'America, Realigned' Roundtable: Conference Powers, Underrated Programs

Jake Kocorowski

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde reexamined and reconfigured the college athletics landscape in his "America, Realigned" project. Wisconsin was placed in the Great Midwest Conference in this hypothetical exercise, but how about the other Big Ten programs?

AllBadgers.com and a few of the conference publishers came together to chat about the project and these new leagues.

Part one of the roundtable published on Friday looked at how the teams would fare and if we would change anything about said new conferences. On Saturday, we talk under-the-radar programs and just which leagues are the strongest.

Within the team’s perspective conference, which programs could be underrated or have the potential to rise up to challenge for a championship given time?

Brendan Gulick (BuckeyesNow.com): Unless something drastic changes, I have a very difficult time seeing someone other than Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State competing for the conference title every year.

Jake Kocorowski (AllBadgers.com): I think the Bison in the Great Midwest Conference could be at first an underdog who gives teams fits. I’m also really intrigued by how Kansas State, Missouri and even Nebraska could develop further.

Mark Wogenrich (AllPennState.com): Buffalo. Lance Leipold is a good coach, and this is a place where good young coaches might last a little longer if the program isn’t a stepping stone to a Power 5 school. And Rutgers could be due for a turnaround under Greg Schiano.

Matthew Stevens (IlliniNow.com): In football, Northern Illinois has been to a New Year’s Day (BCS) bowl game more recently than Illinois. So, never count out the third and usually forgotten FBS program in the state of Illinois. Don’t overlook Western Kentucky either. They’ve proven before that with the right coach (Jeff Brohm and now, Tyson Helton) they can be a real problem for bigger schools and can easily beat Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Illinois and even Tennessee on its way to a second place finish.

In basketball, it’s Western Kentucky. Nobody, and I mean nobody, recruits like Rick Stansbury and he would relish the challenge of being in a league with Kentucky and Louisville while still managing to get Top 50 talent.

In your opinion, which conferences in this realignment are the strongest?

Brendan: The Yankee Conference and Mid-Atlantic Conference could be awfully fun during basketball season … I love some of the matchups in the Deep South Conference during football season … but I think the best league for overall parity in football and men’s basketball is the Southwest Conference. That’s a pretty well-balanced and extremely competitive league. I wouldn’t count out a school like Houston or SMU making some serious noise during basketball season, despite competing against some programs that are much larger than them.

Jake: A couple writers shared the Southwest, and I mentioned that conference in a previous discussion with Hawkeye Maven’s John Bohnenkamp. The Sun Belt boasts the defending national champs in LSU, along with Alabama and Auburn for football, but I’ll even say the Mid-Atlantic Conference as there is a solid set of Power Five programs plus Appalachian State. Basketball would be fun with ACC programs Virginia, Duke and North Carolina in the mix annually for the league crown.

Mark: The Deep South. Teams on the outside will have a hard time recruiting the state of Florida anymore.

Matthew: In football, call me crazy but I love the gauntlet that is the Southwest. If, with Dave Aranda, Baylor can maintain its solid turnaround created by Matt Rhule, then that conference is loaded in my opinion. You can talk yourself into Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M (with head coach Jimbo Fisher), TCU, Oklahoma State or Houston (with head coach Dana Holgorsen) winning this league.

In basketball, I think the Great Mideast is the group of death. Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Cincinnati and the upset candidate of Ohio University near the bottom is a dreadful round-robin for a school hoping for a high NCAA seed.