Enjoy it while it lasts one more time.
The 2022 football version of the American Athletic Conference is the final time we will see this Group of Five Goliath.
The AAC, which debuted in 2013 as the remains of the Big East plus some other new schools, has been a dominant Group of Five football conference ever since. Since the beginning of the College Football Playoff in the 2014 season, the AAC has earned the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six Bowl appearance six of eight times, including five in a row. The teams that have crashed the Power Five party are Cincinnati in 2021 and 2020, Memphis (2019), Central Florida (2018 and 2017) and Houston (2015).
In addition, last year Cincinnati became the only Group of Five team to earn a berth in the College Football Playoff. Granted, the Bearcats got stung by Alabama, 27-6 in a semifinal that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated, but they did get there nevertheless.
The AAC will undergo radical change after this season, with Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida headed for the Power Five skies of the Big 12. Joining the AAC for the beginning of the 2023 football season are UAB, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and UTSA, all from Conference USA.
So this is the last season of the 11-team AAC as we know it and it will be difficult in the future to duplicate this success.
Keep in mind that the top three teams, in various orders during preseason polls in the AAC are Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida. Here’s a hunch that those three teams will enter the Big 12 and be competitive right away. They may not immediately win the conference (although nobody should put anything past Cincinnati) but they promise to be highly competitive in their new Power Five home.
As for the AAC, it will add quantity, going from 11 to 14 teams, but not nearly as much quality. And while it’s easy to predict a dire future for the AAC, one conference official pointed out that even Cincinnati, Houston and UCF weren’t always dominating and that things go in cycles. That’s actually a good point. Few realize that as recently as 2017, Cincinnati went 4–8 for the second straight season before getting things rolling. After that second 4-8 hiccup in 2017 during Luke Fickell’s first season, the Bearcats have gone 44-7 the past four years.
As a comparison, Notre Dame, which has enjoyed a great run over the past several seasons, is 43-7 in the last four. One of those losses was a 24-13 home defeat last year to Cincinnati.
The recent dominance of Cincinnati will be difficult to match for any future teams. While it’s possible for another team to emerge, good luck trying to duplicate the recent run of the Bearcats.
Of the other two departing AAC heavyweights, UCF went 0-12 in 2015 and then 6-7 in 2016, when the dominant team in the AAC East Division was none other than Temple, which has gone 4-15 the past two years. (Back then, the AAC consisted of two, six-team divisions before UConn departed following the 2019 season). After that 2016 season, UCF earned double-digit wins three straight years, including a 13-0 record in 2017 when the Knights held a parade to declare themselves national champs, despite the fact that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee didn’t feel they warranted an invitation to the postseason party. Even Houston, which went 12-2 last year, was 7-13 the previous two seasons.
So, yes, things can change awfully fast, but even a conference with the past success of the AAC will have trouble maintaining this sort of Group of Five dominance with its three best teams departing.
Their fans are likely to receive a parting gift, seeing the AAC flex their massive muscles one last time.
HERO Sports is the go-to website for FBS and FCS football news, analysis, and predictions.
© 2022 HERO SPORTS.
© 2022 HERO SPORTS.
AAC As We Know It, Looking For A Big Farewell – HERO Sports