After months of uncertainty, with about half of the FBS and most of the FCS cancelling their seasons, and COVID-19 outbreaks spreading across campuses, it looks like college football will be happening in some form in 2020. Most expect to see a shortened, conference heavy season, with limited conferences to watch on TV.
The key point point there is the limited amount of conferences playing. For the American Athletic Conference, this means that the Mountain West and MAC won’t be there to take G5 eyes off the conference. More importantly, there won’t be any Big 10 or PAC 12 games to take up key time slots on television.
Oregon and Ohio State would have been the game of the week. The Penn State white out game is appointment viewing. USC, no matter what state they’re in, own prime time coverage. All these games, along with their conference mates’ key games, will not draw eyes this season.
That means there will be eyes on the AAC like never before.
The amount of key TV slots, on ESPN’s main networks, is going to jump through the roof for the AAC. People who would otherwise have never watched SMU, Temple, or ECU won’t have a Power 5 option. They’ll be exposed to the culture, campuses, traditions, and styles of play that the AAC has to offer, albeit without fans in the stands.
This familiarity will help build the conference’s reputation in the years ahead, as fans get more comfortable comparing teams like Cincinnati against P5 programs. This familiarity will bring in new fans, and all the benefits that come with gaining a larger fan base, like higher revenue streams, better game day atmospheres, and more exposure to recruits.
Beyond exposure, the AAC is indisputably the 4th best conference of 2020. Some would argue they’re as good as the ACC from top to bottom. They were certainly deeper than the ACC in 2019, who amounted to an elite Clemson team and not much else.
Given this, it’s not inconceivable that the the College Football Playoff Committee would give actual consideration to an AAC team. In the past, they have not given teams like UCF or Memphis the time of day.
Now, if Las Vegas lines are to be believed, even teams like Alabama are expected to have multiple regular season losses. Maybe that’s just because of the unpredictability of the pandemic, but an undefeated AAC team would get more consideration this season than ever before.
Making the College Football Playoff would cement the Power 6 as reality, but even if that doesn’t happen, the exposure they receive this season will propel that narrative forward in a meaningful way. 2020 represents a massive opportunity to improve the AAC’s reputation, and the conference needs to take advantage.