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.

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

 

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.