#AmericanKickoff and Media Days in Newport, RI, have come and gone and unsurprisingly, one of the central topics of discussion surrounding the two-day event was the impending departure of UConn and the conference’s plans moving forward.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco was steadfast in his assertion that the American remains a strong football league at 11 teams and therefore has no plans of adding a member to replace UConn for the foreseeable future.
Leaving the league at an odd-numbered 11 teams does open up the question of conference scheduling moving forward and Aresco stated that they were looking into scrapping imbalanced divisions for a system similar to what the Big 10 operated when they expanded to 11 teams by adding Penn State in 1993.
If @American_FB stands pat at 11, it likely would cease division play, Aresco says. Instead, he alludes to possibility of each school having two common foes and six rotating foes, sort of like the Big Ten did for years when Penn State came aboard.— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) July 16, 2019
It’s simple: two common yearly opponents for each team with a rotation of six other conference foes to fill out a full AAC slate. The two teams with the top winning percentages in conference would go on to battle each other in the conference championship game (a game that would require a waiver from the NCAA with the conference having less than the required 12 teams).
This “pod” idea has been explored by former SB Nation and current ESPN writer Bill Connelly, mainly focusing on how to balance schedules while preserving rivalries in conferences like the SEC.
I decided to give a crack at seeing how it would look when applied to the American post UConn, mostly basing it off geography and regional rivalries.
Two Yearly Opponents: UCF and Tulane
Starting with USF, of course the first priority if the conference adopted this system would be ensuring the War on I-4 happening every year. The marquee rivalry of the AAC needs to be protected for Thanksgiving weekend and Aresco even compared it to the B1G protecting Ohio State-Michigan during that stretch.
While many would insert USF’s soon-to-be most faced opponent Cincinnati into the second yearly foe slot, I’m angling things more towards geography in this scenario...so enter Tulane.
Despite shared histories in C-USA and the American, the two schools on the Gulf have only met on the field twice. Like they did in 2017, I’m sure Bulls fans will revel in the opportunity to head to New Orleans every other year.
If the conference decides to do system of three yearly foes and a five-team rotation for each school, I could see Cincinnati or another east rival like ECU being the third annual opponent for USF.
Two Yearly Opponents: USF and Houston
With a yearly game with the Bulls intact, I’d have Tulane go west on I-10 and pair off with their bayou cousins in Houston. You could also make the case for them going about six hours up the Mississippi for an annual contest against Memphis.
Two Yearly Opponents: Tulane and SMU
Having Tulane already on the schedule every year, I went back and forth on whether to have Houston’s second common opponent be SMU or Memphis.
On one hand, you’re reinforcing a rivalry between the two top Group of Five schools in the state of Texas. On the other hand, Memphis and Houston have an emerging rivalry as both schools enter the upcoming 2019 season a favorites to take the west.
I’ll still stick with pairing off the Texas schools with Memphis as the third option should the conference go the 3/5 route. And even in awkward years where the Tigers and Cougars don’t play each other during the regular season, they could very well meet in the conference title game.
Two Yearly Opponents: Houston and Tulsa
Alongside in-state rival Houston, SMU would be guaranteed to see Tulsa on their schedule every year.
Separated by only four-and-a-half hours, the schools have met on the field 25 times and have regularly played each other as conference members since 1996.
Two Yearly Opponents: SMU and Memphis
An on-again/off-again affair since 1961, Tulsa (who Collin argued should be dropped from the conference) would see Memphis on their schedule every year in this world.
Two Yearly Opponents: Tulsa and Cincinnati
As you can probably tell, this is where we start drifting back east as I have Memphis duking it out every year with Cincinnati along with Tulsa.
The two schools do in fact have a long, shared history with both being charter members of the defunct Metro Conference. The Tigers lead the all-time series 21-13.
As mentioned previously, you could sub one of these opponents out for Houston, or just straight up add the Cougars in a three-team scenario.
Two Yearly Opponents: Memphis and Temple
Continuing to push east, I chose Temple as Cincy’s second common foe. The Owls have owned them as of late, winning each of the last four contests.
As mentioned previously, you could add USF or possibly UCF as a third team in that scenario.
Two Yearly Opponents: Cincinnati and Navy
Staying in the mid-Atlantic, Temple would get the honor of being option’d to death on yearly basis by playing Navy, a team who already plays at the Linc in Philadelphia every year for the Army-Navy game.
Despite the close proximity and long histories of both programs, the Owls and Midshipmen have only met 14 times.
Two Yearly Opponents: Temple and ECU
It’s always been kind of weird to see Navy, a team in Annapolis, Maryland, designated to the western division of the AAC (even if it’s their own personal requirement to play in Texas).
For that reason, I’ve given the troops Temple, just over two hours up the road in Philly, and ECU, a little over five hours down I-95 in Greenville, NC.
Two Yearly Opponents: Navy and UCF
Getting into the southeast, the Pirates would have UCF as their second annual opponent on the docket. The two schools have shared the same division since UCF’s arrival to C-USA in 2005.
Two Yearly Opponents: ECU and USF
ECU is UCF’s most played opponent in their program’s history, having squared off against the Pirates 17 times since their first encounter in 1991.
And coming back to the War on I-4, we’ve gone full circle with all 11 teams in the conference accounted for.
Now of course having a rotation of six other opponents to add onto means that you’ll still be playing every team in the league more often than not. But it’s still interesting to think about what matchups are emphasized and what yearly rivalries are highlighted as the American moves forward into a new decade.