Preview 2017: Houston’s Major Push For Expansion
Everything is there for Houston to get snapped up by a bigger conference. Can Major Applewhite make the team good enough to get more of a look?
Big 12, are you going to jump on Houston soon or risk losing it?
Of course, the whole world of college realignment and expansion is about business, not sports. Media markets and reach are why the Big Ten grabbed Maryland and Rutgers, and why the SEC pounced on Missouri and Texas A&M when they were there for the taking.
Houston continues to fit the profile of what conferences want for expansion – massive enrollment, huge TV market, inroads into the fertile recruiting base – but at some level, the on-the-field part of the equation plays a part, too.
Just good enough to be a positive for any conference, but not so good that’ll it’ll dominate and take over for one of the cornerstone programs, Houston has the right make-up – it could be another TCU, but with more to offer.
The problem? It’s in Texas, and the Big 12 already has a stranglehold on the state.
However, somewhere rolling around the SEC, ACC and Big Ten offices are the think-tank memos and proposals for what it might look like to add the nation’s eight-largest media market in a football-mad place.
You don’t think a Texas A&M/Houston rivalry would be a big deal for the SEC?
The Big Ten floated out the Texas trial balloon several years ago, and while the academic side of things would have to factor in, getting Houston would be a huge boon for the BTN. In terms of distance, Houston is around 500 miles closer to Lincoln, Nebraska than New Brunswick, New Jersey.
And then there’s the team itself. Having beaten Oklahoma, Louisville, Florida State and Pitt over the last three seasons, Houston made itself a player on a national scale. Had it not blown it against UConn two years ago, or in the three relatively inexplicable losses to Navy, SMU and Memphis last year, it would’ve been right there in the College Football Playoff discussion.
Welcome to the pressure, Major Applewhite.
Not only does the new head man have to take over and keep everything rolling after what Art Briles, Tom Herman, Tony Levine and Kevin Sumlin put in place, but on a bigger picture scale, he has to make Houston good enough to stay in the constant audition for expansion.
Keep winning, and let the media and fan bases make the case.
The pieces are there to win the American Athletic Conference title for the second time in three years, and the schedule isn’t nearly as bad out of conference – Arizona and Texas Tech replace Oklahoma and Louisville – as it’s been in the recent past.
The offensive line has to be better, but it gets everyone back. The running backs are good, the receiving corps could be great, and as rough as it might be to lose a veteran leader like Greg Ward Jr., Kyle Allen might be a better quarterback. And if he’s not, there are a few nice options to fit the style.
Ed Oliver might be the best defensive tackle in college football. While the D loses its corners, star LB Steven Taylor, and a few other key starters, it’ll still be outstanding.
But losing Herman is the biggest deal. His team might have underachieved overall last season, but he was the one who was able to take Houston to another level of national prominence in the first place. And that’s what Applewhite has to build on.
Keep winning big, keep beating the Power Fivers, and keep looking great when getting the chance. Do that, and the invite will come.