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.
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.
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.