Running back Marlon Mack, tight end Sean Price, safety Jamie Byrd and punter Mattias Ciabatti joined Willie Taggart at the AAC Kickoff and Media Day this week.
Everything commenced Monday, when the players took lots of pictures like this:
And like this:
And dinner was a New England clambake:
Everyone got down to business Tuesday morning. A preseason media poll was unveiled, which solidly predicted Cincinnati would win the East Division and the inaugural AAC Championship Game. Memphis was a distant second to win the conference, but was predicted to win the West Division.
ESPN's Kevin Negandhi hosted the morning's activities, which began when AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco took to the podium to lay out his 30+ minute manifesto. He started by welcoming Navy to the conference, citing their rich history and honorable place in the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere. He then spoke of his plans to develop the American into a "Power Six" conference by continuing to schedule Power Five opponents, continuing to out-recruit the rest of the group of five conferences, and continuing to get AAC games on TV.
"If we look and act like the so-called Power Five," he said, "we will be in the conversation and eventually ‘Power Six' will enter the media and public lexicon and perceptions."
He also announced an AAC partnership with USA Football, whereby American coaches and staff will help encourage youth football participation, educate players and parents about the game, and train youth football coaches on safety. Also, November will be the American's Youth Football Month.
Next, the head coaches had round table discussions in which they discussed their teams and the conference as a whole. All of the coaches agreed with Aresco that it is a bit disappointing to be in a group of five conference, but that they felt they could compete with Power Five teams any given Saturday. Houston's new head coach Tom Herman described it as "a legislative distinction, not a competitive distinction."
The most entertaining questions in the round table were for UConn's Bob Diaco. It seems everyone is still wondering about this grotesque idea:
On this topic, Diaco said that he looks up to UCF's George O'Leary and wants to emulate him. "He's built one of the best football programs in America," Diaco really actually said. He also said that this Civil Conflict "rivalry" was created out of respect and was not meant to be offensive to anyone (apparently fans have pointed out that the name is laughable and sounds vaguely similar to the Civil War, that the trophy only features the score of one football game, that the rivalry has no basis in reality, and that the whole idea seems ridiculous to anyone who knows anything about college or football).
O'Leary plans to win the game this year. "A trophy with a clock on it, I really like," he said. "I don't have one of them."
Diaco also mentioned that one of the reasons for the "rivalry" and trophy was that if people had heard about it, they might decide to watch the football game when channel-surfing instead of watching something else. And you thought it was because of the deeply held historical hatred between the colleges. He also proposed the idea of calling it the ConFLiCT. Do you see it? Oh, and later in the day he said his Huskies are going to win the National Championship this season.
Willie Taggart described the state of USF's football program in terms of the culture and morale of the players. He said that after two years the culture has changed and he is much more comfortable with it. "I don't find myself getting emotionally hijacked anymore, and that's because guys are doing things the right way and how we want it done," he said. He also said that the Bulls are friendlier with each other and closer than they used to be.
As each coach discussed his team further, Taggart described his quarterback problem in classic Taggart fashion, saying that he wants to name a starter soon, but hasn't felt comfortable making the decision yet. "It's taking care of that football, leading every single day and competing at a high level every single day and bringing that energy every single day." When asked to get more specific, he mentioned "making big time plays," "being able to rally your team," and "not letting anyone see you sweat."
With fall practice starting tomorrow, Taggart will need some of that team-rallying confidence himself if he is going to put together a winning season. He spoke of the new, energetic coaches and the increased depth on the roster as advantages he has this year that he didn't have in the past two. "Not only do we have depth, but I feel we have competitive depth," said Taggart. Now that the culture of the team is where he wants it to be, he expects to see things turn around. "I think eventually those things add up to winning and that's what we expect to do this year: to have a lot more wins."