Time for a look-ahead at our friends from the Big East, uh, I mean, the American Athletic Conference. What a joke. Just call themselves Conference USA-Plus and get it over with.
1. Louisville Cardinals (8-0 American, 12-0 overall). Louisville was one of the most exciting teams in one of the crappiest conferences last year. And now, in their first (and last) season in the new American, they look to put together their finest season ever. There is no reason that the Cards can’t run the table, at the very least inside the conference. I assume they will go undefeated and then have to await their BCS fate.
2. Cincinnati Bearcats (6-2 American, 9-3 overall). Any other year and I would say the Bearcats have a chance at getting that final BCS bowl bid out of the American. Problem is, Louisville has one more year in the conference and will make the most of it by pasting every single opponent. The only way this doesn’t happen is if the Bearcats go Beast Mode and win the Keg of Nails in the final regular season matchup between the two teams.
3. UCF Knights (6-2 American, 8-4 overall). New conference, same above average result from George O’Leary (or at least that’s what his resume says) and his Knights. A step-up in competition won’t deter this team but, just like Cincinnati, they will, in all likelihood, fall victim to the alpha-males of this group in Louisville.
4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-3 American, 8-4 overall). The amount of new teams seems to be almost matched by the amount of departing teams. Rutgers’ last season in the relatively easy American may only result in a 4th place finish thanks to the talent in front of them. The Big Ten will be a huge step up for the Scarlet Knights so they are hoping they can pull an upset or two this season to get to a better bowl before their send-off.
5. SMU Mustangs (4-4 American, 5-7 overall). You need a freakin’ scorecard to figure out who is in this conference this season. SMU may be in for a bit of a fight to go bowling in their first year in the American. Hey, I watched that 30 for 30 film, Pony Excess, the other night. What a great movie. And what makes anyone think that other schools aren’t this corrupt in college football today?
6. Connecticut Huskies (4-4 American, 7-5 overall). UConn may still be destined to get into the ACC one day even if Boston College doesn’t want them there. For now, they will continue to be a middle-of-the-pack team in a middle-of-the-pack conference looking to get into a middle-of-the-pack bowl.
7. Houston Cougars (3-5 American, 5-7 overall). The Cougs are only two years removed from their almost-epic run to the BCS out of Conference USA. One conference championship game loss away from being the first member of that conference to achieve that. At this point in their new conference, bowl eligibility is the only thing they can strive for as they aren’t quite upper-crust in the American yet.
8. Memphis Tigers (2-6 American, 4-8 overall). Memphis’ basketball program may be pleased that they are headed to this new conference. Don’t know about the football team though. They struggled to be competitive in Conference USA so I can’t see them being any more than in a race to stay out of last place here in the American.
9. Temple Owls (1-7 American, 4-8 overall). I have a feeling Temple is going to miss their old coach Steve Addazio. Not to take away from new head man Matt Rhule, but Addazio seemed to have the Owls heading in the right direction. They will struggle to stay out of the basement this season.
10. USF Bulls (1-7 American, 3-9 overall). Maybe firing Jim Leavitt wasn’t the greatest move in hindsight.
No conference championship game for the American…until probably 2015. East Carolina, Tulsa, Tulane, and eventually, Navy join this crew in the next two seasons. As for this season, I don’t think it will be a question of whether Louisville will run the table. The question will be whether Louisville dominates enough in their games to warrant a spot in the BCS national championship. Everyone else is playing for second place in the brand-spankin-new American conference.