The American Athletic Conference has struggled in bowl games since the conference’s inception. The AAC’s record of 8-17, with losses to other G5 and lower tier P5 teams has no made a great impression for the P6 movement. Sure, there have been some great wins like UCF in 2013 and Houston in 2015 (as far as the major bowl games go), but the conference has never done great all at once. This is the year that they can turn it around and potentially flip that record to 14-17. This is not an easy feat, but if they were able to go 5-1 or 6-0, the conference would get enormous respect.
SMU vs. LA Tech
For SMU, this will be a test to see if they can play without their coach. The same pieces - minus Cortland Sutton and maybe Trey Quinn - will be back next year. Thus, I think they will be the top team in the West division with all the continuity, but losing Morris has really put a damper on those hopes. This is the game to prove that this team can win despite adversity. If they want those preseason expectations and respect, it starts right now.
This also is an audition game for Jeff Traylor. If things go well, SMU might just hire in house so the players and recruits still have the continuity of the staff still being here. We would expect that under Traylor, the offense would be run the exact way Morris would run it. If the game goes poorly, SMU might have to open their wallets and pay for a guy like Kevin Sumlin. He would be able to retain the recruits that could potentially de-commit. So, as you can see, this game means a ton for the coaching situation as well.
Temple vs. FIU
For Temple, this game is more about regaining respect. Last year, the AAC champs shocked the G5 world by beating USF and going on to defeat Navy in the championship. Under first-year head coach Geoff Collins, Temple looked like a shell of themselves at the beginning of the season. After a quarterback switch to Frank Nutile, Collins has the program trending back in the right direction. This is Collins chance to prove that Temple can contend on the east side once again with USF an UCF. It will also prove that Collins might be the right fit. Many fans were skeptical of the hire at first, but this game may ease the skepticism going into next season.
It would also be a statement win against one of the better teams in C-USA. FIU is currently 1-1 vs. the AAC this year. This game will show whether Temple is closer talent-wise to UCF or talent-wise to Tulane. Plus, after last year’s bowl letdown to Wake Forest, this game means a whole lot more for Owls fans.
Texas Tech vs. USF
This game is going to be a ton of fun to watch if you enjoy good offensive showings. There are a multitude of reasons why this game is particularly important for USF and the AAC. The first is this is Quinton Flowers last game in a USF uniform, and most likely the last game at quarterback in his playing career. Expect him and USF fans to be more hyped up than last years game against a more worthy opponent.
Another big reason was the lack of respect that was given to USF during the expansion and during the college football rankings. This game should be a huge dig at the Big 12 to regret not wanting to expand as USF should win. This will hopefully be done right before selection committee chair and Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt. We know that the selection committee does not watch G5 football, but Hocutt is going to get a dose of it as he watches his team fall. Maybe then he will realize that USF is better than Boise or Fresno.
Lastly, it proves that USF still has talent to contend next year. With plenty of starters returning next year, plus a stellar recruiting class and transfers who sat out a year, this team is going to be solid next year. I will not say no Quinton, no problem just yet. But, showing that they can beat P6 opponents makes a statement to the current players and recruits that this team is still loaded.
Fresno State vs. Houston
The biggest thing Houston proves in winning this game is showing how far ahead the AAC is over the Mountain West. Fresno State is arguably their best team and Houston is the 4th best team in the AAC. If Houston were to win this game, it would be devastating for the Mountain West. The number one team in a G5 conference needs to be able to beat anyone in the G5 conferences. This may not be the case in a really low-scoring affair.
This also proves that Houston is not out of the race for next year’s AAC bid. Houston has all the tools to keep on running with Ed Oliver returning for one more year, and D’Eriq King giving some stability at quarterback. This team will return plenty of starters, and puts the Cougars in great shape to win their division after Memphis will lose Riley Ferguson.
The last big thing it proves is Major Applewhite being the right fit. Many were skeptical of the Applewhite hiring last year, but he has given the Cougars a nice season. They were able to get an upset win over USF and got a solid bowl game in paradise. Applewhite will have proven himself very capable with a good bowl win.
Virginia vs. Navy
The biggest thing to prove for Navy is that they can still be a solid team despite the quarterback struggles. Keenan Reynolds or Will Worth are not coming through the door anytime soon. If Navy can prove they can beat a good P6 opponent that took Miami to the brink, they prove they can be contenders in the AAC again. There is not nearly as much on the line for Navy other than beating a P6 opponent and proving they can win with the struggles at quarterback.
Iowa State vs. Memphis
This game is huge for Memphis in a few of the same ways as its other conference mates. First, Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson is playing in the last game of his college career. This may be an audition game for Ferguson going to the NFL. If the Tigers can get another quarterback in the NFL, imagine all the quarterback recruits that will want to go their and study the game under Mike Norvell.
Another big reason is simply because Iowa State was ranked earlier in the year. They shocked the world in beating CFP Playoff contender, Oklahoma. To beat the team that beat Oklahoma would garner national attention. Plus, this is another opportunity to rub it in the Big 12’s face for losing to an AAC team they could have had during expansion.
The last big reason is winning might warrant a preseason ranking. Now, they still may not be ranked going into next season because of the uncertainty at quarterback, but Memphis has earned the right to start out next season ranked.
UCF vs. Auburn
There is an obvious story-line here and that is the fact that UCF has been unjustly ranked all year long. Whether you love them or hate them, we all agree that UCF is getting screwed over by the committee. After defeating USF and Memphis in back-to-back weeks to stay undefeated, they should have been in the top 10. Well UCF, you have one more challenge. The committee is throwing a very good Auburn team that is strong defensively and a potent offense led by Kerryon Johnson, at you. Here is the chance to prove and leave doubt in the committees head of how good this team really is. They may not be a top 4 team, but they are up there for sure.
Just like Memphis, winning this game would absolutely warrant a preseason ranking. Despite the coaching changes, this team 100 percent deserves a ranking if they are able to take a win in Atlanta. It would also propel the AAC into P6 discussion whether the P5 wants to hear about it or not.
Lastly, it would be huge for recruiting. UCF still has to compete with plenty of other AAC teams for top Florida talent. Despite a strong record this season, we all know the Frost departure is going to hurt recruiting. He has been extremely shady with recent reports saying he has been recruiting for Nebraska for the past month or so. A win against a top team in Auburn would reassure those recruits at they can still win at UCF in the post-Frost era.
As you all can see, there are plenty of things on the line this year for the AAC. This year is crucial for the P6 campaign as another poor bowl performance for the conference would set us back another year. I think this is the year the AAC puts it altogether. The teams are good enough and all the teams have way too much to lose.