Why the AAC's push to make itself part of the Power Five matters in college football
The quest for a sixth seat is ongoing for the American Athletic Conference
The American Athletic Conference is celebrating the start of the season with its annual Summer Kickoff and Media Days, which features the traditional Monday night clambake.
Prior to that, though, the conference made news in other ways.
The quest to be considered a power conference is alive and well with the hashtag #AmericanPow6r and a logo that was plastered all across Newport, Rhode Island.
Good for the AAC.
No, there's no seat at the Power Five table right now. No, there probably won't be anytime between now and the end of the College Football Playoff contract in 2025.
That's not the point. At least, it shouldn't be.
Sure, the AAC would love a seat to magically appear, earn a guaranteed a spot in the New Year's Six and rake in Power Five television money. The alternative and more pressing goal, though, is the benefit of the doubt within the Group of Five.
The AAC has been home to some rather compelling football since the start of the CFP era.
Houston Cougars stunned Florida State Seminoles in the 2015 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and followed it up with a resounding win over Oklahoma Sooners to open the 2016 season. That helped land former coach Tom Herman the gig at Texas Longhorns -- one of the crown jewels of football coaching. Memphis Tigers produced a star quarterback in Paxton Lynch two years ago and vaulted coach Justin Fuente into the Virginia Tech Hokies job. Temple Owls hosted Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Halloween in 2015 in a game that was so big that ESPN's College GameDay set up shop in Philadelphia.
It has every right and every reason to exploit that, because perception matters for Group of Five programs.
It's the same reason SEC fans chanted "S-E-C" at the top of their lungs during the BCS era. College football is a beauty contest. Instead of a playoff spot, the AAC is hoping that the perception it creates by championing itself as the most powerful Group of Five conference will help its champion earn that benefit of the doubt when the selection committee places teams in bowl games and gives its top-ranked Group of Five team a spot in the vaunted New Year's Six.
That perception is the reason Auburn Tigers received the nod in 2013 to play in the BCS title game over one-loss Michigan State Spartans and played a part in Alabama Crimson Tide 's appearance vs. LSU Tigers following the 2011 season instead of Oklahoma State Cowboys .
Guess what? It's working for the AAC. At least, for now.
Athlon Sports, Sporting News, College Football News, SB Nation (via Las Vegas' win totals) all have South Florida Bulls in the New Year's Six. That simply doesn't happen unless the perception exists that the AAC is the best of the rest.
Now, in South Florida's case, the product on the field certainly plays a bigger part. The return of star quarterback Quinton Flowers and 15 of his fellow starters off an 11-win team, combined with first-year coach Charlie Strong being in a state that helped launch his coaching career should vault the Bulls into national prominence again.
If South Florida follows through with its potential, you bet that hype will matter in early December when pairings are announced. If the Bulls are upset by an upstart AAC team along the way by, say, Houston or Tulsa Golden Hurricane , guess which team will inherit that buzz? Houston or Tulsa.
It's a win-win for the AAC, even if it never achieves its stated goal.
Three different Group of Five conferences have sent teams to the New Year's Six during the three years of the playoff era -- Boise State Broncos out of the Mountain West, Houston out of the AAC and Western Michigan Broncos out of the MAC. But the AAC has created an atmosphere that it is the front-runner for that spot out of the gate. That's why it was big news when Houston faltered last year, and when a banged up Navy Midshipmen team that was, at the time just two spots behind undefeated Western Michigan in the College Football Playoff rankings, got beat by Temple in the AAC title game.
It isn't a "power conference," and might not ever be one.
But the perception that it has separated from the rest of the Group of Five is important in this landscape of college football.
Not a bad consolation prize.
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