It’s a big year of transition for the conference we used to know as the Big East. It’s now re-named the American Athletic Conference, a consequence of the split that took place between the football schools and the basketball-only members. Since the latter created and built the league’s brand, they will carry its name into the new era. As for football…we might have a fresh name and some fresh faces, but it will still be a year where an old era passes away.
Louisville and Rutgers played for the conference title in 2012, but both are on their way out. Louisville is going to the ACC, and Rutgers to the Big Ten. It was joked that when their game was played in late November it should have been nicknamed “The Big Ten-ACC Challenge” in light of the basketball series those two conferences play at that same time of year.
There’s also four new teams arriving to help begin the new era in 2014. Central Florida, SMU, Houston and Memphis came over from Conference USA.
In short, it’s an ever-changing world, and this year is also the last season for something else—an automatic slot in a BCS bowl game. The Five Families of college football (Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Pac-12 & Big 12) have had the American Athletic Conference whacked when it comes to divvying up spots in the major bowls next season, when the new four-team playoff takes effect.
TheSportsNotebook has divvied up its college football coverage of this league into two parts, both at the links below. In the first section, we look at the six teams who were in this conference a year ago, headlined by Louisville, and including Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida, UConn and Temple. The conference champion is going to come out of this group, and I have no reason to contest the consensus view that it will be Louisville.
Then there’s the fortunes of the four C-USA arrivals. While none are going to win the conference championship, all four have a shot to be competitive right away and start accessing this league’s bowl slots.
The real on-field question though, is simply this—can Louisville translate a presumed American Athletic Conference title into an undefeated season and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. TheSportsNotebook will offer its official answer to that question in next week’s final preseason predictions, but for the answer is likely no. The schedule isn’t good enough and that problem is ultimately what’s caused all the chaos for this conference, whatever name it’s under, over the years.