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Is The AAC Still An Underdog Conference?

The American Athletic Conference has long since been the best G5 conference. In 2019 they’ve flexed that fact, and are looking to prove they’re a power conference.

AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida
UCF, winners of four AAC Championships since 2013, celebrate 2018’s win over Memphis.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

There is a clear divide between underdog and oligarch in college football. At the end of the day, they’re labeled. You’re either Power 5 or Group of 5. It’s have’s and have not’s. Those with money, and those without, and it benefits those with to keep those without hungry.

Money is the real divide. Those with money have had longer traditions of success. They’ve built large fan bases with parents passing a love of a team down to their children. More people want to see these teams, so they make more money from TV contracts, ticket sales, merchandise, and advertisements.

With that money these teams can hire whichever coach they want, and build facilities that dwarf those of NFL programs. So, they get the more highly ranked recruits.

Now, recruiting isn’t the only way to judge a program’s success. Look at Tennessee in recent years, they can recruit as well as anyone, but never win much. On the other end of the spectrum is Army. Army is as restrained in recruiting, only able to recruit from a small pool of players who wouldn’t normally be Division 1 athletes. They were a 10 win team last season.

There’s always a few G5 teams who punch above their weight class. In recent years it’s been UCF. Before them, programs like Boise State dominated the underdog landscape. Now, an entire conference is making us ask the question, is the AAC still an underdog conference? Have they reached Power 6 status?

The October 19th AP poll ranked two AAC schools (SMU, Cincinnati), while another four received votes (Tulane, Temple, Memphis, UCF). That’s down one ranked team, but up two teams receiving votes from the week before.

One ACC team is ranked. Two are receiving votes.

Three PAC 12 teams are ranked. Two are receiving votes.

The AAC has more programs that consensus among experts is, ‘these teams are very good,’ than either one of those two Power 5 conferences.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Central Florida v Baylor
UCF’s Blake Bortles celebrates UCF and the AAC’s first BCS/NY6 Bowl win

That shouldn’t be shocking. The AAC has been strong in major bowl games since it came into existence. The conference is 3-1 in major bowl games since 2013. No other G5 conference has more than one major bowl bid since the start of the College Football Playoff.

This season the AAC is 26-1 against other non-P5 conference teams so far in 2019. That one loss was a fluke by Temple, who is among those receiving votes.

The new media deal coming to the AAC is further proof that they’re more than a leap and a jump ahead of other G5 conferences, as they’ll be receiving $7 million each, annually for their media rights. That’s millions more than any other G5 conference.

Against the P5, the AAC is admittedly 6-12. However, they’re 2-1 vs the PAC 12 and are a trick play from Pitt away from being .500 against the ACC.

By no means is that dominant. However, it’s rapidly improving. Some of those games were also very tough. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about because you lost at Ohio State or Auburn. Most P5 teams do too.

Outside of the bottom of the conference, no one looks at AAC teams as a pushover.

The growth of the AAC has been exponential. When conference realignment dissolved the Big East, its fragments took in C-USA, Independent, and MAC pieces to try and rebuild the conference.

In many ways it has worked. They’ve been the most successful conference since realignment among the G5. That success is only growing.

Historically bad teams that pepper the AAC’s landscape aren’t just relevant but are thriving. Temple, Memphis, and Tulane are all examples of this. Add in a few stronger programs historically, like Houston, UCF, Navy, and SMU and the conference is full of studs.

Now, they need to turn that success into respect. When one AAC team beats another it can’t be confirmation that the losing team was bad, but affirmation that the conference has multiple good teams. The conference needs to build fan bases, and make more money.

The best way to do that is to keep winning. It doesn’t hurt that they’ll be losing UConn either. That will only help the AAC’s strength of schedule, and perception of how difficult each team’s wins have been.

Maybe now, with a little more money, and improved perception, the AAC will finally be accepted as a Power 6 conference, as they’ve always wanted.