What if Mizzou had ended up in the Big Ten? Part 1: Football and EXPANSIONAPALOOZA™

Eric Francis

Sometimes you win by losing. Missouri lost the first round of conference realignment when Nebraska took the Tigers' rumored spot in the Big Ten; Mizzou ended up doing even better, landing in the SEC a year later. But what might have happened if MU went B1G all along?

In November 2011, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Florida president Bernie Machen and others appeared in Columbia to help welcome Missouri as the 14th member of the Southeastern Conference. For Mizzou, it ended a nearly two-year cycle of drama, anxiety, and allegations of blouse-opening -- one that began with the Big Ten announcing it was investigating expansion in December 2009 -- and it represented one hell of a plot twist. Until about mid-August 2011, nobody really even knew that the SEC was an option. It seemed as if it was Big Ten or Bust for Mizzou when it came to escaping the Big 12. That made the previous year's outcome -- Nebraska landing the Big Ten bid Mizzou thought it could get -- particularly frustrating. If we'd known the SEC was on the table, many (though not nearly all) wouldn't have felt the same amount of B1G urgency in the first place.

Safe to say, a large majority of Missouri fans are happy with Mizzou's now two-year-old move to the Southeastern Conference. So none of what follows is some sort of "Oh, what could have been..." dreampost. But the way MIZZOUEXPANSIONAPALOOZA™ played out is funny because almost all of the fans happy with the SEC move would have been as or more happy with moving to the Big Ten the year before. Happier, even.

And by most accounts, it came relatively close to happening. We'll probably never know for sure how everything went down in the spring and early summer of 2011. What we've heard from relatively reliable SOURCES is that Mizzou and the Big Ten were in pretty serious talks, but Mizzou was balking at the idea of junior membership. And when Big 12 meetings in June dissolved into a pile of goo, Nebraska jumped in, more than happy with the idea of junior membership if it meant getting the hell out of town. Again, that's all SOURCES!!, etc.

Regardless, things looked good for Mizzou for a while, then they didn't. The Big 12 lost Nebraska (to the Big Ten) and Colorado (to the Pac-12), then rallied for a bit. By the fall and winter of 2010, it felt like the conference may have found some stable ground with the promise of better TV deals, renewed togetherness, etc.

And then, the next summer, Texas A&M threw a (rather justifiable) fit about Texas pursuing the Longhorn Network and jumped to the SEC. Oklahoma and others found renewed interest in leaving for a Pac-16 arrangement. And at some point, Mizzou representatives called Slive, Machen, and company and said "Let's get this done." Mizzou went to the SEC, and the Big 12 responded by adding TCU and West Virginia.

But what happens if, in May 2010, Mizzou decides junior membership in the Big Ten is tolerable? What if the university became the 12th member of the Big Ten in the Summer of 2010? What impact might it have had? What kind of different impact would it have had as it pertains to Mizzou's athletic department? This post focuses on realignment and football. We'll try to take a look at other sports in the near future.

EXPANSIONAPALOOZA

This is potentially the most fascinating aspect. How does everything else play out over the next year or two if Mizzou jumps to the Big Ten (and Nebraska doesn't) instead of the SEC?

For the next year or so, nothing changes. Mizzou and Nebraska trade places, and that's about it. But things get interesting when A&M bolts. (And the Aggies would have obviously bolted regardless of Mizzou's fate.) At this point, Mizzou is not around to become the 14th SEC member. The SEC swore at the time that it was happy at the time with just 13 programs; was that really the case, or was that just the party line? Does the SEC thwart the Big 12 by snatching up West Virginia? At the time, with WVU making a run toward the Orange Bowl (where the Mountaineers would destroy Clemson), this move made a lot of sense to some, but it wouldn't have done much from the perspective of potential SEC Network households. Does the league try to crack into North Carolina by going after N.C. State (or, technically, UNC)? Virginia (with, one assumes, Virginia Tech)?

Hell, does the league end up landing Oklahoma or Oklahoma State?

(Okay, probably not.)

Perhaps more importantly, does Tom Osborne make a call to Jim Delany? Does the Big Ten make a move toward 14 teams (as it eventually did in November 2012) a year earlier with Nebraska still on the board for the taking?

And what happens then?

If Nebraska does escape and Maryland agrees to leave the ACC a year earlier, and N.C. State joins the SEC, that makes both the ACC and Big 12 rather vulnerable at the same time. Do they cannibalize each other, with the ACC maybe going after Kansas and Kansas State (basketball!) and/or the Big 12 going after Florida State and/or Clemson (football!)? Do they both go about business as usual, with the ACC eventually adding Notre Dame and the Big 12 adding West Virginia? What if West Virginia ends up in the SEC? Who does the Big 12 go after instead? Louisville? BYU? Both? Neither?

Obviously there's no point in predicting that X would have happened instead of Y -- if EXPANSIONAPALOOZA™ taught us anything, it's that making predictions regarding EXPANSIONAPALOOZA™ is a giant waste of time -- but the domino effect could have been spectacular. Or, of course, Nebraska could have stayed in the Big 12, the SEC could have stayed with 13, and almost nothing else would have changed.

Recruiting

So Mizzou's in the Big Ten now. Gary Pinkel and his staff no longer allocate a hefty portion of recruiting resources to Georgia, Florida, and other southern locales. What is Mizzou's new recruiting territory?

Obviously this is just a guess, but I figure the safe money is on Mizzou maintaining a slightly larger presence in Texas while sending perhaps 2-3 assistants to new areas in the Midwest, i.e. Ohio and Michigan.

This probably doesn't do much to change Mizzou's recruiting rankings, honestly. The players Mizzou tends to land from out of state haven't tended to be highly-ranked recruits. They've been frequently good, mind you, but from a pure rankings perspective, not much changes. They just come from different nooks and crannies.

Just for reference, here are the players from SEC states that Mizzou landed in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 recruiting classes, along with their hometown and Rivals recruiting ranking.

2012
TE Sean Culkin (Largo, FL; *** 5.7)
TE Brandon Holifield (Tallahassee, FL; *** 5.5)

2013
DT Nate Crawford (Pensacola, FL; *** 5.5)
QB Eddie Printz (Marietta, GA; *** 5.7)
DB Shaun Rupert (Montgomery, AL; *** 5.5)

2014
OL Paul Adams (Nashville, TN; *** 5.6)
WR DeSean Blair (Jacksonville, FL; *** 5.6)
DE Walter Brady (Florence, AL; ** 5.4)
WR Nate Brown (Suwanee, GA; **** 5.8)
DB Kenya Dennis (Raymond, MS; *** 5.5)
WR Lawrence Lee (Pensacola, FL; *** 5.6)
DE Rocel McWilliams (Pensacola, FL; *** 5.5)
WR Thomas Richard (Nashville, TN; *** 5.5)
DB Tavon Ross (Cochran, GA; *** 5.5)
DB Finis Stribling IV (Thompson's Station, TN; ** 5.4)
RB Trevon Walters (Bradenton, FL; *** 5.7)
DE Spencer Williams (Jacksonville, FL; *** 5.5)
DB Thomas Wilson (Buford, GA; *** 5.7)
RB Ish Witter (Tampa, FL; *** 5.5)
QB Marvin Zanders (Jacksonville, FL; *** 5.5)

Obviously Mizzou's Southern Strategy did not bear much fruit until the second full SEC recruiting class. Most of the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes were still derived from Missouri and Texas. Not much changes there until 2014, when one assumes most of Mizzou's class would have come from Missouri, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois instead of Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.

Perhaps the biggest question about recruiting involves a certain Dorial Green-Beckham. He never mentioned choosing Mizzou specifically because of the SEC move, but because of the SEC's cachet, does Arkansas end up getting the upper hand with Mizzou in the Big Ten?

2011

Okay, so let's forego any further assumptions about recruiting and get into the nitty gritty. Let's say Mizzou has the exact same quality of team in 2011-13; how does that translate in the Big Ten?

Using Mizzou's non-conference schedule and Nebraska's conference schedule, we'll approximate a schedule for each year and use the F/+ rankings to gauge wins and losses. Since the Big Ten move would have happened a year earlier, and since Mizzou only had three non-conference games in the real 2011 (because the Big 12 was playing nine conference games), that leaves an open spot that would likely have been filled by a mid-major of some sort. Or, worst comes to worst, another FCS opponent.

One change: When Nebraska joined and the Big Ten formed the egregious Legends and Leaders divisions, the Huskers were stuck in the Legends Division with Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern. Simply replacing Nebraska with Mizzou means Mizzou and Illinois end up in different divisions. I would be shocked if that happened. So for the least amount of necessary adjustment, I'll simply flip Illinois and Northwestern. Illinois is now a Legend instead of a Leader.

New Schedule

(Opponent F/+ rankings in parentheses)

9/3: Miami (Ohio) (80)
9/9: at Arizona State (44)
9/17: Western Illinois (N/A)
9/24: ? (N/A)
10/1: at Wisconsin (6)
10/8: Ohio State (36)
10/22: at Minnesota (97)
10/29: Michigan State (11)
11/5: Illinois (53)
11/12: at Penn State (31)
11/19: at Michigan (9)
11/25: Iowa (46)

This is a pretty good schedule, really. The road slate (Arizona State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan) is rough, and the home slate features games against both Illinois and Iowa and an exceedingly beatable pre-Urban Meyer Ohio State squad.

(Mizzou, by the way, ranked 22nd in F/+ that year. The ranking seemed a bit high because of the string of close losses that knocked the Tigers to 8-5, but that was a pretty damn good team.)

Results

Mizzou starts the season 3-1 with wins over Miami (Ohio), Western Illinois and a tough ?U squad, and "PINKEL ICED HIS KICKER" still happens out west on September 9. As Nebraska was, Mizzou is greeted in its first Big Ten game by a bit of a pasting at Wisconsin but beats Ohio State and Minnesota and survives Michigan State at home. The Tigers beat Illinois and catch Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky/Paterno scandal (with Henry Josey tearing up his knee, I guess). Because Mizzou was playing really well by that point, we'll say the Tigers win in Happy Valley, then lose at Michigan with Gary Pinkel serving a DUI suspension. A win over Iowa caps a 9-3 campaign. Mizzou goes 6-2 in conference.

Bowl: Capital One vs. South Carolina. Mizzou fares better than Nebraska did (a 30-13 South Carolina win) but still falls and finishes 9-4.

2012

New Schedule

This is a strange schedule to tweak because of all the last-second maneuvering Mizzou had to undergo to fill the four non-conference slots in short notice (thanks to the SEC move). For ease, we'll say that Mizzou plays the same four teams in the same weeks. And we'll bump a random Big Ten game up to the top of the slate.

9/1: SE Louisiana (N/A)
9/8: at Michigan State (15)
9/15: Arizona State (41)
9/22: Wisconsin (16)
9/29: at Central Florida (36)
10/6: at Ohio State (14)
10/20: at Illinois (108)
10/27: Michigan (20)
11/3: Minnesota (79)
11/10: Penn State (25)
11/17: Syracuse (37)
11/23: at Iowa (72)

Results

This schedule is loaded up top, especially for a Mizzou team that ranked just 58th in the F/+ rankings. And if you think back to that 2012 season, that's probably not a good thing. Mizzou beats Southeastern Louisiana, falls to Michigan State, and survives Arizona State in the first Berkstresser Game. The Tigers lose to Wisconsin (perhaps handily), beat UCF, then get pasted by Ohio State to fall to 3-3. Illinois was so bad that there was no losing that one, but Michigan was more than good enough to beat the Tigers, who fall to 4-4. Beating Minnesota gets the Tigers to the cusp of bowl eligibility, but demoralizing home losses to Penn State and Syracuse follow, and while Mizzou did win at No. 57 Tennessee in 2012, Mizzou is once again without a concussed James Franklin against Iowa and falls, finishing 5-7.

2013

For obvious reasons, Mizzou has no longer scheduled a home-and-home with Indiana. For grins, we'll say that the Tigers have arranged a home-and-home with Vanderbilt instead.

New Schedule

8/31: Murray State (N/A)
9/7: Toledo (62)
9/21: at Vanderbilt (50)
9/28: Arkansas State (90)
10/5: Northwestern (59)
10/12: at Purdue (114)
10/26: at Minnesota (55)
11/2: Illinois (71)
11/9: at Michigan (37)
11/16: Michigan State (6)
11/23: at Penn State (61)
11/29: Iowa (29)

Results

I assume you see what's coming here. With its best team in six years and Michigan State visiting Columbia, Mizzou rolls. 58-14 over Murray State. 38-23 over Toledo. 51-28 over Vanderbilt. 41-19 over Arkansas State. The Tigers don't need a Hail Mary to beat Northwestern like Nebraska did. Purdue and Minnesota get smoked, as does Illinois. Mizzou is 8-0 when it heads to the Big House to face a Michigan team that has forgotten how to move the ball. 9-0.

Now, the Michigan State game is interesting. The Spartans ranked sixth in the F/+ rankings while Mizzou ranked 14th. And hell, South Carolina ranked 10th, and they won at Columbia. It takes a leap of faith to say Mizzou wins this game, but ... since we're using our imaginations here ... my imagination says Mizzou wins. The Tigers romp in Happy Valley, then return home to take down Iowa and finish 12-0.

And then the Tigers lose to Ohio State (No. 9) in Indianapolis.

You didn't think I was going to make this too cherry, did you? Now, I will say that Ohio State's defense was in the process of cratering, and the Buckeyes were no longer playing like a top-10 team by this point in the year. But for the year as a whole, Ohio State's run game actually ranked higher than Auburn's (even though nobody was moving the ball like Auburn in early December), so we'll say Mizzou loses a shootout and (since Ohio State's now in the national title game) ends up in Pasadena, where it loses a tight one to Stanford. It doesn't take much imagination to turn that into a win and a BCS Championship Game appearance (and loss) against Florida State, though. Regardless, Mizzou's finishing in the 12-2 neighborhood, with a finish somewhere between about third and 12th in the polls.

2014

So basically, Mizzou has done the same or slightly better in the Big Ten than it did in the Big 12/SEC, as one would expect. In 2014, as New Recruiting starts to take effect and Ohio and Michigan recruits take the place of Tennessee and Georgia ones, paths begin to diverge. But with the Big Ten adopting much more logical East/West divisions, here's Mizzou's schedule heading into 2014, with projected rankings in parentheses.

New Schedule

8/30: South Dakota State (N/A)
9/6: at Toledo (58)
9/13: Central Florida (27)
9/20: Vanderbilt (61)
9/27: Northwestern (50)
10/4: at Michigan State (13)
10/18: at Illinois (63)
10/25: Rutgers (78) (or Nebraska!)
11/1: Purdue (108)
11/15: at Wisconsin (15)
11/22: Minnesota (73)
11/28: at Iowa (34)

I'll take the SEC 10 times out of 10, but we would have been enjoying this just the same.

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