Georgia-Texas! Oregon-Ohio State! UCLA-Rutgers? Breaking down the new reality of realignment

Sports

The 2024 college football season will be full of changes, including new coaches, big-name transfers who have switched schools and the expanded, 12-team playoff.

Perhaps the most sweeping changes of all will be in the makeup of the remaining power conferences: the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC. To review, Texas and Oklahoma will be in the SEC; USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington will be in the Big Ten; Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State will be in the Big 12, and Stanford, Cal and SMU will be in the ACC.

We asked our college football reporters to share their thoughts on the new-look conferences: what new matchups they’re most excited to see, which ones they’re struggling to come to grips with, and which teams will be most impacted by the realignments.

Other roundtables:
Most excited to see | 12-team playoff

What new conference matchup are you most eager to see?

Georgia-Texas

After falling short of a third consecutive national title, Georgia will go into the season favored to claim a third championship in four seasons. But the team’s schedule away from Athens isn’t easy, and features Clemson (neutral), Alabama (road) and Ole Miss (road), in addition to its first visit to Texas since 1958. Texas seems as prepared for entry into the SEC as a team could possibly be, after reaching its first CFP, beating Alabama on the road last year and taking the Tide to the brink in 2022 at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Carson BeckQuinn Ewers quarterback matchup could carry Heisman Trophy implications. — Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State-Oregon

Both Ohio State and Oregon could be in the preseason top 10 and both will come into the season very motivated after falling short of the College Football Playoff in 2023. A pair of new quarterbacks — Will Howard from Kansas State to the Buckeyes and Dillon Gabriel from Oklahoma to the Ducks — should have the offenses humming when they meet for the first time as Big Ten foes Oct. 12 in Eugene. As the playoff expands to 12 teams, recall these programs met for the first CFP crown in 2014 and likely aren’t leaving the national stage anytime soon. — Blake Baumgartner

Tennessee-Oklahoma

Oklahoma makes its SEC debut at home Sept. 21 against Tennessee, and much of the storyline will revolve around Josh Heupel, who brings the Vols back to his old stomping grounds. Heupel quarterbacked the Sooners to a national championship in 2000 and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. He was later the offensive coordinator at OU, but was fired by Bob Stoops following the 2014 season. So there aren’t a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings surrounding Heupel’s exit from his alma mater. A lot of eyes will also be on both quarterbacks. This will be Nico Iamaleava‘s first true road game as Tennessee’s starter and the first marquee game for Oklahoma’s Jackson Arnold as he takes over for Dillon Gabriel. And in a lot of ways, this could be a playoff elimination game. The loser would have a huge mountain to climb to claw its way back into the playoff picture with a loss so early in the season and so many difficult games ahead. — Chris Low

Oklahoma-LSU

I’ll steer clear of old-turned-new rivalries for this — Texas-Texas A&M, Texas-Arkansas, Oklahoma-Missouri — and point out that it’s noteworthy that Oklahoma’s first SEC campaign ends in Baton Rouge. Playing in Death Valley is the ultimate “You’re in the SEC now!” moment, and the stakes could be pretty high as well. While neither OU nor LSU will be the SEC favorite in 2024, both could be within reach of a CFP at-large bid heading into the season’s home stretch. In fact, there’s a nonzero chance this one’s an elimination game of sorts. Playing in Death Valley in a must-win situation? Welcome to the SEC, indeed. — Bill Connelly

Texas-Texas A&M

OK, this isn’t exactly a “new” matchup, but if you’re college-aged or younger, it’s probably new to you. The overarching complaint about realignment for the better part of the past 20 years is that it has destroyed old rivalries, and this latest round appears to have at least temporarily upended some good ones (RIP Bedlam). But it also reunites Texas and A&M in the same league, giving them a head-to-head matchup for the first time since the Aggies left for the SEC after the 2011 season. There were several attempts over the past 12 years to get the game going again, but none came to fruition, leaving the state — and the college football world — without one of its most intense rivalry games. Well, thanks to realignment, Aggies-Longhorns is back for 2024, and we couldn’t be more excited. That the game might also have genuine playoff and SEC championship implications only adds to the appeal. And with this year’s game played in College Station, that enthusiasm should lead to massive ticket sales, which will help A&M pay some small portion of all the money it owes Jimbo Fisher. Win-win. — David Hale


Which new matchup will be the hardest for you to wrap your brain around?

Ohio State-USC

With the four Pac-12 schools coming into the Big Ten, I could have gone a few directions with this. But the pull of having Ohio State and USC — two traditional college football powerhouses — competing inside the same conference is too intriguing to pass up. The Buckeyes travel to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2026 before the Trojans go to Columbus in 2027. Two programs with a combined 14 Heisman Trophy winners and 19 national championships locking horns for the first time as Big Ten compatriots will take a minute or two to digest. — Baumgartner

Stanford-Syracuse and Cal-Wake Forest

The recent realignment will make a lot of matchups feel odd, but it will really hit home when Cal and Stanford travel across the country to play Friday night games within the league. Stanford makes its ACC debut Sept. 20, as it goes all the way to Syracuse for its first-ever game with the Orange. Seven weeks later, Cal makes its cross-country voyage to face Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The new-look ACC has a ton of bizarre games — Florida State at SMU, Miami at Cal, Stanford at Clemson — given its new coast-to-coast footprint. — Rittenberg

Colorado-UCF

Colorado and Coach Prime travel to UCF on Sept. 28 in the Buffaloes’ first road game in the new-look Big 12. It’s just under 1,900 miles to get from Boulder, Colorado, to Orlando, Florida, and the idea of Colorado and UCF playing in a Big 12 game (in the shadow of Disney World, no less) is going to take some getting used to. But for Buffs coach Deion Sanders, it could have the feel of a home game. He played at Florida State and grew up in Fort Myers, Florida. — Low

UCLA-Rutgers

UCLA is 2,800 miles away from Rutgers. The Bruins are only 2,700 miles away from Guatemala! I’m not sure I will ever get used to this. — Connelly

All of the regionally challenged matchups

Let’s be real. Many of them have been listed above, whether it’s one of the former Pac-12 schools competing in the ACC, or something as stark as UCLA-Rutgers. The rivalries and tradition of college football, a huge part of the sport’s appeal, were built in large part on regionality. We will always take our college football however it is served to us, but that doesn’t mean these matchups aren’t weird. — Harry Lyles Jr.


Which team’s fortunes will change the most under the new alignment?

UCLA

UCLA last won a conference championship in 1998, when Bob Toledo guided the Bruins to the Pac-12 title, and they haven’t come close to a College Football Playoff appearance since its inception in 2014. Now toss them into the Big Ten with some of their old rivals in Oregon, USC and Washington (the Bruins went a combined 12-18 against those teams over the past 10 years) along with the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, and it’s not far-fetched to think UCLA will become even less relevant over the next decade. — Low

Wisconsin

The school hired coach Luke Fickell primarily to make the 12-team CFP, which the Badgers would have already reached a few times had it existed earlier. Fickell had an uneven first season, especially on offense, as Wisconsin adjusted to the Air Raid-style scheme run by coordinator Phil Longo. But Fickell is taking steps to prepare Wisconsin for a Big Ten with greater depth, especially on offense, in part by being aggressive in the transfer portal. If Longo’s offense can click behind quarterback transfer Tyler Van Dyke, Wisconsin should take a step forward. While other teams in the former Big Ten West have maintained the status quo in their structure, Wisconsin is modernizing to contend in the new league. — Rittenberg

Penn State

Under James Franklin’s stewardship, Penn State has had five 10-win seasons, four 11-win seasons and a Big Ten title in 2016 since his arrival from Vanderbilt in 2014. But given the stability Franklin has provided, the program has yet to take the next step. The Nittany Lions’ conference fortunes might not get dramatically better because they haven’t been able to consistently beat Ohio State or Michigan, but the opportunity to finally reach the CFP for the first time is there with the expansion to 12 teams. — Baumgartner

Oklahoma

Back to the Sooners. OU fans wanted bigger home games, and they’re going to get them, starting with a home finale against Alabama in 2024. But they also drew a ridiculously stiff set of conference opponents this time around. Even without a marquee nonconference opponent, they have the third-hardest schedule in the country in 2024, according to my SP+ strength-of-schedule ratings. You ask for it, you get it. — Connelly

SMU

The best answer is probably Oklahoma, but what’s the fun in agreeing with Connelly? Instead, let’s go with SMU, which is moving to the ACC and forgoing all conference revenue distribution for the foreseeable future, all so it can have a seat at the big-boy table (at least for as long as the ACC keeps its invite to the party). SMU is 43-19 since 2019, and the Mustangs won the American championship last year. Their reward? A bowl game against 6-6 Boston College, which they lost. So what happens when SMU transitions full time to the ACC? This year’s schedule includes Florida State and Louisville (the teams that played in last year’s ACC championship game) as well as road trips to Duke and a home game against the aforementioned Eagles, plus nonconference games against BYU and TCU. It’s entirely possible SMU follows in the footsteps of programs such as TCU and Utah, who transitioned to the Power 5 and blossomed, but even those schools took a year or two to adjust. Building depth to handle the rigors of a 12-game power conference slate takes time and resources, and the Mustangs might be in for a few growing pains along the way. — Hale

The Big 12 conference

Sorry for being broad again, but in a conference that is losing two teams in Texas and Oklahoma that won a combined 12 of the past 14 conference championship games (yes, I know the Longhorns had only three of those), now is a great time to establish yourself as the new leader of the pack. The incumbent teams of years past don’t have to worry about the two biggest roadblocks along their path to greatness. And for last season’s newcomers — BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — and the Pac-12 additions in Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah, this league feels more wide open than it has in a long time. — Lyles

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