- Brian Fremeau, ESPN Insider
The great conference-realignment shift of the past two seasons is nearly complete. The Big 12 officially will welcome the TCU Horned Frogs and West Virginia Mountaineers into conference play this fall, filling the vacancies left behind by the Missouri Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies.
The Big 12 was on treacherously shaky ground throughout the conference-realignment saga, and only time will tell whether stability will reign for the long-term future. In terms of on-the-field expectations in the near term, however, the 10-team conference may be as strong as ever.
According to our five-year weighted Program FEI ratings, the Big 12 upgraded this offseason. West Virginia and TCU both rank among the top 20 in PFEI, while Missouri and Texas A&M are ranked outside the top 25. The new Big 12 has five top-20 PFEI programs in 2012, one fewer than the SEC and outpacing the rest of the power conferences -- Pac-12 (three), ACC (three) and Big Ten (two).
This is significant, because every national championship game participant in the past 10 seasons has been ranked among the PFEI top 20 entering that year. Part of the reason for the SEC's recent dominant run can be attributed to its wealth of power programs in position to contend for a championship.
Of course, a cluster of power programs can impede a championship run as well. In the current BCS structure, winning every week is the only way to control your destiny. And even for an elite team, the more often it plays a strong opponent, the likelier it is to lose.
In the Big 12, an annual round-robin conference schedule will determine the league champion. How likely is it that an undefeated champion will emerge? And will West Virginia and TCU be part of that conversation? Let's take a look.