What USC, UCLA to Big Ten means for schools, conferences, CFP

By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

The Big Ten just got a lot bigger. On Thursday, multiple outlets reported USC and UCLA had initiated contact with the Big Ten about possible membership in the 14-school conference. 

Later in the day, Big Ten presidents and chancellors unanimously voted to allow the two biggest brand-name schools on the West Coast into the conference, increasing its membership to 16 — a not insignificant number.

Both schools then put out official statements confirming the move.

The SEC will also increase its membership to 16 by 2025 after voting last year to allow Oklahoma and Texas to join.

What does all this mean for the schools, the conferences and the College Football Playoff? 

Let’s break it down.

USC, UCLA to join Big Ten

FOX Sports’ RJ Young reacts to the news that USC and UCLA will be leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.

You can watch the “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young” on YouTube or subscribe on podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts.

What does it mean for USC and UCLA?

This is an outstanding move for the Trojans and the Bruins, two programs that have long carried the banner for the Pac-12

Whether it’s Pete Carroll’s Trojans during the mid-2000s or John Wooden’s dynastic Bruins, the Los Angeles schools have been pillars on the West Coast for decades.

Now, with Lincoln Riley at USC and Chip Kelly at UCLA, the quality of games against blue-blooded, big-brand opponents that will span from College Park, Maryland, and New Brunswick, New Jersey, to South Central L.A.

What’s more, in every living room in the continental U.S., Riley and Kelly will be able to not just recruit but also sell the chance for a family to not have to travel so far, if they live in the southeast or on the East Coast, to attend games.

This also means the Trojans and Bruins join what I believe is clearly the second-best conference among the Power 5, but that won’t last long. Because …

What does it mean for the Big Ten?

The Big Ten has killed the idea of the Power 5. There are only two conferences now. All hail the SEC and the B1G.

It’s not just that the SEC added Oklahoma and Texas or that the Big Ten added USC and UCLA. It’s also reasonable to believe those two conferences could be responsible for as many as 20 of the Associated Press and/or CFP selection committee’s Top 25.

Combined, the two conferences will count 32 teams and nearly 25% of all FBS programs by 2025, when OU and Texas are slated to enter the SEC. That’s an enormous number.

Trust that the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC have done that math, too. Their programs might look to leave their respective conferences for the greener pastures of the SEC or Big Ten.

But if there’s one school in particular that might be looking to also make a leap to the Big Ten, it’s Notre Dame. It’s not just that the Irish exist in the B1G footprint; it’s also that they’d be joining rival USC and that there has never been a better time to be a member of the predominant conference in the Midwest.

While ND has staked its legacy on being independent and has built football schedules that are more like barnstorming tours, the Big Ten would give the Irish the chance to make annual trips to the West Coast, play Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin every other year and still have room to schedule Alabama — or Alabama State — so that they hit each of their alumni markets.

What does it mean for the Pac-12?

Nothing good.

The heights Oregon reached in beating Ohio State at Columbus were dashed when the Ducks took a loss to Stanford on the road and Utah doubled them up twice in three weeks. The Utes (10-4), who never figured into the CFP picture in 2021, followed a Pac-12 championship victory with a (however thrilling) Rose Bowl loss to the very Ohio State team Oregon had beaten on the road.

However, with USC coming off a 4-8 season, the hire of Lincoln Riley by athletic director Mike Bohn acted as a bright light following an otherwise so-so Pac-12 season. Riley brought with him many of the assistants who helped him and Oklahoma reach three CFP semifinals in five years, plus a Cotton Bowl victory.

Riley also lured superstar players such as quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Jordan Addison to USC. But the Pac-12 will never get the opportunity to bask in the glow of a revitalized USC — or UCLA, for that matter — even if the Trojans and Bruins turn out to be the two best teams in the first season the Pac-12 plays without divisions.

What does it mean for the CFP?

Expansion, expansion, expansion.

By 2025, a four-team playoff could mean two teams from the Big Ten and two teams from the SEC or — worse yet — three teams from one of those conferences. While college football has never been fair and parity among the FBS schools is a dream only few have wanted, most will admit that a concentration of talent and no underdogs to root for would be bad for the growth of the sport.

No matter how much you believe Cincinnati deserved a CFP invitation, the program’s being the first Group of 5 team to receive one mattered for players, families and fans of non-powerhouses who want to believe their team can come upon a once-in-a-lifetime season and earn a chance to play for the national title.

I believe even the SEC and Big Ten members understand the value of a playoff tournament, even if we would end up with Georgia and Alabama playing for the national title again.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.

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