Midseason Report

The American Athletic Conference doesn’t suck this year. I was worried after last year. But at the halfway point this year the league already has more wins over “power five” opponents (6) than they did all of last year (4). Some big wins include Houston’s road victory over Louisville, Temple’s slaughtering over Penn State, and Cincinnati’s big win over the Hurricanes.

Better still is the fact that the AAC is the only “group of five” conference to have a winning non-conference record; so far the league is 8 games over .500. Not too shabby.

Now let’s hope these young coaches stick around…

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Two American Athletic Conference Players Drafted in First Round

Photo credit: colts.com

Photo credit: colts.com

Bershard Perriman, the talented receiver from UCF, and cornerback Byron Jones from UConn went 26th and 27th respectively in the first round of the NFL draft Friday.

While the conference will continue to be maligned, it’s great to see the talent gap isn’t insurmountable. Having first round talent is a pretty special thing.

Quick stats about the two players:

Perriman (Baltimore Ravens)

In three seasons at UCF, Perriman hauled in 16 touchdowns, including 9 his final year. He also cracked the 1,000 receiving yard mark with a total of 1,044 his senior year.

Jones (Dallas Cowboys)

In four years at UConn, Jones had 8 interceptions and 223 tackles on some fairly decent Connecticut defenses.

It’ll be fun watching these guys at the next level.

Why is the American Athletic Conference So Bad Right Now?

Nearly 41,000 people showed to watch the Cincinnati Bearcats barely hold off Miami (OH) 31-24 on September 19th. Halfway through the season, the Bearcats have the country's worst defense.

Nearly 41,000 people showed to watch the Cincinnati Bearcats barely hold off Miami (OH) 31-24 on September 19th. Halfway through the season, the Bearcats have the country’s worst defense.

OK, so the American Athletic Conference this year has been really, really bad.

I don’t want to sound any alarms. I’m trying to keep my cool. But the outlook has not been good at the midway point so far in the 2014 season. In a year when it doesn’t have the spotlight of heisman candidate quarterbacks and BCS tie-in, this could really set the wrong tone going forward in the playoff era.

Want to count up the wins against teams from the B1G, ACC, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12? There’s bound to be countless, right?

The number is 3. Three wins against teams deemed as top-tier competition. One of those came against Vanderbilt by Temple, the other two were ECU dismantling UNC and beating Virginia Tech.

The loss total? 17. That’d be a 3-17 season record so far against “power five” competition.

Wanna know how they’re faring in games against more equally-suited opponents (non-power five)? 14-10. The American Athletic Conference has posted a 14-10 record against non-major conference teams, including against FCS opponents. Hardly coming out swinging in the conference’s sophomore year.

So how did it come to this?

There’s no debating the American doesn’t have the resources as some of the major conferences, but the teams should yield a better result than what they’ve shown. We can roughly categorize the conference’s teams by those who are underperforming based on recent history, and those who over overperforming.

That breakdown goes something like this:

Overperforming teams: ECU, Memphis, Temple

Underperforming: Cincinnati, UConn, USF, Tulane, Tulsa, Houston, SMU

Par for the course: UCF

Unscientific, of course. But the number of teams having “down” years is really tipping the scale this year. Tulane went bowling last year, Tulsa has been a giant letdown, SMU is historically bad, Cincinnati has the statistically worst defense in the country, USF’s rebuilding is still a ways away, Houston is puzzling on all accounts and UConn hasn’t quite re-discovered the 2007-2010 magic yet.

I feel bad for Mike Aresco; his tireless campaign stumps for this conference falling on deaf ears after this season’ sub-par performances. But things could get better. Not that they could get much worse.

Ranking the American Athletic 2014 Non-Conference Schedules

2014 is a huge year for the American. The same conference that — with the exception of UCF — completely fell on its face in non-conference play in 2013 has some huge opportunities this coming year. Opportunities that don’t include the firepower of Louisville or Rutgers to boost non-conference reputation for the league.

Below I’ve ranked all the American teams (including ECU, Tulane and Tulsa) on how exciting their non-conference slates should be.

ECU always welcomes tough non-conference opponents.

ECU always welcomes tough non-conference opponents.

1) East Carolina. The Pirates schedule quality opponents every single year. Because their attendance isn’t so shabby, it’s easy for them to convince bigger programs to agree to home-and-home schedules. Plus with so many other BCS-level schools nearby, it makes for close travel with exciting match-ups. This year is no different, traveling to Virginia Tech and South Carolina while hosting UNC. Doesn’t get a lot better than that. Best game: South Carolina.

2) USF. Gotta hand it to the Bulls: they always schedule pretty tough. They’re the only team to schedule two games with the B1G (Maryland and Wisco), in addition to hosting NC State. With a great schedule, and an outstanding recruiting class, things should be fun in Coach Taggart’s second year. Best game: Wisconsin.

3) UCF. The reigning Fiesta Bowl champs will have some shots at taking down a few more big programs this year. In a fun twist, they’re playing in Dublin, Ireland against Penn State, travel to Missouri, and play BYU. Should be another fun year for the Golden Knights. Best game: Penn State.

Cincinnati couldn't catch the Buckeyes when they last met in 2006.

Cincinnati couldn’t catch the Buckeyes when they last met in 2006.

4) Cincinnati. There are six MAC programs in the state of Ohio, and one of them happens to be Cincinnati’s longest rival, Miami (OH). Like Ohio State, it’s almost impossible for them not to schedule MAC teams, but that’s OK. This year they get the Redhawks and Toledo, while traveling to state juggernaut OSU and Miami (FL). The American could sure use them beating one of the latter. Best game: Ohio State.

5) SMU. The Mustangs don’t even have to leave their own state to schedule exciting matchups. They play defending Big 12 champ Baylor, and host Texas A&M and TCU. Here’s to hoping they don’t get swept by the Big 12. Best game: Texas A&M.

6) UConn. My heart’s still broken thinking about the Huskies loss at home to Michigan last year. Who knew just how bad both those teams would end up being? This year’s schedule doesn’t carry the same names as last year’s, but Boise, BYU and Army create some intrigue. Best game: Boise State.

7) Memphis. The Tigers get a chance to avenge last year’s close loss to Middle Tennessee, as well as travel to UCLA and Ole Miss. The latter two should be no easy task for the upstart Tigers. Best game: ULCA.

8) Tulane. Credit the Green Wave for scheduling three opponents from either the B1G or ACC. Rutgers doesn’t carry a whole lot of cache these days, unfortunately. Especially not around these parts. It will be interesting to see how they play against Georgia Tech in their home opener in their awesome looking new stadium. Best game: Georgia Tech.

9) Temple. We do get to see Coach James Franklin’s previous and current employers on the Owls’ schedule with Vanderbilt and Penn State. A home date with Navy should be a nice introduction to what could be a rivalry going forward in the American, especially with the geographic proximity. Best game: Vanderbilt.

10) Tulsa. Not a terrific schedule, but, at least they’re all against FBS competition. A home date with in-state Big Brother Oklahoma looms large. Best game: Oklahoma.

11) Houston. They get BYU again – last year’s game was a dandy. And that’s about all they have. Best game: BYU.

Image Credit: ECU Pirates, The O-zone

IS THE AMERICAN A FOOTBALL OR BASKETBALL CONFERENCE? (PART 2)

Is the American A Football of Basketball Conference? (Part 2)

There’s been quite a few revelations since I first started writing this series (before a single game was played). There is no doubt, based on the performances of all seasons, that this is a basketball league, and a damn fine one. The football side of things weren’t awful, UCF sort of saved the conference by upsetting Baylor and genuinely playing a great season.

American Athletic basketball, on the other hand, was one of the best conferences in the country. At least on top it was, with Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU and national champ UConn leading the pack. Next year things could change; gone are the Cardinals, and in are generally-football leaning Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina.

And so resumes our series:

Memphis. It’s tragic this squad plays in a 60,000-person football stadium. In a state not known for producing top-notch football talent, the Tigers are arguably the fourth-best football program in the recruiting pecking order(UT, Vandy, Middle Tennessee). Of course, that doesn’t mean the future can’t be bright. Next year’s TV exposure could mean a big step up for this long time gridiron doormat.

Speaking of TV exposure; Cincinnati basketball coach Mick Cronin was quoted recently as saying Memphis was the best hoops team that no one saw last year. Memphis is very much a basketball city, and the Tigers are a pretty big deal. If Mario Chalmers didn’t make it rain in the 2008 championship game, you could even call this program “elite.” This league’s exposure will be good to them. Either way, there’s no question that the University of Memphis is a basketball school.
Verdict: Basketball

While certainly known for hoops, Memphis has huge football upside in the American.

While certainly known for hoops, Memphis has huge football upside in the American.

Navy. Well, the only sport invited to the American Athletic Conference is Navy football. Pretty much all we need to base this on.
Verdict: Football

SMU. This might just be the trickiest one yet. Asked me four months ago and I might have said football. And yes, I know their football has been really, really bad in recent years, but at least they have history. ESPN even did a “30 for 30” on the football program (albeit for serious recruiting violations). But to everyone’s surprise, they’ve managed to become a real threat in basketball. Larry Brown can coach, and most importantly, recruit. These guys are going to be loaded next season, and angry about their NCAA snub.
Verdict: Basketball

Image Credit:  The Commercial Appeal

 

Is the American Athletic Conference Winning the Perception Battle?

The title alone points to the problem. When this conference was announced, you couldn’t find a sports writer or TV analyst anywhere that gave it a fighting chance. The marquee names up and left the conference, and, perhaps worst of all, so did a brand.

It’s not an easy world to start a new conference, when so many casual fans identify with only what they’re used to. Still, the American Athletic Conference had a first year for the ages.

USF

In both football and men’s basketball, Louisville was the clear frontrunner, coming off Sugar Bowl and National Championship wins. How wonderful it is for Mike Aresco and the American that UCF knocked off a legitimate opponent in Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and UConn went on to win the national championship in hoops (men’s and women’s no less).

There are still harsh realities to face. In the new playoff era, the American Athletic Conference splits about $86 million with the Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West and MAC. Sounds like decent money, right? Unless you’re comparing it to the $90 million that each of the “power” five conferences receive. Then you compare media deals… oh boy. Quick math update: The American teams each receive about $2 million in media revenue with their current ESPN/CBS deal. Add another $1.5 million from the playoff fund, and that’s $3.5 million per team in the American.

For comparison’s sake, the average ACC team will rake in about $6.5 million from the playoff fund and about $20 million from their media deal. ACC team $26.5 million, American team $3.5 million. Quite the difference.

But as it is, there’s a competitive framework in place to keep the league moving forward, and its brand and money can only increase.

Image Credit: Lost Letterman

Big Five Conferences Breaking Away? Stupid.

This story just won’t die. Every couple of days a new conference commissioner from one of the “power” conferences reiterates the need for players to get paid and possibly for there to be a separation of the “top” 70 teams from the NCAA. Nauseating idea.

Let me first state that this whole “covering the full cost of tuition” sentiment is getting out of control. Student athletes don’t need to get paid more than they already do. Find me other college students who get free first-rate dorms, food, textbooks and tuition paid for. While the rest of the students are paying for all of that, athletes are reaping huge benefits so they can play a sport no more than 20 hours a week. They’re already treated like gods among men on most campuses, why add to that?

Aresco said he would campaign to be included in whatever division might be created to accommodate the major conferences. I understand it, but it’s worrisome. Most schools’ athletic budgets are strapped as is, especially in the American Athletic Conference. Unless you’re a Texas, Florida, or Ohio State, you’re school is probably hemorrhaging money by way of fielding an FBS football program. Stipends will only make it much, much worse.

And let’s be real here. The difference between current FCS and FBS schools is a competitive issue just as much as it is a financial one. But you can’t make the case all of the Power 5 schools are more competitive than many of the Group of 5. Boise, Cincinnati, UCF, South Florida, Nevada, Air Force, and Navy are leaps better on most years than the likes of Washington State, Wake Forrest, Duke, Vanderbilt (until recently), Minnesota, and Kansas, just to name a few.

Hopefully when the dust settles, no one screws this up worse than they already have.