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The AAC needs better rivalries

The AAC doesn’t have many major rivalries. This needs to change as the growth of the conference depends on it.

South Florida vs Central Florida
ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 24: Titus Davis #10 of the UCF Knights holds the War on I-4 trophy after a game against the South Florida Bulls at Spectrum Stadium on November 24, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. UCF Knights defeated South Florida Bulls 49-42. (Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images)
Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

It wasn’t even an hour before kick-off when the fighting began. A USF linebacker went to the UCF side of the field and pushed a UCF player. From there, a small skirmish broke out. That chippiness flowed into the game.

A few minutes before half-time there was even a full blow fight, which included punches being thrown.

The War on I-4 was certainly full of that good, old-fashioned hate. Except this isn’t an old rivalry. There aren’t decades of history backing this one up. There has only been 11 games. Still, these two universities are just an hour and a half drive from one another, share a recruiting ground, and constantly work to big-time the other.

They can’t stand one another.

Unlike other conferences that can debate which rivalry is their best, there is no debate in the AAC. The War on I-4 is its most intense rivalry for the AAC.

There’s a couple of other rivalries. Sure, Houston-SMU is important within Texas, but it just doesn’t hit the same as the War on I-4. Besides, SMU cares more about TCU. In fact, a lot of AAC teams care more about non-conference rivals. ECU, Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane, and of course Navy all have more important out-of conference rivals.

That needs to change.

But organically. Not through forced rivalry trophies. The Civil ConFLiCT, for all Bob Diaco’s good intentions, was so manufactured that it became a joke. How could anyone take a rivalry game seriously when one team didn’t agree to be a part of it?

Still, the intention was good. Diaco wanted to bring attention to the conference, more eyes on TV and more butts in seats. This attention would also raise the prestige of the conference.And you know what? Diaco was right.

His method was terrible, but he was right. The AAC needs more rivalries, within the conference. It would help financially, as well as with the general public’s perception of the conference. That then helps programs build better teams.

During rivalry weekend people watched the Iron Bowl, Apple Cup, Governor’s Cup, and the Palmetto Bowl. They’ll do so whether or not these games are close, or between good teams. That’s because it matters so much to the players, coaches, and fans. It’s more exciting, even if you don’t care who wins.

Even though the War on I-4 was a blowout this season, it was still entertaining because of the hatred.

The AAC has struggled to build rivalries because it really is two conferences mixed together. The remains of the Big East, with a former ‘best of’ C-USA. Throw in Navy for good measure.

Sure, in some spots there is carry over from these old conferences. UConn and Cincinnati don’t like each other, but that’s more of a basketball thing and will eventually no longer be a thing given that UConn is leaving. UCF and ECU have a small rivalry from their C-USA days, but it’s not exactly heated.

Some other teams are starting to develop rivalries. Navy and Tulane have a fun, Trident Trophy. There’s not much hate there, though. UCF and Memphis has been exciting in recent years, but a little birdie once pointed out that it’s not much of a rivalry if one team is winning all the time.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Tulane at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are great opportunities in this conference for rivalries to develop and for the growth of the AAC, everyone needs to capitalize.