TheSportsNotebook’s BCS bowl projections have mostly passed over the American Athletic Conference. The league formerly known as the Big East is the ugly stepchild of the BCS, and on merit, there is no reason it should rank ahead of the Mountain West or other midmajors in the BCS pecking order.
But reality is different, and one of the AAC teams will be guaranteed a spot in college football’s biggest bowls, while teams like Fresno State and Northern Illinois have to first go 12-0, then win a conference championship game, then hope they did it without enough style to impress the voters. It might not be fair, but is our college football world until next season, when the four-team playoff and restructured major bowl alignments take away the AAC’s privileged status.
At the very least, the conference has given us some pretty good teams and a good game coming up on Saturday night. Before we update the post-Week 10 BCS bowl projections, let’s take an overview look at the race for the American Athletic Conference automatic bid.
Houston and Central Florida are both undefeated in league play. UCF has been the most impressive, with a non-conference win at Penn State, and a near-miss against South Carolina. The Knights have also beaten Louisville on the road. Houston is quietly putting together a nice year, with the only loss being a one-point game to BYU in a non-conference affair.
Central Florida hosts Houston on Saturday night (7 PM ET, ESPN2) and the winner will hold the inside track to the outright conference championship and the BCS automatic bid.
What if the winner of that game stumbles going forward? Then Louisville and Cincinnati both with one league loss, each have a shot at the bid (SMU also has one league loss, but their 2-1 league record and woeful 3-4 showing overall make it hard to even think they’ll make any bowl game, much less win the conference). Louisville and Cincinnati play each other on December 5, the final Thursday night of the season.
The challengers clearly need to root for Houston. After Saturday, UCF’s only road games are at Temple and SMU. Their home games, against South Florida and Rutgers aren’t all that taxing. Furthermore, UCF would almost certainly need to lose twice to cost themselves the bid.
Houston, on the other hand, still visits Louisville and has to host Cincinnati. A Cougar victory gives hope to the Bearcats and Cardinals.
In the event of a tie that can’t be settled by head-to-head, the system defers to BCS rankings. These scenarios would include any three-way tie where the teams went in a circle beating each other (Louisville-Houston-Central Florida being the most likely), or one where the teams did not play each other–as is the case with Central Florida and Cincinnati, and that also affects a three-way tie where both teams are involved.
The current BCS rankings have Louisville at #20, UCF at #21 and no one else on the board. Given that, here is the likeliest path that fans of the four contending AAC teams should root for…
Central Florida: Win Saturday night and make it easy. Failing that, hope Cincinnati beats both Houston and Louisville, allowing the Knights to claim a tie and likely be the highest ranked team.
Louisville: Root for Houston on Saturday and win out.
Cincinnati: Root for Houston, hope Central Florida trips up somewhere else and win out.
Houston: Win out. The Cougar tiebreaker scenarios are all poor, given that most of them depend on a Houston loss. It almost certainly takes an outright league title to get the Coogs into the BCS. The good news is that they control their fate.
Central Florida and Louisville have the key games at home, and they have the BCS ranking to back them up. It’s tough to imagine anyone other than these two teams playing in one of the major bowls, but Houston has quietly proven people wrong all year, and Cincinnati knows that in November, crazy things happen in college football.
THE FIELD OF TEN
BCS BOWL PROJECTIONS
BCS National Championship: Alabama-Florida State
Fiesta: Baylor-Central Florida
Rose: Ohio State-Oregon