Progress Report: How have TCU and Utah Fared since moving into Power Conferences?

By Amy Daughters -

With renewed talk of Big 12 expansion, a plan that could include Houston from the American Athletic, it’s a good time to take a look back at two programs who made similar moves.

After the Southwest Conference disbanded, TCU wandered from the WAC (1996-2000) to Conference USA (2001-04) and then to the Mountain West (2005-11) before finally landing in the Big 12 in 2012. Utah, on the other hand, took a more direct route, cashing in on a dozen seasons in the Mountain West for membership in the Pac-12 starting in 2011.

Though these moves were seen as a step up, especially in terms of a viable opportunity to play for a national title, what did they mean to the bottom line of scheduling and then wins and losses?

Take a look.

TCU

Overall Record

2008-11 (Last Four in MWC): 47-5 (90.4%)

2012-15 (First Four in Big 12):  34-17 (66.7%)

Difference:  23.7% decrease

Conference Record

2008-11 (Last Four in MWC): 30-1 (96.8%)

2012-15 (First Four in Big 12):  21-15 (58.3%)

Difference:  38.5% decrease

Ranked Opponents

2008-11 (Last Four in MWC): 8-3 (72.7%)

2012-15 (First Four in Big 12):  9-10 (47.4%)

Difference:  25.3% decrease

Titles

2008-11 (Last Four in MWC): 3 Conference Titles (2009-11)

2012-15 (First Four in Big 12):  1 Conference Co-Title (2014)

Bowl Action

2008-11 (Last Four in MWC): 4 Bowl Appearances (3-1)

2012-15 (First Four in Big 12):  3 Bowl Appearances (2-1)

Top 25 Finishes

2008-11 (Last Four in MWC): 4 – No. 7 (2008), No. 6 (2009), No. 2 (2010) and No. 14 (2011)

2012-15 (First Four in Big 12):  2 – No. 3 (2014) and No. 7 (2015)

Though TCU struggled in its first two seasons in the Big 12, it has found solid footing since 2014, managing to become a contender not only in the league, but nationally.

The biggest decrease in production came in conference play. The Horned Frogs lost only one Mountain West game in their final four seasons there vs. a whopping 12 in their first two years in the Big 12.

It’s obvious that playing annual games with Boise State, Colorado State, and UNLV isn’t the same thing as squaring off with Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State. That said, TCU’s statistical resume over the past eight years quantifies what that means in wins and losses.

What’s exceptional about the post-move Horned Frogs is what they’ve done in the last two years—winning all but three conference games, finishing in the Top 10 and earning a piece of a Big 12 title.

Utah

Overall Record

2006-10 (Last Five in MWC):  50-15 (76.9%)

2011-15 (First Five in Pac-12):  37-26 (58.7%)

Difference:  18.2% decrease

Conference Record

2006-10 (Last Five in MWC):  31-9 (77.5%)

2011-15 (First Five in Pac-12):  20-25 (44.4%)

Difference:  33.1% decrease

Ranked Opponents

2006-10 (Last Five in MWC):  5-7 (41.7%)

2011-15 (First Five in Pac-12):  6-9 (40%)

Difference:  1.7% decrease

Titles

2006-10 (Last Five in MWC): 1 Conference Title (2008)

2011-15 (First Five in Pac-12):  No Conference Titles

Bowl Action

2006-10 (Last Five in MWC): 5 Bowl Appearances (4-1)

2011-15 (First Five in Pac-12):  3 Bowl Appearances (3-0)

Top 25 Finishes

2006-10 (Last Five in MWC): 2 – No. 2 (2008) and No. 18 (2009)

2011-15 (First Five in Pac-12):  2 – No. 21 (2014) and No. 17 (2015)

Even though Utah suffered back-to-back losing seasons in both its second and third year in the Pac-12 (the first time the program hit such a low since 1989-90), it didn’t experience the same level of early decline that TCU did.

Part of the reason is that the Utes didn’t ever reach the level of success in the MWC that the Horned Frogs did. In other words, they didn’t have as far to fall.

Like TCU, Utah’s biggest decline came in conference play, where it averaged 1.8 losses in its final five seasons in the MWC vs. five in its first five in the Pac-12. It amounts to almost three times more defeats per season.

Where the Utes didn’t suffer was in their performance vs. ranked opponents, dropping a mere 1.7% from one league to the next. What’s telling vs. TCU’s drop of 24% is the number of ranked opponents each team faced. Utah played 12 Top 25 teams during its last five seasons in the MWC vs. 15 in the Pac-12. The Horned Frogs, on the other hand, went from facing 11 such teams in their final four seasons in the MWC vs. 19 in their first four in the Big 12.

Again, like TCU, the Utes have begun to find their footing in the Pac-12, just this last season posting their first double-digit finish since leaving the MWC in 2010.

The Bottom Line

The numbers make it crystal clear that any team—Houston, Memphis, UCF, Colorado State, etc.—that becomes the lucky target of Big 12 expansion will suffer a 20-25% decrease in overall wins and losses and a 30-40% drop in conference production. That is, until they can engineer a turnaround, something that took TCU two years and Utah three.

It’s key to remember that Utah and especially TCU were solid national players when they moved up. The Utes went 13-0 in 2008, finishing the season No. 2 in the AP after knocking off No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Horned Frogs ran the tables in 2010, also posting a 13-0 record and a No. 2 rank after beating No. 4 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

It’s a level of achievement that, thus far, Houston, Memphis, UCF, and Colorado State simply haven’t met. What they’ve lacked is an undefeated season. Perfection, and a real case for inclusion in the national championship discussion, is the difference.

Two of the mentioned teams have come close. First, there was UCF’s 12-1 run in 2013, which included a win over No. 6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and a No. 10 finish in the AP. But, where Utah won 10 games the year after its perfect run and TCU posted 11 wins, UCF dropped to 9-4 and then completely off the radar with a 0-12 mark last season.

And the Golden Knights were still playing an American Athletic schedule when they crashed, not a Big 12 or even an ACC slate.

Then there was Houston’s 13-1 run last season, including a No. 8 finish in the AP and a win over No. 9 Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Though impressive, the Cougars fell one loss at UConn short of achieving what TCU and Utah did as non-Power teams. And, they’ve not yet proven that they can sustain that level of success over a number of years.

Also worth noting is continuity in coaching. TCU and Utah have both managed to retain the same head coach that got them to a Power league. The Horned Frogs’ Gary Patterson led the program 11 years before the move and the Utes’ Kyle Whittingham put in six years as the head man before the step up. Both chose to stay on through the transition, returning their school back to its winning ways.

Compare that to Houston, who has only had Tom Herman, one of the hottest prospects in coaching, for one season. He’s less invested and arguably could be tempted to move more easily. Then there is UCF and Memphis, both already losing the coach that engineered rises to national prominence.

This makes it logical to assume that any of the Big 12’s supposed targets would suffer even more dramatically than TCU and Utah did when they moved up. And it would take them longer, if ever, to rebound to the win totals prior to the move.

That leads to the bigger question, is a shot to play for the CFB Playoff worth a potential long-term drop in wins for schools like Houston, Memphis, UCF, Colorado State, and even Cincinnati?

Or, should the schools instead wait for the bracket to expand to include the best non-Power team in the country?

  1. Shep
    May 31, 2016 at 9:53 am

    “What they’ve lacked is an undefeated season. Perfection, and a real case for inclusion in the national championship discussion, is the difference.”

    /rolls eyes

  2. Josh
    May 31, 2016 at 10:27 am

    It’s not about the wins, it’s about the money.

  3. Marcus
    May 31, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Probably making too much of this. The fact that both these programs have winning records in their respective conferences is good enough for me. Neither TCU nor Utah had played P5 teams on a regular basis but are doing so now. It’s amazing both programs can stand toe-to-toe with their new conference mates given the sudden uptick in competition week in, week out now.

    It’s unfair to ask teams with MWC rosters to duplicate what they did in the MWC in the Big XII or Pac-12. However, the fact they even come close to doing so is quite impressive. Now that they can attract P5-level recruits and will now have seniors who have played their whole careers in a P5 conference you’re going to have to look out for TCU and Utah in the future.

  4. Matt Rigby
    May 31, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    This article is totally off. It is not about the winning, it is about money, market expansion and selling tickets. 68,000 seat stadium, 22,000 seat arena and one of the largest international alumni/fan bases, Brigham Young is worth a lot of money. It would be stupid to leave 100 million of annual tickets sales on the sideline because softball, soccer and whatever would not play on Sunday. The Big 12 is located in the Christian conservative bread basket so the current Big 12 members only play on Sunday if they have too as it is. The Big 12 has flirted the Brigham Young the most.
    Houston, is located in one of the 10 largest cities in the World. So, that is worth something significant.
    Cincinnati is located in a strong geographical fit and strong media market. Game on
    Then add Memphis for 14 members and become the best basketball conference in the country, along with getting a foot print into SEC territory.
    The economics clearly state Brigham Young, Houston, Cincinnati and Memphis are the ones for the Big 12 to add.

  5. Day
    May 31, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    I think Houston would fit quite well in the Big-12, not really sure how they ended up in the AAC. They might get more powerful with recruits if they become a P5 team in the Big-12.

    • Eric
      May 31, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      Day,

      It’s real simple how Houston ended up in the AAC it’s because of the market they are in. Honestly Houston would probably get their footing in the Big 12 but it would take longer than TCU did.

      Reason I believe that to be the case is by the time Houston would get into the Big 12, most of the players that propelled them to last years strong season would have graduated so you potentially could be looking at a new QB, a revamped offense (I doubt Herman will be there much past the next 2 years), and their coordinators would probably leave also.

      Ultimately, TCU was the benefactor of the Big 12 needing a “close” school to their geographical standpoint.

      In reality there’s only 1 or 2 programs that have had sustained success that currently belong in Power 5 conferences, and that’s Boise State and possibly BYU (obviously Notre Dame is considered a Power 5 program). If Houston has a decade where they win 8-9-10 games every year then maybe they belong but as it stands right now, their best record in school history isn’t enough to get them in to a power 5 conference. Plus I doubt the Oklahomas of the conference would be jumping for another Texas school in the conference.

  6. Jeff
    May 31, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    The fact that this article list Houston first (and most) as a Big 12 expansion candidate suggests that the writer hasn’t quite followed all the background of what expansion is about. While Houston has had some impressive seasons, and last year was rather good, expansion isn’t solely about who is the best team. Unless the Big 12 plans to expand to 14 or more, Houston would be better served grabbing a travel partner and making a pitch to the Pac 12, whose geography makes it tough to see them expanding without a Texas team.

    The Big 12 members who are clamoring for sxpansion are also the ones who are pushing for a Big 12 Network (and probably the dissolution if the Lonhorn Network in that pursuit). While I think the classic cable network model will start to lose some sway as people start leaning more and more towards a la carte options and such (where a whole state’s cable-subscribing population can no longer be depended upon to cover a conference network, whether they’re watching it or not), that’s still the model that college athletics is focusing on and the one the Big 12 seems most likely to pursue if they are able to.

    And that’s why Houston would basically be as bad a choice as they could make for any of their (first 3, at least) candidates. Basically, if the Big 12 does expand right now, and Houston is in the group, it will be the Big 12 saying “ok, we give up. There’s no way we can compete money-wise so we’re going to just have the current pie (plus a tiny more since there will be a few more televised games) divided more ways than before. This would likely be the straw that broke the camel’s back, setting the dominoes falling towards an exodus, once the GoR is up in a few years, of any of the teams who have the ability to make a move. So around 2025, the end result would be a Big 12 with Houston but without Texas, Oklahoma, and likely a few others.

    If the Big 12 does expand it will be in states they don’t currently have members in, in the hope that they can convince the TV people that Cincy, when playing the right opponents, can deliver a serious chunk of the Ohio market, or that Memphis can deliver a considerable amount of Tennessee… or UCF can Florida, or UConn can Connecticut and a bit if New York. Or BYU can bring Mormon fans to their TV sets nationally.

    Not trying to insult Houston here. If the last round of expansion happened now rather than when it did, UofH would probably be neck-and-neck with TCU as far as who would get in. Both are in metro areas of the state, and wile TCU’s longevity of their success would be appealing, Houston’s student body and alumni numbers would be a definite counterargument. But it happened then, not now. The Big 12 has 4 teams from Texas already (and is doubled up in 2 other less-populous states). I honestly don’t believe there are currently any candidates out there who benefit the conference more than they’d hurt it for now, but if you were to be optimistic and say that the TV people would be happy to dole out a significant amount of money for Memphis drawing in the Tennessee market, or Cincy drawing the Ohio market, and that the upgrade in conference membership would propel the invitees to new levels of success… those footprint-expanding gambles would be the gambles to make. Not Houston.

    • Shep
      May 31, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      I live north of Houston, adding UH doesn’t do anything at all for the Big 12. This is predominately TAMU country due to the proximity, but if you launch a Big 12 Network you’ve already got the TV market covered with UT and to a lesser extent Baylor, TCU, and TTU. The Big 12 is pretty much left with the slim pickings at this point, they should’ve grabbed Louisville while they were available and they could’ve added Cincinnati to give WVU more logical travel partners.

    • Will
      June 1, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      The problem with this is because he knows none of these schools will bring in huge amounts of revenue with them, and because of the fact that he is to much of a dam liberal craving for money. Bowlsby is having a hard time excepting the fact that no matter which way he goes about this, he knows he is not going to be able to compete money wise with all the other conferences right now, and that the only thing he really can do is just try to build a stable foundation for the future so he maybe could grab some potential big revenue schools such as Florida St. or Clemson. Because of this problem, the Big 12 is having a hard time trying to move forward to expand. Though because they know that the only way this conference is ever going to survive is by expanding. Bowlsby, whether he likes it or not, knows he is going to have to accept the reality of what’s gone on. Which gets us to this point right here is. Out of all the schools, which ones do they think will give this conference stability until realignment happens in the 20’s.

      In my opinion I think they need to go to 14 teams and the first two teams are obvious choices and that’s Memphis and Houston and the reason for them are simple. Houston is the first choice because of the stability they bring and the future potential they have. Even though Houston won’t bring in any potential future revenue the stability they the Big12 is enormous for a couple of reasons. 1. Adding Houston would help the Big12 dig in to the recruiting pipeline of A&M and LSU and help steal recruits away from them, which if you haven’t noticed is a huge recruiting ground for both of them. 2. It would help stabilize the market for the Big12 and possible even help steal a couple of thousand tvs away from the SEC, when you consider that the only reason that some of the people down there root for A&M is because all of them hate Texas and the reason they chose A&M was because it was the next closest school to them that was in a p5 conference. With that said Houston would be like a barrier for the Big12 in keeping the SEC out of Texas.

      Memphis is the next best choice because of the potential value it has. 1. If Memphis can stay competitive in both football and basketball. Their potential tv market could expand greatly, especially by the time basketball season rolls around considering Tennessee’s basketball program is trash. The Big12 would basically be able to control the basketball market in this that state considering Memphis is the only competitive p5 team in that state. On top of that with Memphis updating all their facilities with the new money they have, the potential for even more money coming from higher ticket prices would be there to. 2. Adding Memphis would allow the Big12 to dig into the SEC territory both in recruiting somewhat and in the market, considering if the is nothing big is going in the SEC people could switch off and watch Memphis play a ranked team such as TCU, OU, or Okst, which would help steal viewers off the SEC Network here and there.

      In my opinion I think the other two teams should be Cincy and Boise st for different reasons. I chose Cincy because it allows them to get into a new market. Though the problem with Cincy is the only place they are going to get views from is Cincy. On top of that with Cincy still sitting right in the middle of the conference they are in terms of rankings, nobody knows if they are going to be able to compete in the Big12. Because of that their viewer market is going to go up and down depending on how good they do, considering a lot of them will just flip over to watch Ohio st.

      I chose Boise st for a couple of reason. 1. Even though the market in Idaho is very small. If Boise st can stay competitive in football their potential market outside of the state could be a lot larger. Especially states such as Colorado, when you consider they have no good teams. The potential for them to get into larger markets such as Denver is really great.

      I know you maybe wondering why I didn’t included the two Florida schools. The reason I never chose them was, considering how small of the market they have and considering how much they struggle as is in their current conferences. Bringing them up into the Big12 will make it practically impossible for them to win, which basically cuts that already small market in half to basically nothing considering nobody is going to watch a team consistently lose. With that being said all adding a Florida team will do is cut into the revenue the team we currently have are making and that will surely piss teams like TCU, Tech, OU, and Okst the hell off. Which brings me to this point. The only way the Big12 is going to get into the Florida market is by taking Florida st away from the ACC come conference realignment time.

  7. Day
    May 31, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Not sure how long West Virginia is going to last in The Big-12.

    • Matt
      May 31, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Would West Virginia possibly end up in the Atlantic Coast Conference or the American Athletic Conference if they are no longer in the Big 12 at some point?

    • Day
      June 1, 2016 at 9:32 am

      In my opinion West Virginia will fit perfect in the ACC, there you will have in conferences rivalries with Va.Tech, Virginia & don’t forget the backyard brawl with Pitt. I never liked the mountaineers in the Big-12, makes no sense to me. I think West Virginia is too big of a team to head back to the AAC. If they can bring something to the table like recruiting or TV market then I could see the SEC going after them as well.

    • Matt
      June 1, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      I miss the old backyard brawl rivalry between West Virginia and Pittsburgh. It would be great to see that annually again!

    • DawgNBama
      June 15, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Basically the ACC inviting WVU would be like the Pac12 inviting New Mexico.

  8. David May
    June 1, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Can’t compare TCU and Utah to Houston, Memphis, UCF, Colorado State. TCU and Utah were top national programs when they switched, then just had an adjustment period to begin competing again at high levels. These other schools do not show to have that same track record or ability to make that adjustment, IMO.

  9. MJB
    June 1, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Agreed. Utah had two undefeated seasons with BCS bowl wins before joining the Pac-12. TCU had an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl win, and another BCS bowl appearance before joining the Big 12. Both teams had several excellent seasons, not just one or two, before “moving up”. And both still have the same excellent head coach now that they’ve had for more than 10 years. Those are the reasons that Utah and TCU have only had slight drop-offs in total number of wins since “moving up” to stronger football conferences.

    Teams with less history of success, or more coaching turnover, or both, would get crushed their first several years after moving up. Instead of matching TCU’s first several years in the Big 12, they’d be more like Baylor’s first several years in the Big 12 when Baylor averaged only 1 conference win per year.

  10. JC16
    June 2, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    12 team expansion: BYU and Memphis. 14 team expansion: BYU, Boise state, Cincinnati, and Memphis. Best bet for the Big 12.

  11. Mike
    June 21, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Agree with @David May and @MJB – Colorado moved to PAC-12 same time Utah did, and has only won maybe a half-dozen conference games total in 5 years – they can’t hang. Even the first season, Utah was in a three-way tie for PAC-12 South title until their last game – which ironically was the only Colorado conference win that year besides Arizona, which is the only PAC-12 team the Utes haven’t beaten in-conference.

  12. Jared
    September 16, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Utah beat Arizona first year in the conference 2011.

  13. Ray Gray
    October 22, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Adding Houston would be a big mistake for the rest of the Big 12, they would lose the recuting edge in Houston. Adding BYU and Cincinnati would be best idea, they get the world following from BYU and the Ohio market of Cincinnati

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