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Reigning AAC title game qualifiers Cincinnati and Houston crack preseason AP Top 25 Poll

Heading into 2022, the AAC gets national representation from its top two teams from last season.

NCAA Football: The American Athletic Conference Championship-Houston at Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The highly-anticipated preseason AP Top 25 Poll was published at noon ET on Monday.

And much to the AAC’s delight, the conference was represented multiple times in the initial poll. Both of the 2021 AAC Championship Game participants, Cincinnati and Houston, made a splash in the preseason rankings. Cincinnati checks in at No. 23 while Houston sits one spot below at No. 24. The full AP Poll is as follows:

2022 Preseason AP Top 25

Ranking Team
Ranking Team
1 Alabama
2 Ohio State
3 Georgia
4 Clemson
5 Notre Dame
6 Texas A&M
7 Utah
8 Michigan
9 Oklahoma
10 Baylor
11 Oregon
12 Oklahoma State
13 NC State
14 USC
15 Michigan State
16 Miami (FL)
17 Pittsburgh
18 Wisconsin
19 Arkansas
20 Kentucky
21 Ole Miss
22 Wake Forest
23 Cincinnati
24 Houston
25 BYU

This marks the second time since the AAC’s inception that the conference received multiple ranked teams in the preseason AP Poll. The feat also transpired in 2020 when Cincinnati checked in at No. 20 and UCF followed behind at No. 21, but that preseason poll excluded all teams from the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West, and MAC due to those leagues initially canceling their 2020 seasons.

Cincinnati garners a preseason ranking for the third consecutive season. As mentioned earlier, the Bearcats were No. 20 in the 2020 preseason poll but they made AAC history the following year by claiming the No. 8 spot in 2021 — the highest preseason ranking the conference has ever seen. Cincinnati capitalized on its preseason expectations, qualifying for its first-ever College Football Playoff and finishing No. 4 in the final AP Poll released in January. With a school-record nine NFL Draft selections and several All-Americans among the departed talent, the Bearcats’ preseason expectations take a slight tumble as they approach year six of the Luke Fickell era.

Houston is ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time since 2016. That year, the Cougars started No. 15 while coming off a 13-1 season that concluded in a New Year’s Six bowl victory. Houston immediately skyrocketed to No. 6 in the poll after stunning Oklahoma in Week 1, but a late-season slide caused the Cougars to finish unranked. Last year marked Houston’s most successful campaign since 2015. The Cougars rattled off 11 consecutive wins before falling to Cincinnati in the AAC title game. Houston rebounded to defeat Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl and finish ranked No. 17. Dana Holgorsen’s team retains a bevy of talent from 2021, and for this reason, Houston was pegged as the AAC favorite at conference media day.

For the second consecutive year, Houston and Cincinnati do not have reservations to settle superiority in the regular season. However, both teams finished 8-0 in league play last year and converged at Nippert Stadium for the AAC Championship where the Bearcats triumphed in 35-20 fashion.

Both ranked AAC teams, which transition to Big 12 membership next July, will face worthy challengers to usher in the new college football season. Houston launches its 2021 schedule on Saturday, Sept. 3 in San Antonio against the reigning C-USA champion UTSA. In the same 3:30 ET time slot, Cincinnati also opens on the road against a much-improved Arkansas program that finished No. 21 last season.