The college football landscape feels a lot like ‘Bama Rush Tok right now.
Except instead of OOTD’s there are uniform reveals and in place of Bid Days and Pref Nights you get alliances and conference realignments.
Everyone is vying for that best house on campus (SEC) but only a lucky few (Texas and Oklahoma) will become pledges and eventually sisters while everyone else (the remaining Big 12) is left to navigate college with the rest of the student body, most of which have already made a pact to denounce Greek life (Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten).
And then there is the American Athletic Conference. The mysterious group of hard-working, talented teams scattered across the East Coast. Well mysterious to me anyways, being a West Coast California girl. In fact, they are just as enigmatic as Southern sorority practices.
So, what makes the American special? I turned to the experts to help me figure it all out.
“I think the quality and depth of the conference top to bottom, I mean every program really operates at a fairly high level and it’s a challenge week in and week out, it’s some of the top programs in the country,” explained East Carolina head coach Mike Houston.
The Pirates have pretty much stayed in the middle of the pack since joining the conference in 2014. But Houston has high hopes for his team this year, as he returns 10 starters on both sides of the ball, a much-improved defense and a stadium full of fans to make up the difference.
“I think one thing on the field, is just the passion our young men have for each other and for playing this sport – it’s infectious,” said Houston. “I think the other thing is our fan base and the way they are on game day. When I was growing up in this state and playing college football in this state, East Carolina I just remember is a football school with a passionate following and it will be on full display this fall.”
So AAC schools have passion, they have spirit but they also possess something else, a trait you wouldn’t expect a coach to mention when it comes to their fan base: honesty.
“What I love about the Philly fans is when you do good, they will tell you and when you don’t play very well, they are going to tell you that too, “articulated Temple Co-Offensive Coordinator Mike Uremovich. “They expect a lot and they expect our team to be tough and physical because Temple always has been and we’ll be that this year.”
Uremovich dropped a truth bomb of his own about the conference he now calls home.
“You know when you are in different leagues, you will say this but you don’t really believe it: there is not an easy game in this conference,” said Uremovich. “I mean there’s just not. Anybody can beat anybody from the top to the bottom. I was actually surprised – it’s way closer to the ACC than it is to the MAC. The level of the play and the teams – it reminds me of coaching at NC State way more than it does of Northern Illinois. There are just great players in this league and great coaches.”
The fellow fullback advocate spoke some more facts on the AAC and how it measures up nationally.
“They always brand themselves as the Power 6 but I do believe that we are a step above everybody else that’s in the Group of Five,” observed Uremovich. “I feel like it’s the Power Five, then us, then everybody else. And I’ve coached in those leagues so it’s not a slight against them it just tells you how good the talent is in our league.”
Temple Head Coach Rod Carey is in what is really his second year at the helm for the Owls and will be looking to improve drastically on defense. But offensively, Uremovich has a mobile new quarterback to go with his offensive line that only allowed a league-low 1.7 sacks per game. It’s the perfect union.
“Most of our staff, we’ve always had a running quarterback,” explained Uremovich. “But then when we came to Temple, we had to coach what we inherited. Russo was a very good quarterback for us but he was a pocket guy and we are all more comfortable with a guy that can run. That’s just what the offense is built for. Everybody is excited about it.”
Clearly, offense reigns supreme in the AAC. The conference is absolutely stacked with talent at quarterback, which means the defensive coordinators have their hands full.
“You’ve got so many good offenses, so many good quarterbacks – you’ve got Central Florida and you’ve got Cincinnati, SMU’s quarterback, Houston’s quarterback,” commented Memphis Defensive Coordinator Mike MacIntyre. “You can tell the league really is an offensive league. And they have been playing fast ball here for a while, playing fast on the clock and a lot of plays.”
So how do the American DC’s take back their power?
“As Coach Saban once said, ‘you’ve just got to get stops and then you’ve just got to find a way to get turnovers in today’s football,’” explained MacIntyre. “It’s not like you are going to hold every team to 13, 14, 17 points like you used to try to. You gotta make them kick field goals, you gotta cause turnovers and our kids were able to do that as the year went along.”
The Tigers’ secondary caused problems for a lot of AAC teams, finishing second in the conference in interceptions with 10 and third in sacks with 26. MacIntyre shares that fans can expect more of that disruptiveness this season.
“Quindell Johnson is a ball-hawking safety that’s an excellent player for us and our linebacking corps with JJ and Russell and Pickens and Zay Cullens - all those guys are good players and I’m excited to see what they do out there on the field this year,” affirmed MacIntyre.
The American is clearly a rowdy, diverse off-campus tiki party, but not everyone will survive the rum punch. And I am here for it. Now if I could just get Luke Fickell to teach me his Tik Tok tricks…