AAC East: 2015 Preview
Expansion can have a cruel downside.
And not just expansion by adding teams to a conference. Upgrading to a major sport comes with serious risks, too.
Case in point: the
Big East American Athletic Conference. It's upgraded football aspirations not only cost its schools money, they ultimately led to its loss of prestige and, ultimately, its brand.
As a result, the AAC will need to notch a few impressive results in its quest to regain whatever prestige it thought it had in CFP-level football.
Maybe a championship game will help, but only if one of the teams is looking at an undefeated season with a victory.
The AAC now has six teams in two divisions with the addition of Navy, so it will join the early December title tilt schedule this season.
Cincinnati is the prohibitive favorite in the East, although many cannot figure out why they're in this division and the Midshipmen were plopped in the West, where the only other school close to a saltwater coastline is Tulane.
Back near the banks of the mightly Ohio River, the Bearcats are led by junior quarterback Gunner Kiel. If he can stay healthy, dude could lead Cincinnati to an unbeaten league season; the schedule that manageable. Still, coach Tommy Tuberville must upgrade his defense, which was torched by Miami and Ohio State last season.
If that goes well, the Bearcats will have a shot at raising their national profile in mid-season, when they host the Hurricanes (Thu 1 Oct) and venture out to BYU (Fri 16 Oct) in back-to-back nationally televised night games.
The Owls return QB PJ Walker, who needs his turnovers to decrease, and RB Zaire Williams, who was injured most of last season. Temple still plays its home games in front of more visitors' fans than home supporters at Lincoln Financial Field, and opens the season there against Penn State.
The Owls also host Notre Dame there on Halloween. While these two games carry tall odds against success, the Owls hope the experience will help them rise in the AAC standings and play in a bowl game.
Receivers Isaiah Jones and Jimmy Williams return while Kurt Benkert will try to win the quarterback job. Ruffin McNeill, entering his sixth season as East Carolina's coach, has a stellar defense, which will have to hold down the fort until the offense catches up.
UCF finished 9-4 last season, including two tough losses to Penn State to start the season and NC State to end it in the St Petersburg bowl. George O'Leary has Justin Holman back at quarterback for his second year, but the Knights are inexperienced at wide receiver and running back.
South Florida's Willie Taggart enters his third year as coach, hoping Steven Bench can stay off the bench and lead the offense at quarterback. The Bulls' big weapon is RB Marlon Mack, but they'll need more to get to a bowl game this season.
Diaco is banking on transfer Bryant Sherriffs to take over at quarterback and Ron Johnson to run the ball better than he did as a freshman. The defense is the better of the two units but gave up 30 or more points in seven games last year.
While the AAC East is a collection of fine academic institutions, it still looks like what's left after the grenade landed. Fighting its way out of the crater will be an ongoing challenge, and unless Cincinnati assembles a dream season, it's likely 2015 will be merely be a part of the process.