AAC: Analysis, bowl projections

The AAC claimed some big non-conference victories this season.

NCAA Football: Southern at Houston
The American Athletic Conference logo on the field before the game between the Houston Cougars and the Southern Jaguars at Reliant Stadium. (Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — Time has gone by quickly this season. As October approaches and the temperatures cool down, why not look back at what has transpired so far in the young season.

Non-Conference Success?

The American faced the challenge of having the one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. So far in the 2014 season, the conference has a combined record of 15-18. The good news is the conference has defeated quality teams such as Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Vanderbilt. The conference also almost garnered wins against Penn State, UCLA and South Carolina. However, Central Florida head coach George O’Leary made a noteworthy point this past July during the AAC Media Day in Newport, RI regarding non-conference games. He stated that the league has to not only schedule tough non-conference games, but win them as well. There are still some games on tap that can give the conference even more clout with opponents such as Ohio State, Miami and BYU left on the schedule.

What is going on in Greenville?

East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil embraces the concept of family with his team. He sees his players as his sons. His children have landed back-to-back big victories against AAC teams and a Top-25 ranking in both the Amway Coaches Poll (24th) and the Associated Press Poll (23rd). As mentioned by Shelby Hilliard in her article on Coach & Player, the Air Raid offense has been impressive. Will ECU follow Central Florida’s path as being a new school in the conference and winning the conference championship in its first season? It will be curious to see if they will.

East Carolina Pirates quarterback Shane Carden (5) looks to pass the ball during the second quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)
East Carolina Pirates quarterback Shane Carden (5) looks to pass the ball during the second quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Get Well Soon

UConn has had a tough year so far. Some unfortunate news came out earlier this season that QB Casey Cochran left the team due to another concussion. Cochran, who has had a history of sustaining head injuries, will not play football again. Also, Angelo Pruitt and Bryan Paull are no longer on the team because of health issues. This game is a rough sport, but it is always tough to see someone not have a chance to play again. Hopefully, these three UConn players will eventually be okay and move on to a great post-football life.

Best quote so far in the season

UConn coach Bob Diaco on playing on the road: “Business trip, locked in. I am excited about it. I think there’s something about going on the road that creates this inclusive mindset where the conversations get more intimate. The moments get more intimate and intense. There inherently is a more locked-in sequestered feel. I love it; I am excited about it and the team seems very excited about it.”

Newest bowl projects

Because everyone knows that the season ends after three weeks (waiting for sarcastic emails,) here are the current bowl projections for teams in the AAC:

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: East Carolina – The Pirates now look like the strongest team in the conference. With an offense that is currently ranked seventh in the country in total yards per game and a defense that is holding its own. Add the appeal of a possible Heisman candidate in Shane Carden and the Pirates would be the strongest team coming out of the Group of Five, hence giving them a berth in the Peach Bowl.

Miami Beach Bowl: UCF – The defending AAC Champions played Penn State down to the wire and went into Missouri and lost. Quarterback Justin Holman should be better as the season progresses. Because Knights fans would not have to travel far to see their team in postseason action, the Miami Beach Bowl committee could see them as a viable participant.

Bitcoin St Petersburg Bowl: Cincinnati Arguably the second-best team in the conference, the Bearcats found their quarterback in Gunner Kiel. With games against Ohio State, ECU and Houston, we will learn a lot about how their season will end.

Birmingham Bowl: Memphis – The Tigers have been the most surprising team so far this year. They nearly upset UCLA and have taken care of business against Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee. At least seven wins is not out of the question for a team that finished with three last year.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston – Coach Tony Levine and the rest of the Cougars staff still have faith in John O’Korn, and the defense has played inconsistently. The Cougars should be able to scrape a couple of wins together and still have a decent season.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Temple – Temple currently leads the nation in creating turnovers (14) and is tied with three other teams in turnover margin with a +8. The offense is still waiting to hit its full stride. The Owls have a good chance of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.

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