In the American Athletic Conference Football media days, Mike Aresco sounded like a proud father beaming about his son's spelling bee win. Except instead of a spelling bee it was the Fiesta Bowl and instead of his son it was the UCF Knights. He mentioned Central Florida an astounding eight times in his opening remarks, six of those times he also mentioned the Fiesta Bowl:
"UCF won the Fiesta Bowl in convincing fashion,"
"the Fiesta Bowl representatives told me that they enjoyed the UCF team as much as any they had ever hosted."
"- you saw what the group of UCF wide receivers did in the Fiesta Bowl against the Big 12 champion."
"Coming off a successful year, crowned by UCF's Fiesta Bowl win, what can we look for this season?"
"It is our job to prove them wrong, as we did last year, as UCF did in the Fiesta Bowl, as we did in the basketball championships with UConn." (Bonus points for the UConn mention)
"Remember UCF in the Fiesta Bowl."
Much like UConn winning the basketball national championship, or even Florida State winning last year's football championship, UCF winning the Fiesta Bowl is a false flag for the conference. Even if Aresco had mentioned UCF twelve times in his opening statement, nobody is forgetting that the AAC consists mostly of bottom feeders or lower tier FBS programs.
Besides UCF, the American went 1-3 in bowl games last year. Houston and Cincinnati were blown out, Rutgers lost to Syracuse and Louisville beat Miami. As we all know, Louisville and Rutgers are no longer part of the conference.
This year, the AAC faces an uphill battle in the effort to shift the perception of sports fans, media and the coaches poll/computer rankings/Condoleeza Rice. As we embark upon the 2014 bowl season, it is critical for the American to perform well overall in the absence of an opportunity to earn a truly high-profile win.
There are five AAC schools who have earned bowl bids:
Memphis vs. Brigham Young
Miami Beach Bowl
Marlins Park • Miami, Fla.
Dec. 22 • 2 p.m. • ESPN
UCF vs. North Carolina State
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
Tropicana Field • St. Petersburg, Fla.
Dec. 26 • 8 p.m. • ESPN
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium • Annapolis, Md.
Dec. 27 • 1 p.m. • ESPN
Houston vs. Pittsburgh
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Amon G. Carter Stadium • Fort Worth, Texas
Jan. 2 • Noon • ESPN
East Carolina vs. Florida
Legion Field • Birmingham, Ala.
Jan. 3 • Noon • ESPN
The best from the AAC are going against four 'power five' schools (3 ACC, 1 SEC) and BYU. All five opponents have strong followings and enough in the history/prestige/excellence formula to represent a quality win for the American.
I do think we have a decent football conference, and that it has the potential to improve in the coming years. SMU, Tulsa and Houston have made changes at head coach, all are promising hires. Cincinnati, ECU and UCF have been consistently competitive, and this year Memphis and Temple took a step up. If the conference sticks together, there's no reason to believe it can't win the access bowl bid every year.
Unfortunately, there will be growing pains, and this year may be one of them. If it wasn't for UConn's win over UCF, the Knights could have earned the 'group of five' bid for a New Year's Day bowl. In the future the American needs to be a lock for this bid every year.
This year, we should consider bowl season a success if the AAC can win three out of five. It starts today with the Miami Beach Bowl, where Memphis has the opportunity add an exclamation point to a remarkable season. The Tigers finished the season 9-3 and earned a share of the conference title with ECU and UCF. The previous year they had gone 3-9 with losses to Middle Tennessee and UConn. This is the type of growth which gives the American promise.
Memphis is actually favored by 2 points today, UCF and Cincinnati are favored by three or less as well. The largest Vegas spread for an AAC bowl game is the 6.5 points by which Florida is favored over ECU in the Birmingham Bowl.
How do you think the AAC fares in bowl season this year?