If South Florida is any indication, some schools in the American Athletic Conference might be rethinking the best way to achieve membership in a Power Five conference.
In the past, candidates like USF and Central Florida took the approach that you had to build a competitive program, improve facilities and have a solid base of support to be considered.
But since the Big 12 debacle a few years ago, when that league announced it was exploring expansion and took resumes from interested parties only to decide it wasn't going to expand after all, other avenues are being looked at.
Now, and the AAC is emphasizing this, there is some thought that the best way to move up is not as individual teams but by building the competitiveness of the conference to a level equal to that of the big five.
And that might be the only way to go because, financially, there isn't a single team out there with the exception of Notre Dame that would bring additional revenue to a Power Five conference. And that will have a huge impact on whether or not any of those conferences expand.
The AAC has already started to try to muscle its way in by designating itself as a member of the Power Six, claiming to be on a par with the top five conferences. In reality, that carries about as much weight as UCF claiming the national championship after beating Auburn. But in both cases, there are talking points.
For example, the AAC was 3-1 against Power Five teams in bowl games last year. The Big 12, generally considered the weakest of that group, went 5-3 counting Oklahoma's loss in the national championship playoffs. The Pac 12, by the way, was 1-8.
The AAC had 18 players drafted by the NFL in April, the Big 12 had 20.
Michael Kelly, USF's new vice president of athletics, is familiar with the college football landscape. While not ruling out any option, he supports the idea of moving up as a conference. He also seems to be taking a more practical approach to what can and cannot be done at USF. Although again, he diplomatically won't rule anything out.
For example he downplays the idea of an on-campus stadium, which would cost $240 million — at least — and seat only 35,000. And although he wont say it, it's impractical given USF's level of financial support.
Currently, the athletic department is struggling to get the funding to build a $48 million football center. And Kelly and Coach Charlie Strong both see the football center as an absolute necessity.
"We really haven't talked much about the stadium," Kelly said. "We're concentrating on getting an indoor practice facility and football operations center built. That's the priority.
"And we play in one of the finest facilities in the country, Raymond James Stadium," Kelly pointed out. The problem there is that the Bucs control the stadium and much of the revenue that comes in, but Kelly still believes it's viable.
"What we have to do is maximize the opportunities we have," he said. "We control the ticket revenue. What we have to do is build a program that will appeal to our fan base. We have to develop enough interest to sell out our home games."
Meanwhile, Kelly is not closing any doors on possible expansion.
"What we have to do is make sure we're on the short list (of teams being considered) and not only that, but on the top of the short list," he said. "And from the conversations I've had, I'd say we're right there."