Conference realignment has been the talk of college football this season and it’s trickling all the way down. In October, the G5 landscape shifted drastically when the American delivered a gut blow to Conference USA and nabbed six of their programs to replace the likes of UCF, Houston and Cincinnati, all of which will soon be moving to the Big 12. That left C-USA with a mere five teams and, with reports swirling that the MAC has been eyeing Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, the conference has been scraping for any sort of footing to remain — well, alive. As of Monday night, it seems as though they may be turning to the FCS in a last-gasp attempt.
The defending FCS champion Sam Houston State Bearkats along with rival Jacksonville State have been named as two possible candidates to move up to the league. Once a cornerstone in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Gamecocks of JSU moved to the ASUN earlier this year while the Bearkats are in the midst of their first season in the newly resurrected WAC.
Per reports, an announcement “could come by the end of the week”. The move seems hasty and it is. As mentioned prior, C-USA may cease to exist if it can’t make up for losses somewhere and these two programs would be logical options for expansion.
Geographically, both the Bearkats and the Gamecocks fit the mold for what C-USA is looking for with the programs hailing from Texas and Alabama respectively. Travel would not be an issue for either school and, perhaps most alluring to the programs themselves, would be the fact that they would get to maintain their current rivalry. Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State have met 11 times with the Bearkats winning the most recent matchup just two weeks ago.
Are these programs ready for FBS competition? Sam Houston State has appeared in three FCS title games (all since 2011) and won their first last spring while JSU has won six Ohio Valley conference championships over the last decade and has also made a trip to Frisco in 2015. Right now, however, it certainly seems as though Sam Houston State is trending in a better direction than Jacksonville State.
The Bearkats are currently undefeated and rank #1 in the FCS polls while the Gamecocks have likely slipped out of playoff contention after falling to 3-5 last week. It should be noted, though, that JSU did upset Florida State earlier this season.
When push comes to shove, C-USA really doesn’t have much of a choice here and it’s created an opportunity for these two programs. The only question they’ll need to ask themselves now is would they rather be competing for FCS titles or a berth in a mid-tier bowl game (at least for a while) come season’s end? Revenue and viewership would undoubtedly increase by moving up to the FBS but is that ultimately worth it? At the time of publication, neither JSU nor SHSU has made an official comment on the matter.
Other teams mentioned alongside these two for possible C-USA expansion are New Mexico State and Liberty who themselves moved up from the FCS ranks in 2018.