It has been an exciting 2015 season so far from the American Athletic Conference. Now would be a good time to bring some early observations on the AAC.
With the best conference champion from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West & Sun Belt) having to fight for one spot in the New Year’s Six bowl games, the strength of schedule and wins against Autonomous Five programs will be an important factor in determining who is selected. When looking at the Group of Five, the American currently has the inside track on getting the bid. Memphis, Houston, and Temple are all currently ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. The conference itself has wins against Ole Miss, Penn State, Louisville and Syracuse. The only other conference with a good win is Toledo, and that is against Arkansas. Barring a major collapse, the winner of the American will be going to have to hold their plans for New Year’s Eve. It is going to be interesting to see if Condoleeza Rice and Tom Osborne, the two Playoff selection members who relay the AAC information to the rest of the committee members, see the same thing a lot of other people have witnessed.
On Sunday, word came out of Orlando that Central Florida Head Coach George O’Leary was retiring. In 2013, the conference’s first year of existence, O’Leary and the Golden Knights earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl and defeated Baylor. This year has been rough. The team has not won a game yet this season. He relinquished the Interim Athletic Director position a few weeks ago.
Now, he is leaving the university for good. In a statement released by AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco stated the following:
“The American Athletic Conference will always owe a debt of gratitude to George O’Leary, who helped our conference gain immediate credibility with UCF’s Fiesta Bowl championship in our first year. George has enjoyed a wonderful career and established himself as one of the best coaches in college football – one who created unprecedented success on and off the field at UCF. His commitment to academic excellence was every bit as impressive as his numerous conference and bowl championships. We all wish him success in his retirement.”
The Wild West
The Western Division is tough. The top three teams in the division (Houston, Memphis and Navy) have a combined record of 19-1. The three teams will all play each other in November. It is possible that all three will beat up on each other, possibly costing the winner home field advantage in the AAC Conference Championship Game on Dec. 5.
Taggart’s seat cools down
After winning three games in a row, South Florida head coach Willie Taggart has shown that he at least deserves another year. The Bulls had highly rated recruiting classes the last few years. However, the recruiting ratings did not transfer into success on the field. The defense continues to play well and quarterback Quinton Flowers has been steadily improving.
Projected Bowl Assignments
Chick Fil’A Peach Bowl-Memphis: This is a spot that could change hands multiple times in the next few weeks. Right now, Memphis is playing well. Although they do not possess a shutdown defense, the offense under the direction of Paxton Lynch has been superb. The team will probably have to travel to Philadelphia twice. Once for the regular season matchup against Temple on Nov. 21 and again in the AAC Championship game. It is tough to beat a team twice in one season. Memphis most likely would head to the Peach Bowl.
Miami Beach Bowl-Temple: This is supposed to be the bowl game in which the AAC champion would play in. The loser of the championship game would most likely go to play someone in Conference USA, probably Marshall. Temple defense is one of the best defenses in the country, and Matt Rhule has done a good job getting them to this position.
Birmingham Bowl-Houston: Greg Ward Jr. should be in the Top 10 when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. He has made the transition from wide receiver to quarterback well. The only reason that Houston is in this game because the loser of the Memphis-Houston game will not go to the AAC championship game. At this moment, Memphis is the better team. It would make sense to send Houston to the Hawaii Bowl, being that they are one of the teams out west. However, with the game being played against an SEC opponent and Houston is not a long flight to Birmingham, it makes sense to send the Cougars to Alabama.
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman-Navy: The Midshipmen have done very well in their first season in the conference. The Navy rushing attack is still potent, and the defense has done an adequate job. The deal that Navy has in place is if they do not make the College Football Playoff, they will play in the Military Bowl. The team will be bowl eligible, and they will play at home against an ACC opponent. It will not happen, but it would have been great to see a Navy-Georgia Tech matchup with dueling triple-option offenses.
St. Petersburg Bowl-Cincinnati: After a slow start, the Bearcats have turned it around. After a slow start, they have played a lot better, especially after the bye. They will make a late charge, making the race for the AAC East interesting, but it will be too late. A game against someone in Conference USA is in their future.
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl-East Carolina: This team could very well have been in the conversation for winning the conference. However, a late fourth quarter loss to Temple at home and a loss in September to Navy have put them in their current position. ECU will play in the second year bowl game.
AutoNation Cure Bowl-Tulsa: Philip Montgomery has done a good job taking a lot of the same players that Bill Blankenship had last year, and making them into a team that is competitive. They will get to six wins. A trip to Orlando seems to be in the cards for the Golden Hurricane.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl-None. It is a reverse of what happened last year. In 2014, there were not enough bowls to fit every bowl eligible team in the AAC. With the way the remaining part of the season is projected to go, there will not be enough teams that will be bowl eligible to qualify. South Florida and UConn are on pace to have five wins, one short of the bowl eligibility minimum requirement. Unless an unexpected win does occur, this spot will go to another conference.