It’s no secret that AAC commissioner Mike Aresco views his conference as the sixth member of the Power Five, so much so that the term “Power Six” was coined to help elevate the status of the conference.
Only born in 2013, the American Athletic Conference rose from the ashes of the Big East. It’s already seen plenty of changes in its nearly eight-year existence. Rutgers and Louisville moved on to greener pastures while UConn returned to the Big East, but made the football program an independent.
East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa also became full members in 2014 while Navy joined in just football in 2015. Wichita State also joined as a full member in 2017, but they haven’t had a football team since 1986.
And now the conference may be looking to expand again. Sports Illustrated’s Mark Blaudschun speculated not only expansion but a Western movement that would raid the Mountain West.
The three schools involved would be Boise State, San Diego State, and Colorado State.
Boise State and San Diego State’s potential move makes sense, as they were both members of the old Big East conference for about five minutes before both backed out within a few weeks of each other. Neither were “official” members, but both were just about six months away from that July 1st NCAA new year.
Boise State is a no-brainer. They’re a national brand and have been the king of the Group of Five since the mid-2000s, although UCF might have something to say about that lately. Any expanding conference, Pac-12 included, would be crazy not to at least call the Broncos.
San Diego State is a good, consistent program. Before last year’s crazy COVID-19 season, the Aztecs went to a bowl game for ten straight years. But as high as those highs were, the 14 seasons prior were spent mostly in the basement of the Mountain West and a couple of those years in the WAC.
Colorado State is the head-scratcher. They haven’t finished ranked since 2000 and have spent just 15 weeks ranked since then with 11 of those weeks coming in 2002. Even with former Boston College head coach Steve Addazio, the Rams have a ways to go before they’re back to where they once were.
If the AAC is serious about becoming a more national brand and getting to that 14 team threshold, what should they do?
Obviously, Boise State should be the first call. After that, it’s not quite as cut and dry — but it can be.
If the AAC wants to expand into California, that’s fine. But it shouldn’t be San Diego State, it should be Fresno State. The Bulldogs have had some abysmal seasons recently (looking at you, 2016) but they’ve also been the stronger program compared to San Diego State. Both have four 10-win seasons since the turn of the century, but San Diego State has eight losing seasons to Fresno’s six. Fresno has also spent parts of seven seasons ranked in the polls to the Aztecs’ three.
The one thing San Diego State has a major advantage in, and it’s one that can’t be controlled, is the TV market size. San Diego has the 27th ranked market while Fresno has the 55th ranked market. If you need any proof that a conference values that, just remember that the Big Ten wanted Rutgers for the New York market.
If you want viewers, San Diego State is your choice. If you want on-field and potential, Fresno State is your pick. You really can’t go wrong with either.
As for the third choice, scratch Colorado State right off the list. If the AAC is hellbent on a Colorado school, give Air Force a call. Another national brand, Air Force is the lesser of the three military schools on the football field but still has supporters all over the country. Veterans of the Air Force all over the country root for the team even if they didn’t attend the academy.
Plus, you’d have two-thirds of the Commander in Chief rivalry within the conference. Being able to promote Air Force against Navy as a conference game would be big, but imagine a potential rematch in the AAC title game.
Overall, Colorado doesn’t add a ton to the conference one way or another. Instead of Colorado State or Air Force, the other team the AAC should call is almost as obvious as Boise State.
There’s an independent program out there that after last season might have realized that it might very well need a conference going into the future. A team that if they were to join could legitimately change the fate of the football program. A team that dominated a conference once before.
You guessed it: BYU.
Talk about a national brand. BYU has a massive fan base that goes far beyond Salt Lake City, which, by the way, is the 30th ranked TV market in the country.
Last season, had BYU defeated Coastal Carolina, the Cougars would have been undefeated and likely on the outside looking in. Now imagine if the Cougars had gone undefeated, but had the power (and quality of wins) of the American behind it.
BYU would bring with it a national championship, something only Navy can claim in the conference, despite what UCF might try to tell you. They previously played in the MWC and WAC, so they’re no strangers to Boise State and San Diego State.
The Cougars have a history of winning and putting top talent into the NFL. A move to the AAC would not only continue that legacy but potentially also expand it. This would benefit both sides.
AAC football could think outside the box
So your three choices are Boise State, Fresno State, and BYU, with San Diego State being an alternative to Fresno. But things rarely go as planned, so the AAC would need a plan B. Plan B should be outside the box. In this case, the box being the FBS.
Why not North Dakota State? The Bison have dominated the FCS, winning eight of the last 10 national championships. Not even Alabama has dominated college football that way.
It’s not like North Dakota State would struggle against big competition. The Bison have multiple wins not just against the FBS, but Power Five programs. Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado State, Kansas State, Iowa State, and even 13th ranked Iowa have all fell victim to the Bison’s reign of terror.
The scary part? North Dakota State only became a Division 1 program in 2004. That means there’s still potential to get even better.
A major concern would be the Bison’s willingness to move up. The costs, specifically for travel, would no doubt be astronomical. But the money they would make from the move might be enough to convince the FCS power that the time is perfect.
The grass might be greener on the other side for many of these teams. But can the same be said for the American Athletic Conference as a whole?