Debating whether the AAC can be considered a “Power” conference gained some traction in 2017 with UCF’s win over Auburn. Whether you agree with the Knights national championship claim or not, college football has a flaw that needs to be fixed. Don’t forget that important piece. One of the biggest arguments that many opposed to the AAC’s Power 6 movement is that they need to make their schedules tougher. We’ve seen teams from this conference schedule more Power 5 competition, and we know that those teams are capable of winning those games.
We put together a list of games against Power 5 competition (just like last year) to see which games you need to watch. Here are 15 games that will give the AAC opportunities to prove their worth.
1. Houston vs. Arizona (9/8)
There is a lot to like about the 2018 Houston Cougars with returning players and talented transfers, and they get a chance to make a statement against a face that is familiar to the program. Kevin Sumlin took over Arizona’s program after Rich Rodriguez was shown the door. These two teams played last year, but neither of their quarterbacks saw much playing time (if at all). Khalil Tate came in to replace Brandon Dawkins late, and D’Eriq King was still a receiver at the time. Now, their the undisputed starters on their respective teams, and could put on a show.
2. UCF at Pittsburgh (9/29)
If UCF wants a chance to be considered for the College Football Playoff, they need to go undefeated. What they can’t control is how good their nonconference opponents will be. Pittsburgh proved it can beat the best teams in the nation, but couldn’t seem to find any consistency. If they can bounce back, this will be a good test for UCF. If the Panthers struggle, it could be a knock on the Knights resume if they win.
3. Houston at Texas Tech (9/15)
Another rematch for Houston. The Cougars played awful last year at home against the Red Raiders, and somehow still had a chance late in the game. Quarterback play was a big problem, but that shouldn’t be an issue again. King gives Houston stability at the position, and should translate into a better offensive performance. The Cougars are also hoping they can limit the big plays that hurt them in last year’s matchup.
4. Memphis at Missouri (10/20)
Memphis had the top spot in last year’s list when they were set to face UCLA, and the Tigers did not disappoint with their 48-45 win. Now, there is some uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball. Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller are gone, but the cupboard isn’t bare. By the time this game is played, Memphis will hopefully have those positions figured out. Stopping Drew Lock and Missouri’s offense will be difficult, and Memphis fans are hoping for a better product on defense this season.
5. Navy vs. Notre Dame- San Diego (10/27)
A great tradition is heading west to play in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. This should be a competitive game just like last year. Notre Dame appeared to be on track for the College Football Playoff until they derailed late in the season, and Navy somehow began their season 5-0 before needing to rediscover their identity. The Irish might have to prepare for a different starter than last year, and Malcolm Perry was on a tear to end the year. Perry should beat out Zach Abey for the job, though Abey should play as well.
6. SMU vs. TCU (9/8)
The battle for the Iron Skillet has been fairly one sided recently. SMU has only won twice since 1999. With a new coaching staff coming in, and a lot of question marks at various positions, it’s hard to see that changing this year. Ben Hicks has a stable of running backs to work with, but only one reliable target to find downfield (James Proche).
7. UCF at North Carolina (9/15)
Before the Knights face Pittsburgh, they travel to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels. North Carolina may be coming off of a 3-9 season, but they racked up 19 wins in the two years prior. Just like the Pittsburgh game, UCF needs the Heels to be better than last year, or the committee wouldn’t view it as a quality win.
8. Temple at Boston College (9/29)
A team that could be a dark horse to win the conference is Temple. Geoff Collins start at Temple was rough, but it did finally get better. Replacing Logan Marchi with Frank Nutile appeared to be the catalyst for the Owls, who finished the year strong to make a bowl game (which they won 28-3 over FIU). This one will be tough, though, as they will have to find a way to stop AJ Dillon, who will be one of the best backs in college football next year.
9. USF vs. Georgia Tech (9/8)
UCF didn’t get a chance to play the Yellow Jackets in 2017, so hopefully the Bulls get their shot in 2018. Until proven otherwise, quarterback will be a huge question mark for USF. Facing the triple option will also be difficult even for Charlie Strong, but the defense should carry the Bulls until the offense can recover from losing Quinton Flowers. Winning on the road against a solid ACC team won’t be easy.
10. Tulane vs. Wake Forest (8/30)
Is this the year that Willie Fritz gets his team to break out? We thought it might be last year, but they couldn’t make it to a bowl game. This is a good test for the Green Wave, as they face a sting Wake Forest team, and Fritz needs show that his team can compete with Power 5 competition.
11. Temple at Maryland (9/15)
A potential breakout team in the AAC faces a team who’s been bringing in tons of talent. UCF beat Maryland last year soundly, and now Temple gets to face the Terps. Maryland coach D.J. Durkin’s been hitting the recruiting trail hard, and has convinced some top talent to join the Terps. Only problem is it hasn’t resulted in winning consistently. Durkin’s yet to having a winning season, but that could change in 2018. Temple’s going to have a tough fight on their hands.
12. Cincinnati at UCLA (9/1)
College football fans get their first look at Chip Kelly’s return to the sport, and the AAC gets the first shot at him. Cincinnati travels west to take on the Bruins without Josh Rosen, but have plenty of questions to answer in the meantime. Coach Luke Fickell’s been doing well in changing the culture of the program and bringing in the recruits, and his second year should result in a better record. This will be a good gauge of how far the Bearcats have either come or still have to go, but at least they won’t have to worry about getting attention. Kelly should be the talk of this game for a while, so Cincinnati can play the role of underdog and not have to worry about external distractions.
13. USF at Illinois- Chicago, IL (9/15)
How will USF recover from losing the best player in their schools history? We’ll know after this game. After facing Georgia Tech, the Bulls head to Chicago to face arguably the worst team in the Big Ten. We won’t say this should be a win, but a loss would be alarming.
14. Tulsa at Arkansas (10/20)
Chad Morris returns to the AAC after leaving for Arkansas, but will face the Golden Hurricane, who hopefully will be better than they were at this point last year. Philip Montgomery’s second season was a disaster, and he’ll need to find some sort of defense if he wants to avoid another 10 loss season. Don’t get your hopes up for an upset, but be more intrigued as to how Morris’ offense will look after taking over for Bret Bielema.
15. Tulsa at Texas (9/8)
Tom Herman also makes his return to the AAC in 2018, and poor Tulsa gets to welcome him in as well. The big question will be: what will Texas’ record be after the first week?Last year, it was a disappointing 0-1. Don’t expect them to struggle against the Golden Hurricane like they did against Maryland last year. Tulsa’s got presumably two guaranteed L’s on the schedule, which now raises our concerns for Montgomery’s job security.