The 5 Most Interesting American Matchups this Season

Welcome to The Most Interesting Matchups, the series about interesting gridiron matchups (get it?) from the upcoming season, as taken from the series’ history. Think of it as “Drunk G5 History” or “Trivial Pursuit: CFB Edition.”

Each week, I’ll highlight one conference and its particular out-of-conference matchups. I have to rule out teams like UTSA and Georgia State, since their programs are so young, and my methodology is not the least bit scientific—though numbers play a huge part. This week is the American Athletic Conference.

Check out previous entries here:

Sun Belt

Mountain West

C-USA

MAC


5. East Carolina at Virginia Tech

2018 Date: Saturday, September 15
Series: Virginia Tech, 15-7

I’ve made it clear that I have a lot of unscientific criteria for these articles. Physical proximity is a big factor, the equality of the series’ record plays a big part of it, and meaningful games play a big role too.

The two teams are three to four hours apart, and for the first six games the teams were basically even. The 1956 series opener was held at a neutral site, but the two didn’t meet again until 1987, Frank Beamer’s first year. The Hokies invited the Pirates to Blacksburg, where a 32-23 loss contributed to Tech’s 2-10 season—the exact opposite record from the previous year.

In 1994, Tech took a one-game series lead, and as the two teams began the process of joining their respective conferences (Big East and C-USA for ECU) the series went from every year to every other year, till it ended in 2000.

In April 2007, what was at the time the deadliest mass shooting in American history occurred. 32 people lost their lives to senseless violence. The football team cancelled practices that week, but the team and the school pressed forward.

For the first game after the tragedy, the Hokies welcomed East Carolina. College Football Gameday traveled to Blacksburg, in what was the premier game that weekend. Virginia Tech won 17-7, the first in an 11-win conference championship season.

The next year, ECU answered by blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game. The Pirates won 27-22, but it was their first victory over the Hokies in 16 years. The two teams resumed their series, playing every year since, save 2012.

The Pirates have only won three games in that time, and I don’t see that changing.


4. Arkansas State at Tulsa

2018 Date: Saturday, September 15
Series: Tie, 2-2

In 1977, the Southland Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference were both Division I football conferences, and the following year they were bumped up to the new “I-A” designation. In the first game of that 1978 season, the Golden Hurricane narrowly defeated the Indians 21-20.

Both conferences’ stints at the top level would be short-lived. The Southland Conference dropped back down to I-AA after the 1981 season, but not before Arkansas State got the last laugh over Tulsa. In its last game as a I-A team (until 1992), the Indians trashed Tulsa 31-7.

Ten years later the Indians joined the Sun Belt conference, which began to sponsor football in 2001. They and Tulsa agreed to a home-and-home the next two years, which ended up a mirror image of the previous two games. Arkansas State narrowly won 21-19, and Tulsa trashed State 54-7.

I’m perfectly fine with this series repeating every 15-20 years, though I wish it was more often. The teams are relatively close, and if every other game is a guaranteed nail-biter, it would be worth it. Speaking of which, I don’t see the Golden Hurricane winning this year’s game, but it could very easily make the game close.


3. SMU at North Texas

2018 Date: Saturday, September 1
Series: SMU, 31-5-1

So, umm, from 1922 to 1942, SMU went 18-1-1. They picked up 32 years later, SMU went 7-1 over a span of 10 years. Thing is, every game in the series had been played at SMU’s home stadium.

For the first stint SMU played at Ownby Stadium (the site of Gerald Ford Stadium now), and during the second stint the Mustangs made the Cotton Bowl their home.

“But the 7-1 run was held at Texas Stadium—”

Which became SMU’s home stadium in 1979, halfway through the series. SMU had the home-field edge and took full advantage of it. Up until 1987, SMU led 25-2-1.

Then, Theresa told John about David and the program died.

When the program returned in 1989, the Mustangs were a shell of their former selves. They won 2 games that year, and 4 games over the first three years back. One of them was against the Mean Green in 1989—the week after Houston and Andre Ware hung 95 on SMU, it beat UNT by 26.

It’s clear that the Post-Penalty Ponies are a different breed than their predecessors, though. They’re 6-3 against UNT in that time, but the Green is 2-1 on its home turf. The home-field advantage is real in this series, y’all, and I’m not going against the grain.


2. Rhode Island at UConn

2018 Date: Saturday, September 15
Series: UConn, 51-34-8

I’m near the end of this series, but I may have saved the best for last. UConn and Rhode Island have the oldest series I’ve come across yet. No other FBS-FCS rivalry has met as often as these two, and the game dates back to 1897.

Just as an example, from 1919-1932 these teams went 5-5-4. In 1934 a group of UConn (then Connecticut State) students kidnapped URI’s live ram mascot, a fight broke out after the game and thus the “Ramnapping” Trophy was born. For the next 64 years it went to the winner.

The Civil ConFLiCT pales in comparison.

The teams picked up play after WWI and in 1947 both teams helped charter the Yankee Conference and remained for nearly 50 years. Both teams jumped to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1997, where they played together until UConn moved to I-A in 2000.

The Huskies went 35-16-3 over this 54-year consecutive string of games, ending its I-AA run with a 26-21 loss to URI in 2000.

Since UConn joined I-A, it has played the Rams twice. It hung 52 on them both times. It could happen again this year, but I would take Rhode Island against that spread, just to be safe.


Honorable Mention: Houston at Texas Tech

2018 Date: Saturday, September 15
Series: Houston, 18-12-1

I know, I know—I’m including another P5 team. Virginia Tech gets a pass, though, and this one is only an honorable mention. Plus, it’s worth mentioning that Houston has the lead in this relatively close series.

The Cougars went 5-3 in the 1950s, after which series the Raiders joined the Southwestern Conference. Houston caught up 17 years later, extending its lead as a conference opponent. The Cougars led the series 14-5 when the teams tied in 1987.

The SMU death penalty sent shockwaves across the conference, and Texas A&M’s probation hampered an already hurting league. The Raiders went 5-3 against Houston (17-10-1 overall) in the final years of the SWC, including back-to-back games at the brand-new Alamodome. They outscored UH 92-7 at the only neutral site in the series.

Since the SWC fell apart, the in-state foes have set up a pair of home-and-homes, the second ending this year. As relatively close as the series is, I could see Texas Tech inching toward a series tie. However, I think the visiting Cougars are aiming to play spoiler.


1. Villanova at Temple

2018 Date: Saturday, September 1
Series: Tied, 16-16-2

In 1907, Villanova beat Temple at home 12-0, and 21 years later the teams played to a scoreless tie. Thus began the Mayor’s Cup series. Ignore the fact that Wikipedia makes no mention of the 1907 game.

I know I’m partially cheating because these teams are technically rivals, but that’s part of what makes this game interesting. These teams are 15 miles apart. One was established by a Baptist minister, and the other is Catholic.

This is some Romeo and Juliet nonsense right here.

Following the tie, Nova went 10-5 (11-5-1 overall) until the series was stopped due to WWII. When Temple left the MAC in 1970, the series picked up again. The Owls went 7-3-1 (12-14-2 overall) until Nova’s BOT shut down the program—the usual reason: lack of funding and support.

The Wildcats didn’t field another football team until 1985, and they didn’t play Temple until the next millennium. A year after making the I-AA Semifinals, Villanova squeaked by Temple. That 2003 Owls team would only win a single game.

Six years later Temple dropped out of the Big East, winning only three games over the next three years. It rejoined the MAC for five years and returned to the Big East just in time for the 2013 realignment. In that time, it hosted Villanova and won three of the four (2010-12).

Villanova essentially repeated the 2003 feat back in 2009 though, beating Temple on a last-second field goal. Temple would win 9 games that year and the Wildcats took the FCS national title. To add to Nova’s wild year, their basketball team made the Final Four the previous March.

After a five-year break, Temple hosted Nova in another back-to-back stint. The Owls tied the series on a go-ahead field goal with 2:23 left. They recovered a fumble with a minute left to seal the win.

I don’t expect this year’s game to be as close, but the outcome should be the same.


This has been Most Interesting Matchups. If you’ve enjoyed this series, or you think we missed one, let us know!

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