Texas, Oklahoma reportedly reach out to SEC about joining

Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports
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The last time Texas got a wandering eye for alternative conference affiliations it fueled a series of realignment in college sports that nearly killed the Big 12.

A report that Texas could once again be exploring free agency ended up stealing the headlines at the Southeastern Conference media days and cranked up speculation about another round of conference shuffling.

The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday, citing a source it did not identify, that Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma have reached out to the SEC about potentially joining the league.

The newspaper cited a “high-ranking official with knowledge of the situation” and said an announcement could come in the next couple of weeks. Adding two members would give the powerhouse SEC 16 teams, the largest in major college football.

Questions about the report were greeted by a series of no comments from the primary parties involved, but no denials.

“I’m talking about the 2021 season,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said as Day 3 of the SEC’s four-day football talk-fest in Hoover, Alabama, wound down.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, whose 10-member league would suffer a major blow with such defections, did not return messages from AP seeking comment.

“The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly,” Oklahoma said in a statement. “We don’t address every anonymous rumor.”

A Texas statement offered a similar response: “Speculation always swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation.”

Any move to leave the Big 12 would be complicated by an agreement its schools made after the last round of realignment to hand their media rights over to the league through their current television deals. The grant of rights lines up with the Big 12’s contracts with Fox and ESPN and runs through the 2024-25 school year.

Back in 2010, the then Pac-10 – led by new commissioner Larry Scott – tried to woo Texas and five other Big 12 schools into the West Coast-based conference to form a Pac-16.

That failed.

Texas stayed put and instead started its own television network. After another flirtation between Texas, Oklahoma and Scott, Texas A&M bolted for the SEC in 2012 and Missouri followed the Aggies.

The Big 12, which had already lost Nebraska to Big Ten and Colorado to the now Pac-12, managed to hang on by inviting TCU and West Virginia.

College sports was turned upside down for about three years as conferences jockeyed to fortify themselves and schools scrambled to not be left out.

The Big East was poached right out of the major college football business before finally reconstituting as the American Athletic Conference.

Life without Texas and Oklahoma would be uncertain – at best — for the other schools in the Big 12.

Even an unconfirmed report, prompted an assertive response from Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

“If true, we would be gravely disappointed,” the Cowboys’ statement said. “While we place a premium on history, loyalty and trust, be assured, we will aggressively defend and advance what is best for Oklahoma State and our strong athletic program, which continues to excel in the Big 12 and nationally.”

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork was adamant about not wanting the Longhorns to join the SEC.

“We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas,” Bjork told reporters in Hoover. “There’s a reason why Texas A&M left the Big 12, to be standalone, to have our own identity. And that’s our feeling.”

SEC bylaws require at least three-fourths (12) of the members to vote in favor of extending an invitation to join.

The mere possibility of adding Texas and Oklahoma to what is already the strongest football conference in the country has to draw the attention of the other Power Five conferences. Especially as the leaders of those leagues look to expand the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams.

Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to make the playoff, doing so four times. The road to the CFP would be tougher through the SEC but a bigger field could provide more paths.

The SEC recently signed a new television deal with ESPN that gives the cable TV sports giant all of its rights. It is unclear if adding Texas and Oklahoma would create an opportunity for the SEC to increase the value of those contracts for all its members and not just provide enough to cover additions at the current rate.

The SEC announced earlier this year it distributed about $45.5 million each to its members. The Big 12 schools received about $10 million less from its conference.

When Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was asked about Texas and Oklahoma reportedly being interested in the SEC during his session with the media in Hoover, he said: “I bet they would.”

“Listen, we’ve got the greatest league in ball,” Fisher said. “That’s the choices they make or what they do, I don’t know, but I don’t know how I feel about it.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.