Grading realignment winners, losers

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Sometimes the grass isn't as green as it looks.

Several schools that made the dramatic decision to switch conferences during one of the rounds of conference realignment have found this out the hard way.

For a couple of programs, conference realignment has been a boon. The majority, however, has struggled to compete in their new leagues.

This year, teams that realigned into one of the five major conferences went a combined 56-53, including Missouri's 11-2 breakout season.

In the seasons before they realigned, those same teams went a combined 75-42 in their conferences.

Next year, Maryland (currently ACC) and Rutgers (American) will join the fray and relocate to the Big Ten, while Louisville (American) will shift to the ACC. If their experience resembles their realigning brethren, the schools could be in for bumpy transitions.

Below is our conference realignment scorecard for those who have made the move. Grades were based largely on improved visibility, competitive standing and future outlook.

1. Texas A&M

Texas A&M

The move: Big 12 to SEC
Improved visibility: A+
Competitive standing: A-
Future outlook: A-
Overall grade: A+

After 16 years of mediocrity in the Big 12, Texas A&M's football program has been completely transformed since bolting for the SEC.

With electric, Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel competing in college football's premier conference, Texas A&M's visibility has skyrocketed the past two years.

The Aggies were actually the second-most-watched team of the year in college football, trailing only Alabama, according to Sports Media Watch, and Good Bull Hunting, which ranked the data. They also played in the second-most-watched game of the season against Alabama, which drew more than 13 million viewers.

Manziel is likely gone after the bowl game, but Texas A&M's program is on solid ground going forward.

The Aggies have proven they can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the SEC and have elevated their recruiting to an elite level, with the No. 4 class in 2014 at the moment.

Texas A&M is also undergoing a $450 million renovation to Kyle Field, which is expected to seat 102,500 in 2015. That would make it the largest stadium in the SEC.


2. Missouri

Missouri

The move: Big 12 to SEC
Improved visibility: A-
Competitive standing: B+
Future outlook: B+
Overall grade: B+

After one year, it looked as if Missouri had made a disastrous decision in joining the SEC. Following a nice run its final five years in the Big 12, which included a No. 1 ranking at one point, Missouri was an afterthought during a 5-7 debut in the SEC.

But equipped with one of the best defensive lines in the country, the Tigers made a surprising and remarkable run to capture the SEC East title this season. The Tigers actually were a victory over Auburn in the SEC championship game away from making a compelling case for a spot in the BCS national title game.

While not as bright as Texas A&M's, Missouri's visibility was still strong. The Tigers' average TV viewership was higher than any team in the Big 12 except Oklahoma, according to Sports Media Watch.

Missouri graduates 12 seniors off this year's team. But thanks to playing in the SEC East, the Tigers have found a new recruiting pipeline in Florida to replace the Big 12-heavy state of Texas. The Tigers already have six commitments from the Sunshine State.

Missouri is also capitalizing off the momentum of its move to the SEC with a $72 million renovation project to Faurot Field, bowling in the east side of the stadium with bleacher seats.

Contending in the SEC East won't be easy. Georgia won't have injures like this every year, and someday Florida will figure out how to score again.

But Missouri has shown it can hold its own in the SEC, too.


3. TCU

TCU

The move: Mountain West to Big 12
Improved visibility: B+
Competitive standing: C-
Future outlook: B
Overall grade: B

After getting snubbed from the Big 12 at the advent of the conference in the mid-1990s, TCU finally got the invite it had long coveted.

So far, the results have been a mixed bag.

The Horned Frogs are coming off their worst season in the Gary Patterson era and failed to make a bowl game as they adjusted to the week-to-week competition in the Big 12.

Injuries, however, played a big part in TCU's struggles. And TCU appears to be better off than this year's 4-8 record would suggest.

TCU was the 48th-most-watched team, according to Sports Media Watch, which was better than any of its former Mountain West cohorts.

The Horned Frogs, located in the middle of one of the top recruiting hotbeds in the nation, have recruited better since joining the Big 12, too.

Because of its relatively small alumni base, TCU will never have the resources Texas, Oklahoma or even Oklahoma State and Texas Tech do. But armed with its recently renovated stadium and administrative stability, TCU should be able to find its footing before long in its new conference.


4. Utah

Utah

The move: Mountain West to Pac-12
Improved visibility: B-
Competitive standing: C-
Future outlook: C+
Overall grade: C+

One would think a move from a non-automatic-qualifying conference to the Pac-12 would make a program more visible. But Utah hasn't completely capitalized on that opportunity yet. In the Mountain West, Utah went to a bowl game every year from 2003 to 2010, including a 31-17 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama following the 2008 season. But the past two years, the Utes haven't qualified for a bowl. And according to Sports Media Watch, Utah was also just the 68th-most-watched team, ranking behind San Diego State, SMU and Air Force.

That said, the move to the Pac-12 was one Utah had to make. And there have been positive signs.

Before the season, the Utes brought in Dennis Erickson as offensive coordinator, which probably doesn't happen if Utah is still in the Mountain West.

The recruiting classes have improved, too. And Utah is catching up in facilities. In the spring, the Utes opened a $32 million, all-purpose football center. And next year, they'll finally reap a full share of the league's TV money.

On the field, the Utes are getting there, too. Despite the losing records, they have become a tough team at home. Utah defeated conference champ Stanford and took UCLA and Arizona State to the wire in Salt Lake City.


5. Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

The move: Big East to ACC
Improved visibility: B
Competitive standing: C
Future outlook: C
Overall grade: C

In joining the ACC's Coastal Division, Pitt joined a mob of mediocrity. So far, the Panthers have done little to distinguish themselves, either.

Pitt enjoyed more TV exposure in the ACC as the 36th-most-watched team this year thanks to games against Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame.

But the ACC hasn't really delivered much of a recruiting uptick, as the Panthers have only two four-star prospects committed.

The opportunity is there for Pitt to make the next step. Only the Panthers haven't shown signs they will be able to take advantage.


6. Nebraska

Nebraska

The move: Big 12 to Big Ten
Improved visibility: C+
Competitive standing: B-
Future outlook: C
Overall grade: C

This isn't exactly what the Huskers had in mind.

The Nebraska brand has gone stale under coach Bo Pelini in the Big Ten. The Huskers have been solid, but they haven't been great and have almost been reduced to second-tier status behind the likes of Ohio State.

Next year, Nebraska will be in the division opposite Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, which will make for an easier road to the Big Ten championship game, but also less desirable home schedules.

Nebraska's big rivalry game these days is Iowa, which doesn't exactly move the needle, especially for a program that once played in one of college football's top rivalries (against Oklahoma).

Recruits seem to be sensing the unrest, too. Nebraska currently has a recruiting ranking outside the top 40. That would have been heresy for the Nebraska of the old Big Eight.


7. Syracuse

Syracuse

The move: Big East to ACC
Improved visibility: B-
Competitive standing: C
Future outlook: D+
Overall grade: C-

Syracuse has had to fight to become bowl-eligible, let alone relevant, in the top-heavy ACC Atlantic Division. With Florida State and Clemson there, is there any hope of the Orange ever winning a conference title?

Games against Florida State and Clemson garnered solid TV ratings. But the Orange were tattooed a combined 108-17 in those two meetings.

With old Big East foe Louisville joining the Atlantic, it's not going to get any easier for Syracuse, either.


8. West Virginia

West Virginia

The move: Big East to Big 12
Improved visibility: B-
Competitive standing: C-
Future outlook: C
Overall grade: C-

Following a 70-33 win over Clemson in the 2011 season Orange Bowl, West Virginia strutted into the Big 12 with loads of momentum on top of a loaded roster.

Since then, it's been all downhill.

After collapsing in 2012, the Mountaineers hit a new low this year, losing to Kansas in a rout, then blowing a 17-point lead to Iowa State before the third-smallest crowd in the history of Mountaineer Field to close out the season.

The tea leaves suggest coach Dana Holgorsen will have to make dramatic improvement in 2014 to keep his job. But will that be possible? The Mountaineers lose their best player in running back Charles Sims and face a rugged schedule next year that begins with Alabama in Atlanta.

Holgorsen himself has pointed out West Virginia's facilities don't stack up in the Big 12, either. And the travel has been a drag, even though the Big 12 TV money has more than paid for it.

West Virginia squandered an initial chance to seize a place in the Big 12. Now, the Mountaineers are swimming just to survive.


9. Colorado

Colorado

The move: Big 12 to Pac-12
Improved visibility: D+
Competitive standing: F
Future outlook: D+
Overall grade: F

Believe it or not, Colorado still fields a football team. That might be hard to believe for anyone who doesn't reside west of the Rocky Mountains.

The Buffs have gone just 4-23 in the Pac-12 since joining the conference before the 2011 season and have yet to play a meaningful game in the league.

To be fair, the Buffs, whose last conference title came in 2001, were on the downswing prior to moving to the Pac-12. But a new conference has done nothing so far for Colorado, either.

Colorado, which had always recruited California reasonably well in the Big Eight, was hoping a move to the Pac-12 would boost its recruiting in the Golden State. So far, that hasn't really happened. In fact, Colorado's top California commitment in its 2014 class is Ventura native Jase Franke, who is ranked as the No. 83 defensive end in the country.

There is some cautious optimism in Boulder that coach Mike MacIntyre, who just finished his first season there, can gradually turn the program around.

Otherwise, Colorado's football future looks rather bleak.


Honorable mention: Central Florida

Central Florida

The move: Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference
Improved visibility: A
Competitive standing: A
Future outlook: B+
Overall grade: A-

Central Florida didn't relocate to one of the five major conferences, but its move to the American Athletic Conference has done wonders for the program's rise.

Thanks to an 11-1 run in their American debut, the Knights snagged the conference's automatic BCS bowl berth to advance to their first BCS bowl (the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 against Big 12 champ Baylor). That surpasses Kevin Smith's 2007 rushing title as the biggest thing to happen to UCF.

The Knights have parlayed their ascension into a compelling 2014 non-conference schedule. UCF opens against Penn State across the ocean in Dublin, Ireland; goes to Missouri; then takes on BYU in Orlando, Fla.

It will be difficult for an American Athletic Conference team to slip into the College Football Playoff, which launches next season. But UCF, along with Houston, SMU and Memphis, are collectively better off in the American than they were before in Conference USA.

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