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Opinion: Each Team’s Best AAC Season, Ranked

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 American Championship Game - Houston at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The American Athletic Conference as we know it is coming to an end sooner rather than later.

While the exact date that three AAC teams - Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF - leave the conference is not set in stone, the reality that the conference as we remember it is coming to an end is a stark reality for so many that remember the start of the conference almost a decade prior.

Since the inception of the AAC, 14 programs have participated in football. In that time, all teams made at least one bowl game, with some even making it to a New Year’s Six Bowl or the College Football Playoff.

While success is there for every program, the success varies for each team. Some teams went undefeated, others barely snuck into their bowl games. While some won their bowl games, others found less success in those games.

With all that being said, the ten-year anniversary of the conference marks a great time to look at each team's best season and rank them.

14. 2013 Rutgers: 6-7, 3-5 AAC; Bowl Game: Pinstripe Bowl Defeat

Rutgers only spent one season in the conference, so choosing their best season in the AAC wasn’t exactly challenging.

In Kyle Flood’s second season in charge of the Scarlet Knights, Rutgers found their way into the Pinstripe Bowl, which they lost to Notre Dame, 29-16.

13. 2015 UConn: 6-7, 4-4 AAC; Bowl Game: St. Petersburg Bowl Defeat

UConn didn’t see much success in the AAC, finishing their seven-season run in the conference with no winning records and just one bowl game appearance, which came in 2015.

The Huskies finished the 2015 season with a 6-7 record, which included a loss to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl. In conference play, though, the Huskies managed to finish with an even 4-4 record, including a home victory against No. 13 Houston in their penultimate conference game that season.

12. 2018 Tulane: 7-6, 5-3 AAC; Bowl Game: Cure Bowl Victory

Since joining the AAC in 2014, Tulane has found itself in three bowl games, winning two of them. Their first bowl game as members of the AAC came in 2018, which coincided with their first bowl game win as members, as well.

The Green Wave finished the 2018 season with a 7-6 record, including a 5-3 record in the conference. While Tulane lacked a headline win that season, they did find ways to defeat bowl-eligible teams in Memphis and USF.

11. 2014 ECU: 8-5, 5-3 AAC; Bowl Game: Birmingham Bowl Defeat

In 2014, their first season in the AAC, ECU finished with an 8-5 record and a loss to Florida in the Birmingham Bowl. During the course of the season, ECU ranked as high as No. 18 in the AP Top 25 poll and held a five-week streak inside the top 25.

Their signature win of the season came in non-conference play when ECU defeated No. 17 Virginia Tech on the road in week 3. The next week, they handled North Carolina with no problem, scoring 70 points in a 29-point victory.

10. 2016 Tulsa: 10-3, 6-2 AAC; Bowl Game: Miami Beach Bowl Victory

Tulsa’s 2016 season was the only time that the Golden Hurricane finished with double-digit wins in the American and it’s the second time they won a bowl game, with their most recent coming in 2021.

Led by a strong two-headed rushing attack in D’Angelo Brewer and James Flanders, Tulsa rattled off 10 wins in 2016, including a stretch of seven games to end the season where the Golden Hurricane won six, including their Miami Beach Bowl victory against Central Michigan.

9. 2019 SMU: 10-3, 6-2 AAC; Bowl Game: Boca Raton Bowl Defeat

Led by a high-flying offense that averaged 41 points per game, 2019 SMU had levels of success that were almost unmatched. In 2019, SMU finished with 10 wins, their first double-digit win season since 1984.

Following a victory against No. 25 TCU, SMU spent seven seasons in the AP Top 25, reaching their apex in the Oct. 27 polls, where they came in at No. 15. That season, SMU began the season with an 8-0 record but were unable to capture a bowl game, falling to Florida Atlantic in the Boca Raton Bowl.

8. 2016 USF: 11-2, 7-1 AAC; Bowl Game: Birmingham Bowl Victory

In Willie Taggart’s final season with USF, the Bulls built upon a promising 2015 season with an even better 2016 season that was capped off with a Birmingham Bowl victory over South Carolina.

Led by dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers, USF finished with an 11-2 record, including a win against No. 22 Navy. That season also featured a victory over rival UCF and three weeks ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, reaching as high as No. 19.

7. 2015 Navy: 11-2, 7-1 AAC; Bowl Game: Military Bowl Victory

Military Bowl - Navy v Pittsburgh Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Much like 2016 USF, Navy found success with dual-threat quarterback Keenan Reynolds - who finished fifth in the 2015 Heisman Trophy race - and finished with double-digit wins and a victory over Pittsburgh in the Military Bowl.

In 2015, Navy peaked as high as No. 16 in the AP Top 25 Poll and spent six weeks in the polls. They also defeated No. 15 Memphis and finished with seven wins in eight games to close out their season.

6. 2016 Temple: 10-4, 7-1 AAC, AAC Champions; Bowl Game: Military Bowl Defeat

In 2016, Temple built upon a successful 2015 season with a 2016 season that saw the team capture their first, and only to date, AAC Conference Championship, defeating No. 20 ranked Navy to lift the trophy.

While Temple did not find unprecedented success on offense, Matt Rhule’s Owls were led by a strong defense that allowed just 282.6 yards per game and forced 25 turnovers.

5. 2013 Louisville: 12-1, 7-1 AAC; Bowl Game: Russell Athletic Bowl Victory

Louisville only spent one season in the American (the Cardinals did, of course, spend eight seasons in the Big East) but the 2013 season was a successful one for Louisville.

Led by Teddy Bridgewater and an offense that scored 35 points per game, the Cardinals started the season with a 6-0 record, peaking as high as No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll in the process.

Although a loss to UCF prevented Louisville from winning the American, the Cardinals spent all season in the AP Top 25 and still had quality wins over Miami, Cincinnati, and others.

4. 2019 Memphis: 12-2, 7-1 AAC; AAC Champions; Bowl Game: Cotton Bowl Loss

The Memphis Tigers have long been a successful AAC program, but in 2019, the Tigers finally found their breakthrough.

After two seasons of defeats to UCF in the AAC Championship game, an offense led by Brady White and running back Kenny Gainwell defeated No. 21 Cincinnati in the AAC Championship.

The Tigers spent nine weeks in the AP Top 25 that season, reaching their peak at No. 15 following the conference championships. Memphis defeated three AP Top 25 teams that season, including Cincinnati twice in back-to-back weeks.

3. 2015 Houston: 13-1, 7-1 AAC; AAC Champions; Bowl Game: Peach Bowl Victory

Under head coach Tom Herman, Houston often saw success in the AAC, but 2015 was their most successful season. That saw the Cougars win the American and a New Year’s Six Bowl Game.

Beginning the season 10-0, Houston saw just one hiccup when they were defeated by Connecticut. Houston, however, recovered without a problem, rattling off three straight victories against AP Top 25 teams.

The successful season concluded with a Peach Bowl victory over No. 9 Florida State, with dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward accounting for three touchdowns.

2. 2017 UCF: 13-0, 8-0 AAC; AAC Champions; Bowl Game: Peach Bowl Victory

In 2017, UCF took the nation by storm when they went undefeated and began to push the boundaries of teams that should or should not make the College Football Playoff.

Although UCF wound up not making the playoffs, their season was as successful as it could have been. The Knights scored a nation-high 48 points per game and spent 11 weeks in the AP Top 25 poll.

Despite not making the playoffs, UCF defeated No. 7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl, leading to National Championship claims from the program (the program was awarded the Colley Matrix National Championship for that season).

1. 2021 Cincinnati: 13-1, 9-0 AAC; AAC Champions; Bowl Game: Cotton Bowl Loss

Cincinnati v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

UCF may have set the foundation for 2021 Cincinnati to make the College Football Playoff, and the Bearcats took advantage.

Cincinnati finished the regular season with a 12-0 record, including victories over No. 9 Notre Dame, UCF and SMU. After defeating No. 16 Houston in the AAC Championship game, the Bearcats were the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.

Although their season ended at the hands of Alabama, Cincinnati made history.