When Luke Fickell and the Cincinnati Bearcats travel north to Ann Arbor for a date with the heavily-favored Michigan Wolverines, they’ll mark the first of three matchups between the Big Ten and the American Athletic Conference. It was then that we realized (1) rutger is not, in fact, an AAC team, and (2) that we knew positively nothing about the conference branding itself as part of the “P6.”
To educate you fools, we reached out to AAC expert Joey Broback of Underdog Dynasty. Joey, a native Minnesotan, is officially OK by our standards (“One of us!”). Here are his responses to my uneducated questions:
(1) Give us the state of the race in the American. The conference, to an outsider, looks like one without a front-runner but with a whole bunch of "Oh yeah, they...could be decent?" teams: Houston, Memphis, South Florida, Navy...holy shit, TEMPLE won it last year?! Is it as wide-open as it looks, or should someone run away with it?
Joey Broback: If you ask anyone, South Florida is the front-runner, but history would tell you to not expect them to run the table. As we saw with Houston last year (and multiple teams before them), it’s tough to be pegged as the top Group of 5 team and make it to a NY6 bowl. In fact, in the last five years, no Group of 5 team has started in the Top 25 and made it to a NY6 game, so the Bulls would be the first. Memphis is one of those “could be good” teams, and their matchup against UCLA is huge for the conference.
With the AAC trying to push this “Power 6” concept, winning these types of games becomes essential. Houston has two former five stars in Kyle Allen and Ed Oliver. Oliver is the best defensive tackle in the country, and people who laugh at that need to watch his film. Houston also has an opportunity to beat two Power 5 teams as well this year, and Arizona and Texas Tech can’t afford to lose those game (mostly for their coaches’ job security). After those three, there are multiple teams that could surprise us and compete for the conference title. UCF, Temple, Navy, Tulsa, and SMU could all shock the conference with strong seasons.
(2) Who's a Heisman trophy dark horse from the conference we should be looking for? Is it Flowers, or does some talented wide receiver from the West (Memphis' Anthony Miller?) seize the attention?
JB: I think we both know that a receiver anywhere has no chance of winning the Heisman, let alone from this conference. Anthony Miller and SMU’s Courtland Sutton will be two of the best receivers in the country, and All-American honors are more realistic expectations for them both. I think because of the weak schedule, Flowers will be eliminated early unless he produces a season that supersedes Lamar Jackson’s 2016 output.
If Memphis beats UCLA in the third week, quarterback Riley Ferguson will have a good game, and could supplant Flowers as the top player in the conference. I think Heisman talks need to be tabled with this conference for now until they can produce better schedules and continue developing depth within the conference. There are plenty of names to know in the conference, but it may be a little while before the nation is ready to accept anyone as a legitimate contender for these national awards.
(3) Those of us in B1G country are used to associating various G5 conferences with particular identities--the FUNBELTs and MACtions of the world, if you will. Does the AAC, going on its fifth year of existence, have such an identity yet? With 12 teams in the AAC, are there any teams you'd drop/add? (Be honest: you want UConn gone.)
JB: Like I mentioned earlier, this conference appears to be heading towards a “Power 6” movement. They’re trying to remove themselves from being associated with other G5 conferences and join the ranks of the other Power conferences. It may be comical to think about, but it might be a good thing for college football in general. Closing the gap would at least make college football more competitive, and there are teams in every conference that don’t belong in the Power 5.
UConn has struggled to say the least, and I don’t know if Randy Edsall can revive that program in his second stint as head coach with the school (B1G fans know all too well how things went at Maryland). At this point, adding would mean poaching a top team or two from one of the other G5 conferences, and I just don’t see it happening. The Power 6 movement also takes a huge hit if one of the top AAC teams gets snagged by a Power 5 team. At least they won’t have to worry about the Big 12 taking one of their schools, they’ll just steal a coach instead.
(4) There are a couple B1G-to-AAC castoffs in Fickell and Randy Edsall. Minnesota's already had their chance at Charlie Strong and gone...another...direction, but who of the AAC coaches would you rank as [a] the best, and [b] most likely to make the jump to a Big Ten school? Why?
JB: First off, I would be extremely surprised if there was an opening in the B1G after this year. Strong could be a potential candidate, but I think others will get a shot before him. One that I don’t see happening this year, but would be an interesting story in the future would be Scott Frost to Nebraska. The former Husker quarterback coming full circle to lead his team as a coach? I think that storyline would be Nebraska fans excited, and the temptation would be extremely high for Frost to return should the opportunity present itself.
Memphis’ Mike Norvell, SMU’s Chad Morris, and Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery all could leave if their teams have successful seasons, but I don’t know if they B1G would be calling them.