Big 10’s status of large state institutions. But then we’d need to call this the Big 11, and that has no rhyme. Besides, as I looked at the landscape of Division 1, it struck me that Penn St in the Big East is an even better fit. More on that below. Nebraska in the Big 10 is a stretch, as the Huskers clearly belong with Oklahoma and the other former Big Eight schools in ICFB’s Southwest Conference. Maryland’s inclusion here, as mentioned above, is a travesty; Rutgers’ inclusion is ludicrous. Just as the ACC needs to stick to the mid-Atlantic, the Big 10 needs to stick to the Midwest. What is this overreach we’re seeing? Oh yeah….
The Atlantic Coast Conference has undergone a radical transformation over the past several years … and not for the better. The ACC’s identity is as a mid-Atlantic conference, and extending deep into the Northeast and Midwest destroys that identity. Disclaimer: I’m a Maryland grad, and will forever assert that the Terrapins should be in the ACC for as long as there are intercollegiate sports on our planet. Maryland in the Big 10 is a travesty among travesties. Tallahassee is as far south as the conference should go, therefore Miami has never felt like an ACC school. Virginia Tech, however, is a natural fit. I’ve also added West Virginia to the ACC, which is a no-brainer. Why would the Mountaineers caucus with Midwestern and Southwestern schools, when the ACC is so much better a fit? Look at a map. The middle tier, the heart of the conference, remains the Carolina schools. There is now a solid northern tier of Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida St round out the southern tier. All of the other current NCAA members of the ACC are where they belong in Ideal College Football, namely the Big East (see below).
I grew up with a 10-team Southeastern Conference (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, the Mississippi's, Tennessee & Vanderbilt). At the time I was mystified why South Carolina was not part of the SEC. The Gamecocks seemed a natural fit. When that move finally happened in 1991 (moving from the Metro Conference), I thought this 11-team configuration was excellent. However, Arkansas also joined this year, a move that I did not think was intelligent. Arkansas’ most natural/traditional rival is Texas, so keeping the Hogs with the Horns seemed the best fit. The expansion of Texas A&M and Missouri is even more incompatible with the geographic consistency of the SEC. A quick look at a map (this will be a recurring feature of these analyses) shows that A&M, Arkansas and Missouri are further west of the traditional borders of the SEC, and belong in a conference more in keeping with their geography. We’re bringing these three schools to the SWC (see below), and maintaining an 11-team SEC that is truly southeastern.
North Carolina State
Let's get one thing straight: the Big East is a viable football conference. So long as their members aren’t all scrambling to be part of other conferences. There is no NCAA football Big East at the moment, and that is a shame. Here’s how I see it: the heart of the football Big East are the schools in the Northeast, namely Syracuse, BC, Rutgers & Pitt. These schools should always be in the same football conference, so this is the core I built around. From there, adding Army and Navy was easy. If they're going to play in a football conference, this is it. Louisville & Cincinnati should always be together, and – although they’re a bit Mideastern – are a good fit for the Big East. That leaves the Big 3, the most celebrated and prestigious football schools in this conference. Let’s take them one at a time. Notre Dame would be an intriguing addition to the Big 10, but as you’ve figured out by now, I’m a stickler for arithmetic. Placing the Irish in the Big East puts them with the military academies, preserving historical rivalries. It also matches them up annually with the Northeast core of the conference, which feel like games that should be played. I suppose the best way to state it is that, out of all the feasible options, Notre Dame works best in the Big East. Next up, Penn St. Anyone under the age of 30 grew up with Penn St in the Big 10. I get that. Up until the final iteration of ICFB, I kept them in the Big 10. However, I believe Penn St in the Big East is a better option. First, placing the Lions in the Big East matches them up annually with Pitt and the other schools in the Northeast core of the conference. This is Penn St’s natural arc of rivals, in my opinion. Furthermore, the Nittany Lion’s stay in the Big 10 would have necessitated another school moving out, which was going to be Northwestern. In the end, I decided the best option was to keep Northwestern in the only conference they have ever known, while placing Penn St into a Big East that is much more amenable geographically, and allow them to renew old rivalries. Finally, Miami. Put simply, the Canes have never ‘felt’ ACC. I realize this is subjective, and understand if some don’t agree. By placing Miami in the Big East, we assure they’ll play Notre Dame and Penn St every year, and who doesn’t want to see that? Sure, Miami is geographically further south than the rest of the conference, but Miami is geographically further south than everything. I believe their inclusion here is a good fit, and the best fit. There, ladies and gentlemen, is your football Big East.
The Southwest Conference, which was presumed dead in 1996, is experiencing a resurgence in Ideal College Sports. It ... is ... alive! The SWC, quite simply, never should have broken up. It took until the 1960’s for the SWC to realize the configuration most of us are familiar with, and with that ensemble came its glory years. The membership I most resonate with is: Texas, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Texas Tech, TCU, SMU, Rice, Baylor and Houston. However, there seemed to be a schism between the big state schools and the smaller private schools, with the former dominating most of the prominent athletic races. Enter the Big Eight. A nice configuration in its own right, the Big Eight was comprised exclusively of state schools. Like the SWC, it was dissolved in 1996. When contemplating what to do with these schools, it occurred to me that an amazingly competitive – and contiguous – conference could be formed by joining schools from both conferences together. Thus, the conference you see above. The new Southwest Conference features 10 schools, seven from the old Big Eight (Colorado works better in the Mountain West) and three from the old NCAA Southwest Conference. There was a thought to putting Texas Tech here, yet conceptually and geographically I feel the Red Raiders belong elsewhere (see below). Voila, the Southwest Conference rides again.
ICFB’s Mountain West is essentially the old wacky WAC, with a few tweaks. The WAC had its heyday from its founding in the early 60’s until the mid 90’s, when much of the realignment nonsense started. We’ll enter the discussion with that base of nine schools, ie BYU, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado St, UTEP, Hawai’i, New Mexico, SDSU and Air Force. A few of these schools have scattered; we're gonna lasso 'em back in. UNLV is already in the NCAA MWC, and as they're a natural fit, we keep them in. We add Colorado, a natural fit here both conceptually and geographically. San Diego St moves out to the newly-reformed Big West, a move that will be explained in Division 2. Many of the other schools that are in the NCAA MWC belong in the Big West, as well, or the Big Sky. For those keeping score at home (and every true sports fan keeps score at home), from the original old WAC we've added Colorado and UNLV, while subtracting San Diego St. So there you have it, Mountain West, ICFB-style.
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The Mid-American Conference came together under two main periods of expansion in the 50’s and the 70’s. Since then there has been some tweaking to the conference, but the overall flavor of Great Lakes / Midwestern schools has remained predominant. Ideal College Football’s current MAC is identical to that of the NCAA except for the exclusion of Buffalo, a better fit in the North Atlantic (see Div 2). While Buffalo is, technically, of the Great Lakes region, the Bulls conceptually belong with those schools in the NAC rather than schools in the Midwest.
Copyright © Steven Sugarman