Let’s rewind to 2013. It’s the American Athletic Conference’s first year of operation and life is good…at the moment. The conference inherited the Big East’s status as the sixth automatic qualifier and also its bowl tie-ins. This lead to some pretty good matchups:
Pinstripe Bowl: (6-6) Rutgers vs. (8-4) Notre Dame
Belk: (9-3) Cincinnati vs. (6-6) North Carolina
Russell Athletic Bowl: (11-1) (!) Louisville vs. (9-3) Miami
Birmingham Bowl: (8-4) Houston vs. (8-4) Vanderbilt
Fiesta Bowl: (11-1) UCF vs. (11-1) Baylor
The next cycle would look drastically different with the advent of the playoff and the American relegated to Group of Five status. Just look at the American’s 2015 slate in comparison.
Birmingham Bowl vs SEC #9
Military Bowl vs ACC #6
St. Petersburg Bowl vs C-USA
Hawaii Bowl vs MWC
Boca Raton vs MAC/C-USA
Miami Beach Bowl vs MAC/C-USA
Cure Bowl vs Sun Belt
A pretty far drop to say the least, with only two guaranteed match-ups against the Power Five. While bowls do not tell the full tale of conference strength, it’s fun to turn back the clock and see how the American would fare with its bowl tie-ins from its prior life. After rearranging the matchups, a Whatifsports.com sim will determine the outcomes of the changed bowls. Since the American had four of their five bowl teams face-off against Power Five schools in 2014, we are only changing two of the bowl matchups. As a result, 2014’s revisions have been combined with 2015’s for this post. The remaining years will have their own post. Without further ado, here’s what 2014 would look like, with the changes in bold:
Military Bowl: (6-6) Temple (30) vs (6-6) Virginia Tech (12)
*Previously not in a bowl
Miami Beach Bowl: (9-3) Memphis vs (8-4) BYU
Armed Forces Bowl: (7-5) Houston vs (6-6) Pitt
Birmingham Bowl: (8-4) ECU vs (6-5) Florida
St. Petersburg Bowl: (9-3) UCF vs (7-5) NC State
Belk Bowl: (9-3) Cincinnati (37) vs (9-3) Louisville (34)
*Previously in Military Bowl vs Virginia Tech
Temple was one of the few bowl-eligible teams in 2014 to miss a bowl, so they took Cincinnati’s spot in the Military Bowl to play former Big East counterpart Virginia Tech.
Cincinnati takes the Big East’s spot in the Belk Bowl and faces Louisville for the Keg of Nails game in Charlotte.
As a result, two former intra-conference rivalries were renewed and both programs got a chance at a signature win for the season. Cincinnati won a 37-34 shootout in the simulation with Gunner Kiel throwing for 372 yards and three touchdowns and Rod Moore adding 146 rushing yards and a score.
Temple also won their matchup in the Miltary Bowl with Tyler Matekevich leading the defense two sacks in a 30-12 victory.
Peach Bowl: (12-1) Houston vs. (10-2) Florida State
Birmingham Bowl: (9-3) Memphis vs. (6-6) Auburn
Military Bowl: (10-2) Navy vs. (8-4) Pittsburgh
Independence Bowl (6-6) Tulsa vs. (6-6) Virginia Tech
Hawaii Bowl: (10-3) San Diego State vs. (7-5) Cincinnati
Pinstripe Bowl: (10-3) Temple (27) vs. (7-5) Duke (9)
*Previously in Boca Raton vs. Toledo
Camping World Bowl: (8-4) USF (24) vs. (11-2) UNC (31)
*Previously in Miami Beach Bowl vs. Western Kentucky
Belk Bowl: (6-6) UConn (26) vs. (7-5) NC State (11)
*Previously in St. Petersburg Bowl vs. Marshall
With the American’s bowl lineup increasing to seven games there were more games to switch around and more fun to be had. Temple, fresh off their best year since 1979, switches places with 6-6 Indiana, to play at Yankee Stadium to face Duke. They dismantle the Blue Devils 27-9 on the strength of Jahad Thomas’ 172 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
USF switches with 9-3 Baylor to take on ACC Coastal Champ UNC in Orlando, with high prospects for offensive fireworks. In the end, Marlon Mack’s 154 rushing yards and two touchdowns were not enough to overcome North Carolina, powered by Marquise Williams’ 314 total yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 loss.
Lastly, UConn takes 8-4 Mississippi State’s place in the Belk Bowl. While Cincinnati would have been a logical choice, they had already had recent trips to Charlotte in 2012 and 2013. On top of this, UConn has greater national appeal this year after they gave AAC champ Houston their only loss. In a rain-soaked matchup, UConn jumps to a 20-0 lead to upset the Wolfpack 26-11, with Bryant Sherrifs throwing for 238 yards and a touchdown.
With the Big East’s bowl tie-ins, the American had some good showings against top-notch competition from the Power Five. Already, it is evident that the better bowl tie-ins of the Big East could have greatly elevated the status of the American.