As the American Athletic Conference Media Day took place Tuesday, Cincinnati was voted the favorite to finish first by a pretty comfortable margin.
As you can see on the American Athletic Conference website here, the Bearcats had 311 points and 17 of 30 first place votes. The University of Central Florida (UCF) finished second in the voting with 296 points and 7 first place votes, and Houston came in third with 268 points and 6 first place votes. Those were the only three teams to receive first place votes, but it’s worth noting that East Carolina is expected to finish fourth its first year in the conference, coming out of the Conference USA. The Pirates received 262 votes.
The fact that UCF went 12-1 last year, has 17 returning starters, and are picked to finish behind the Bearcats shows just how crucial to the Knights the voters think quarterback Blake Bortles was. Cincinnati is losing its starting quarterback as well, and Brendon Kay was pretty good. But all things being equal, voters with this pick showed that they think the Bearcats overall had way more talent than the Knights last year, but Bortles was that much better than Kay.
I tend to agree with them. The Knights will miss Bortles much more than the Bearcats will miss Kay, and Tommy Tuberville has some pretty good experience at replacing quarterbacks. However, UCF will still be good.
Houston can’t be ignored either though. The Cougars return almost everybody, but as mentioned in an earlier preview on them that you can see here, there are questions about simply how lucky they were last year. However, it makes sense to put them third, and this year it surely looks like the conference will be a three-horse race.
American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco Refuses to Concede to Power Five
With the American Athletic Conference generally left out of the power conference discussion, Commissioner Mike Aresco made a point Tuesday to say that he won’t accept the label as a second-rate conference.
Saying that he’s not threatened by autonomy, Aresco said the AAC is “every bit” a power conference as the other power conferences, and he said he’s not even a fan of the term, “Power Five.”
My question would be who is he kidding?
If this is a power conference, then the 2004 Conference USA was a power conference. Sorry, I’m not buying it.
Not to say that I like the “Power Five” term, because I don’t. But you can’t deny conference tiers, and despite its resources, the American Athletic Conference is clearly second-tier in football as a whole.
I’d put it with the Mountain West in terms of successful teams, fan support, and the chance to be represented in the playoff. Those two conferences have enough teams with the potential to consistently make noise, and they’re clearly the two best non-Power Five conferences. The MAC comes right after that, then there’s the new Conference USA and the Sun Belt.
I doubt the last two will ever have a team in the playoff discussion.
East Carolina Ready to Compete in American Athletic Conference
Mark Armstrong, sports director at WTVD, the ABC affiliate in Raleigh, tweeted Tuesday evening that East Carolina Wide Receiver Justin Hardy said the Pirates would have to go undefeated, win the conference, and go to a great bowl game for this to be a successful season.
ECU WR Justin Hardy at AAC Media day: ‘In order for this to be a successful season? Go undefeated, go to a great bowl game, win the conf.’
— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) July 29, 2014
Strong words for a very good player on a team entering a new, much better conference. Coach Ruffin McNeill was a little more reserved, mostly talking about how the AAC is a premiere conference and that he wasn’t surprised by UCF’s BCS Bowl win last year. At the same time, he’s also able to mention how he’s got experience coaching against more than half the conference.
Coming off of a 10-3 season and returning lots of talent, there is reason to believe the Pirates could definitely fight their way into that conversation for the conference championship this year. I don’t consider them in that top tier with the other three teams, but it’s not like this conference will be foreign to the Pirates. Hardy may be on to something, but we’ll have to wait and see.