We’ve had 4 seasons of AAC football, and while in most college football circles it’s viewed as the “Big East 2.0” conference realignment has drastically affected the college football prospects for each of these schools, good and bad. Let’s take a look at how each program has fared since the 2013 season when the conference formed (in alphabetical order).
Cincinnati Bearcats: C+ (30-22, 3 Bowl Appearances, 1 Conference Co-Championship)
The Bearcats started off strong in the AAC, with consecutive 9-4 seasons, but stumbled the last two years under Tommy Tuberville. The team was also beaten handily in 3 straight bowl appearances from 2013-2015.
Connecticut Huskies: D- (14-35, 1 Bowl Appearance)
Outside of a 6-7 season that saw them go to a bowl game, UConn hasn’t had more than 3 wins a season in the first 4 years in the AAC. Rumors of a move to the MAC have been disputed, but bringing former coach Randy Edsall back could get them on the right track.
UCF Knights: B (27-24, 3 Bowl Appearances - 2 Conference Championships: Co-Champ in 2014)
The Knights started off red hot in the AAC, going 12-1 and getting a BCS bowl win over Baylor. They bottomed out in 2015 going 0-12. 2nd year coach Scott Frost has them heading in the right direction and should field an improved team in 2017 and seems poised to for a conference title run. UCF brought in the best G5 recruiting class in 2017.
East Carolina Pirates: C- (16-21, 1 Bowl Appearance)
ECU came into the AAC strong with an 8-5 season, but fizzled the last two years going 5-7, and 3-9 respectively. New head coach Scottie Montgomery has ties to the Carolina area and should make an impact on the recruiting trail but right now it’s hard to determine whether or not ECU will climb up the ranks while being an AAC member.
Houston Cougars: A (38-15, 4 Bowl Appearances - 1 Conference Championship)
The Cougars have been the talk of the AAC for the past 2 years. Houston came close to being selected for the Big 12, became the first G5 school to land a 5 star recruit in Ed Oliver and won a New Year’s Six bowl against Florida State in 2016. Losing Tom Herman is a loss on the recruiting trail and in play calling, but the future is still bright for the Cougars with Major Applewhite leading the way.
Memphis Tigers: B (30-21, 3 Bowl Appearances, 1 Conference Co-Championship)
After a 3-9 campaign in the first year of the conference, Memphis has put up 10, 9, and 8 win seasons with 3 straight bowl games. New HC Mike Norvell will need to find a way to keep up with the high powered offenses in the division in order to maintain the current level of success but the way he’s been recruiting the Tigers seem to be well on their way of competing for conference titles.
Navy Midshipmen: B+ (20-7, 2 Bowl Appearances)
Navy’s high grade is due to the dominance they have showcased in conference play. The AAC has simply not been able to stop that option offense as they have just 2 losses in conference play in 2 seasons. After replacing Keenan Reynolds effortlessly in 2016 I don’t see any reason to think why the trend won’t continue.
USF Bulls: B- (25-25, 2 Bowl Appearances)
The Bulls had two very bad years when the AAC started, but Willie Taggart turned things around quickly. The Bulls are coming of their first 10 win season in school history but Taggart left for Oregon this past offseason. New head coach Charlie Strong doesn’t have a bare cupboard as Quinton Flowers should be a dark horse Heisman Candidate in 2017. With him leading the way USF will be the favorite to win the conference this year.
SMU Mustangs: D+ (13-35, 0 Bowl Appearances)
The Mustangs haven’t finished over .500 since the AAC started 4 seasons ago. Consecutive double digit loss seasons in 2014 and 2015 bring their grade down, but Chad Morris and company improved by 3 wins last year to get to 5-7. They have the resources to compete for West Division titles but their other division mates can say the same. 2017 is a big season for the Mustangs and Chad Morris.
Temple Owls: B+ (28-24, 2 Bowl Appearances, 1 Conference Championship)
The Owls have become a force in the conference due to tough defenses and hard nosed players Last year’s conference title was a surprise to many but the state of Temple football has been on a steady climb since Al Golden took over. Losing Matt Rhule to Baylor was surprising. I don’t expect them to fall off the cliff, but can they sustain their current momentum in an East Division with the Florida schools on the rise?
Tulane Green Wave: D (10-26, 0 Bowl Appearances)
The Green Wave have yet to find their footing, and it doesn’t help playing in the stacked West Division. Tulane will hope second year coach Willie Fritz can get them 2 conference wins this upcoming season, a feat they have not achieved since 2013.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane: C- (18-20, 2 Bowl Appearances)
While the team is steadily improving, and has one of the best offensive units in the country, it took the Golden Hurricane a few years to find their footing in the AAC. Battling Houston and Navy for the next few seasons should help improve Tulsa’s national exposure and with Phillip Montgomery leading the way it’s only a matter of time before Tulsa makes an appearance in the AAC title game.