This week UCF kicks off against the Akron Zips. The game will not only mark the start of UCF’s 2013 season, but also the beginning of the newly established American Athletic Conference. Overall, not much coverage has been dedicated to the NCAA’s newest league or its members. So here are the top ten most important things Knight fans should know about the new conference.
1. Where the American Athletic Conference came from: A result of the NCAA’s conference realignment trend that has become so popular recently, the 10-team league is composed of six teams from the old Big East (Louisville, UConn, Rutgers, Cincinnati, USF and Temple) mixed with four programs who jumped ship from Conference USA (UCF, SMU, Houston, and Memphis).
2. The American Athletic Conference should be casually referred to as “The American”: Conference commissioner, Mike Aresco, said the conference would go by the nickname “The American,” instead of the AAC, to avoid confusion with the ACC.
3. The American is not a finished product: Heading into its inaugural year of play, the conference is already set to change. Louisville and Rutgers will leave the conference next season. Louisville will join the ACC and Rutgers will become members of the Big 10. East Carolina, Tulsa, and Tulane will replace them in 2014. Navy will become the twelfth member of the conference in 2015.
4. The American will be considered a major conference for only one season: The year, the American’s champion will get an automatic bid to play in a BCS game. When the college football playoffs replace the BCS in 2014, the American will be considered a mid-major. Under the playoff system, only five power conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and the SEC) will get a guaranteed spot in the postseason. The sixth spot will be given to the highest ranked champion from the American, C-USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, or Sun Belt conferences.
5. How a champion will be crowned: There will be no championship game until 2015, when Navy will join and round out the league to 12 teams. Until then, regular season records will decide the conference championship.
6. The young conference already has a heavy favorite: Louisville, led by coach Charlie Strong and QB Teddy Bridgewater had an outstanding 2012. They went 11-2 and capped it off with an impressive Sugar Bowl win over Florida. They return a lot of talent, are ranked in the top 10 in the country and are expected to dominate the American Athletic Conference.
7. The Conference MVP could be a two horse race: Heisman hopeful, Teddy
Bridgewater of Louisville, is seen by many as the class of the conference. He will try to build upon a stellar 2012 where he threw for over 3,700 yards and 27 touchdowns. But UCF QB, Blake Bortles, may be able to challenge Bridgewater and make a case of his own for MVP. Bortles also played very well last year and is expected to improve in his second full year as a starter. He combined for over 3,200 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2012 and this year has been named to five preseason award watch lists.
8. The American has some good coaching: The conference is young, but there will be experience on the sidelines. The league features four elder statesmen who have solid track records of success and two of the most talented up-and-coming coaches in the country. UCF’s George O’Leary, SMU’s June Jones, Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville and UConn’s Paul Pasqualoni have all proven they can field solid teams and win. Charlie Strong of Louisville and USF’s new hire, Willie Taggart, are two of the most promising young coaches in the game today.
9. The American’s Bowl Games (for now): Beside the one-year affiliation with a BCS Bowl game, the conference has five bowl games partners for 2013. They are the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, the Russel Atheltic, New Era Pinstripe, Belk Bowl, and the BBVA Compass Bowl. In 2014, the American will no longer be partnered with the Belk, Russel Athletic, and New Era Pinstripe Bowls. The conference is trying to renew contracts with the BBVA Compass and the Beef O’Brady bowls and add more after the 2013 season.
10. The War on I-4 is back on: When most schools move to a new conference, fans are usually upset that they will no longer face those conference foes that they have loved to hate for so long. the loss of rivalries and history is a major downside of switching conferences. Fortunately for UCF and USF, the opposite is true. The new conference will reunite the two programs and reignite the rivalry affectionately referred to as the “War on I-4.” The rivalry will recommence this year and should be more intense than ever with conference standings and championships at stake.