A BCS conference searching for respect would love to steal some wins against teams in better perceived leagues.
Even the Mountain West, in many circles at least, is held in higher esteem than the newly renamed American Athletic Conference. Louisville is the banner carrier for the conference, but plenty of other programs have opportunities to score huge victories.
Here are the biggest 10 non-conference games including AAC teams:
1. Arkansas at Rutgers, Sept. 21
The Scarlet Knights pulled off the victory over Arkansas in Fayetteville last season. This year the Razorbacks, led by new coach Bret Bielema, make the return trip to Piscataway. Bielema, the former Wisconsin coach, made his way out of the Big Ten one season separated from when Rutgers joins. This might be the best chance for an AAC team to secure an impressive victory over a well-perceived big-conference program.
2. Purdue at Cincinnati, Aug. 31
The honeymoon for one first-year coach won’t last through the first real night. Tommy Tuberville, making his debut at Cincinnati, faces off against Darrell Hazell. Here’s a fearless prediction: One fan base will leave the game questioning its program’s non-marquis hire. A loss for Tuberville, who follows a strong group of coaches in Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, would be especially inauspicious.
3. Maryland at UConn, Sept. 14
The Randy Edsall Bowl sees a couple of third-year coaches facing critical seasons. Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni, who followed Edsall at UConn, has underachieved in his first two seasons. It’s not as if the Huskies are in the SEC West. Maryland hasn’t exactly thrown parades for Edsall during his first two seasons in College Park, either. One of these coaches will find his seat growing increasingly hot.
4. Cincinnati at Illinois, Sept. 7
While the Bearcats have a perfectly reasonable chance to beat Purdue in Week 1, the opportunity to win a road game against a Big Ten team would look good for their resume – even if that team is Illinois.
5. Rutgers at Fresno State, Sept. 7
As far as the AAC-Mountain West conversation goes, this game could mean plenty. Many have made the case that the Mountain West of 2013 is superior to this year’s AAC. Fresno State, led by QB Derek Carr, seems poised for a strong season. A Rutgers win here would go a long way toward building the case that perhaps the AAC isn’t getting enough credit.
6. Louisville at Kentucky, Sept. 14
This isn’t so much a “something to gain” game for the AAC as it is a “can’t lose” contest. Louisville, the prohibitive league favorite, handled the Wildcats last year in the Bluegrass Battle. On paper, anyway, the Cardinals should have no problem again this season. However, the game is in Lexington and first-year coach Mark Stoops would love to take down Louisville and Western Kentucky within the first three weeks to claim the state belongs to the team in blue.
7. SMU at TCU, Sept. 14
For years, TCU has owned the cross-DFW Metroplex rivalry. The Horned Frogs have won 11 of the last 13. SMU did manage an overtime victory in 2011, which set off a celebration that created bad blood between the two programs. Mustangs coach June Jones could use some good news and taking down the cross-town rivalry would be a great step before the program makes its AAC debut.
8. Miami at USF, Sept. 28
Willie Taggart would love to grab major Sunshine State bragging rights. This is his best chance, with Miami coming to Tampa for this game. The Hurricanes should be heavy favorites for this contest.
9. South Carolina at UCF, Sept. 28
For the Knights, the 2013 season is already a significant step up in competition. The Gamecocks have a chance for a special season and aren’t likely to blow it in Orlando, but at least UCF can give them its best shot.
10. Michigan at UConn, Sept. 21
UConn has already started looking into how to add seats to its stadium to pack the crowds tighter for its hottest non-conference ticket in program history. Regardless of how many people are in the stands, the Huskies must find an offense to have a chance.