Well, it’s Groundhog Day again.
Thursday opened with yet another round of conference realignment talk. Once again, it’s going to impact the AAC directly. The latest reports are that, along with BYU, three AAC schools are being seriously considered for the Big 12: UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston.
You may notice that Houston was, as recently as a week ago, thought to be off the list of contenders because of how their board chairman, Tilman Fertitta, handled relationships a few years ago. Now, they’re on the list. It just makes sense to get over this grudge. After all, Houston has money, facilities, and the history to warrant a Big 12 bid. In fact, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby even visited Houston’s campus on Thursday. Expansion is coming.
Now, if it seems odd how quickly different stories in college football seem to contradict each other, you’d be right. A week ago Houston wouldn’t be involved but Boise State would. Now, you can reverse that. A month ago Bob Bowlsby was sending a cease and desist to ESPN over trying to work with the AAC to poach Big 12 teams. Now, he’s trying to poach AAC teams for the Big 12. For a sport that insists change is bad, it moves quickly once the wheels are in motion. Nobody wants to be left behind.
UCF and Cincinnati have pretty consistently been included as key members of expansion talk. This has to do with their on-field success and their media viability more than anything else. It would also be a massive blow for the AAC to lose them.
As of right now, the AAC is, in the eyes of most, the best Group of Five conference. You could even argue that they’re currently better than a couple of Power Five conferences. Without your top three brands, and top two teams, all of that perception is going to go out the window. The Mountain West and Sun Belt would quickly catch the AAC. This would also force the AAC into expansion, much like the Big East did a decade ago, trying to take the best available teams to salvage their media deal.
So, it was a great Thursday for three teams off the field, but bad for the conference as a whole. On the field, things may have been worse.
You could pretty much assume USF would lose to NC State, and the part of the game that was bothersome was just how they lost. 45-0 is embarrassing. Cade Fortin got pulled early for a freshman, Timmy McClain, who wasn’t better. No one on the Bulls had more than 26 yards rushing. They were dominated in a year when they are supposed to be taking a step forward. This is a team where you can’t look at the wins and losses to see the growth, because it is a massive rebuilt, but between the lines it says they haven’t improved.
Then you must consider the Golden Hurricanes. They lost to the FCS’s UC Davis. Last year, they played in the conference championship game. It was a 19-17 game. Davis Brin looked uninspiring. Meanwhile, losses on the defense are glaring. It was an embarrassing game for Tulsa and it was embarrassing for the conference at large. ECU, meanwhile, looked a bit better from last season, but that didn’t stop them from losing by double digits. It’s a broken record, really, “ECU showed promise but lost by double digits...ECU showed promise but lost by double digits...ECU showed promise but lost by double digits...”
During all of this, the highly anticipated UCF and Boise State game sat for nearly three hours in a lightning delay. By the time they got going, the energy was out of the crowd, and it was 10 pm on the east coast. An early Dillon Gabriel pick-6 and a couple of strong Boise State drives made it 21-0 and most people thought they could stick a fork in the AAC. Ultimately, UCF would pull off the comeback, winning 36-31 in fairly dramatic fashion. No one saw it, though.
All in all, both on and off the field, Thursday was supposed to be Christmas Day for the AAC, but it turned into one of the worst days in the conference’s recent memory.