Discovery of a chemically stable, light absorbing and low resistivity metal oxide with band edges aligned to the water redox potentials has been a goal of physical scientists for the past forty years. Despite an immense amount of effort, no solution has been uncovered. We present a combined theoretical and experimental exploration of a series of unconventional ternary cobalt spinel oxides, which offer chemical functionality through substitution on the octahedral spinel B site. First-principles predictions of the substitution of group 13 cations (Al, Ga, In) in Co3O4 to form a series of homologous CoX2O4 spinel compounds are combined with experimental synthesis and photoelectrochemical characterization. Ultimately, while tunable band gaps in the visible range can be obtained, the material performance is limited by poor carrier transport properties associated with small polaron carriers. Future design pathways for metal oxide exploration are discussed.