It is not news to anyone that the American Athletic Conference sees themselves as a sixth power conference and has been promoting themselves as such ad nauseam.
I’ll spare you a litany of hyperlinks or embedded tweets to this end.
However, this 2019 football season is perhaps the tipping point as far as the conference’s opportunity to demonstrate to a national audience that they are truly on par with the rest of the Power 5.
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m counting both of this season’s “neutral site” games at NRG Stadium in Houston (Washington State/Houston and Baylor/Rice) as home games.
This just flat-out makes sense, because the Cougars and Owls aren’t playing in their home stadium, but they’re just driving across town, while Baylor, WAZZU and their fans will have to travel the same distance as they would if they were playing these teams on campus.
Given that fact, the following is true:
- AAC: 9 home games vs P5 opponents
- Rest of G5: 12 home games vs P5 opponents
When your conference is responsible for a whisker under half of the entire Group of Five’s opportunities to play a home game against a P5 opponent, you’d better do well if you intend to present yourself as the creme de la creme of the G5 and a belonging member of the “P6.”
This is especially true when you add in the fact that your teams are favored in five of those nine home games according to preseason S&P+ projections. You’re also playing the favorite in two of your P5 road games (UCF at Pitt and USF at Georgia Tech), so there are ample opportunities to make your mark.
Given all of that, just how well does the AAC need to do in non-conference play in order to be taken seriously as the cream of the G5 crop?
Probably very nearly perfect.
In the last three seasons, the top half of the conference – UCF, Houston, Memphis, Temple, USF, and Cincinnati – have gone 13-11 in regular-season games against Power Five opponents.
That’s not all that impressive until you consider that the entire Mountain West conference (the AAC’s prime competition for King of this Hill) only has 10 wins against P5 teams in that same span.
But this season, when you have the following:
- 17 games against P5 opponents
- 9 home games against P5 opponents
- Five primetime games (plus Stanford/UCF if they’re both still ranked)
In such an instance, would a similar performance of 9-8 or 10-7 be good enough? Unfortunately, they probably won’t even reach that same level of success.
Temple is favored against Maryland and Georgia Tech, Memphis is favored against Ole Miss, UCF is favored against Pitt and Stanford, and Cincinnati is favored against UCLA.
Meanwhile, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Washington State are favored against Cincinnati, USF, and Houston.
Well that’s 6-4, we’re off to a good start, right?
Except South Florida is favored against Georgia Tech but has more questions than answers for a head coach who is 3-8 after October 21st in his two seasons in charge.
The rest of the conference are all heavy underdogs in their P5 games, so suddenly you’re looking at a conference that might be extremely lucky to go 8-9 against their Power 5 schedule, which doesn’t really help the narrative much.
Maybe Charlie Strong figures things out and a deep top-half of the conference pushes this equation to 9 or even 10 wins, and maybe they’re extremely competitive in all of their losses, but that feels rather far-fetched at this exact moment.
The AAC is free to market themselves as they see fit, but they’re certainly still not the clear best Group of Five conference until they can start pulling some upsets and tipping these results in their favor more often.