It’s the conference you’ve never heard of with the logo that you’ve never seen, and you’re not exactly sure what teams it includes.
But when the college football season kicks off Thursday night, the American Athletic Conference will be a part of it.
It’s an ambiguous conference, made up of teams left over from the demise of the Big East, in football anyway, and four teams from Conference USA.
What the American conference needs in its inaugural season is an identity.
It may find it in Louisville – a team with lofty expectations and a Heisman hopeful in Teddy Bridgewater.
Louisville is the conference’s only true standout team in 2013. It’s riding on the arm (and legs) of a quarterback that has had injury issues in the past. And it’s a team that come the 2014 season will be in the other conference that starts with the letter A – the ACC.
It’s not much. But the American conference is going to go with it.
IN: SMU, Houston, Central Florida, Memphis
All four additions spent last season in Conference USA. While SMU, Houston and Memphis all had relatively lackluster seasons, UCF played for a conference title (which it lost in overtime) and won a bowl game. The teams agreed to join what was then the Big East back in 2011, when it was a much different conference and looked like a step up for all four teams. Now, with Louisville and Rutgers set to depart after just one season in the newly-renamed American and the BCS making way for the College Football Playoff in 2014, you have to wonder whether the change ended up being simply a lateral move.
OUT: Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Both former Big East teams made the move to the ACC this season with much fanfare. No more Pitt/Rutgers or Syracuse/UConn, but then again, those typically were better games come basketball season anyway.
IN: Tommy Tuberville, Matt Rhule, Willie Taggart
Three teams will boast new head coaches entering the season. Tuberville was probably the most surprising move of any of them, as he voluntarily left Texas Tech to make the move to Cincinnati. Willie Taggart, formerly of Western Kentucky, takes control of the sideline at South Florida. Meanwhile, Temple’s Matt Rhule takes control as a head coach for the first time in his career.
Game of the Year
1. With nine seasons, UCF head coach George O’Leary is the longest-tenured coach in the American, despite the fact that his team hasn’t yet played a game in the conference. [image source]
2. While just about everything else about the conference is up in the air, the quarterback situation at all but two of the conference’s 10 schools is secure. Only South Florida and Temple will be working with unproven quarterbacks under center this season.
3. It’s going to be an uphill climb for the American, as the preseason magazines were not kind with expectations. Louisville is the undoubted favorite, as both Athlon Sports and Lindy’s predicted it as the preseason No. 10. But from there? Not good. Neither magazine has any other team in the American ranked above No. 35. Athlon has Cincinnati at No. 35 and Rutgers at No. 47, while Lindy’s has Rutgers at No. 35, Cincinnati at No. 40 and UCF at No. 43.
4. If SMU starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert seems familiar to you, it’s because he is. Gilbert was the starting quarterback at Texas in 2010, throwing for more than 2,700 yards and 10 touchdowns. But after being benched during the second game of the 2011 season, then undergoing shoulder surgery, Gilbert transferred to SMU, where he started last season.
Louisville is the undisputed favorite to win the conference title, which means that all three preseason magazines with bowl predictions have the Cardinals representing the American in the BCS. The three differ, however, in which bowl and which opponent Louisville will face.
- Athlon: Sugar Bowl vs. Georgia
- Sporting News: Orange Bowl vs. Clemson
- Lindy’s: Orange Bowl vs. Clemson
Your Guess is as Good as Ours
It’s pretty obvious while looking through the preseason magazines that no one really has any idea how good – or bad – Houston will be in its first season in the American. USA Today predicts a fifth place finish with a 7-5 season and a bowl game. The Sporting News doesn’t project records, but does put Houston in last place in the conference. Lindy’s also doesn’t predict a record, but has the Cougars finishing fifth in the conference and at No. 60 in the nation, which would make them likely bowl eligible – but barely. And Athlon predicts a seventh-place finish in the conference with a 5-7 season.
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