Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Five Questions: American Athletic Conference

Our second batch of questions takes us to the American Athletic Conference. Enjoy.

1. How will the divisions play out?
For the first time in the short history of the American Athletic Conference, there will be divisional play. No more shared conference titles. There will be one true champion. With the American now sporting twelve teams, eight of the current crop of ten FBS conferences will feature a conference championship game on the first weekend in December (only the Big 12 and Sun Belt are not in on the fun).

2. How will Navy enjoy conference life?
With Navy leaving the leisurely life of independence behind, Notre Dame is now the only current FBS team to have never enjoyed conference membership. Remember, Army was a member of Conference USA from 1998 to 2004. Navy’s maiden voyage into conference life has them in the west division of the American. Yes, a team stationed in Annapolis is in the ‘west’. With seven teams (eight if you count Memphis) in the (mostly) eastern part of the United States, some team had to draw the short straw of playing in the west. My preference would have been for Cincinnati to join Memphis in the west, but no one ever asked. I will be rooting for the Midshipmen, not because I am a closeted fan of the Village People, but because I think it would be quite unique if Navy played a regular season game (their annual tilt with Army) after playing a postseason game (the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship Game).

3. When is South Florida going to amount to anything?
Maybe my question is a little harsh. After all, South Florida did play in six consecutive bowl games between 2005 and 2010. However, try and remember back to mid-October of 2007. South Florida was ranked 2nd in the country and visiting Rutgers on a Thursday night. In the long ago pre-expansion days, the Bulls and Knights were conference opponents in the Big East. South Florida lost a close game to the Knights to start a three-game skid and fall out of the national and conference championship picture. Why do I bring up 2007? Well, that was the last time South Florida posted a winning conference record.
Yes, despite bowl trips the next three seasons, the Bulls never managed to win more than they lost in Big East play. That trend has continued through three coaches and two conferences. Yes, a team that was touted as a sleeping giant back in 2007 has failed to finish with a winning conference record for the duration of Barack Obama’s presidency. Is this the year? Can the Bulls finally shatter the .500 glass ceiling or is more heartbreak in store for the other directional Florida school?

4. What does Memphis do for an encore?
It would not be hyperbole to suggest that 2014 was perhaps the finest football season in school history for the Memphis Tigers. The feisty felines played relatively tight games with UCLA and Ole Miss, won a share of the American, brawled with BYU in the bowl game, won ten games, and finished ranked for the first time ever. Not bad for a team that averaged just over two wins per season between 2009 and 2013. Perhaps the best news for Memphis is that they were able to hang on to their head coach, Justin Fuente. Now the Tigers will look to post consecutive winning seasons for the first time since Tommy West road DeAngelo Williams to three straight bowls from 2003 to 2005. The Tigers return eleven starters including quarterback Paxton Lynch, a towering player who would not look out of place in the team picture for Josh Pastner’s squad. Do the Tigers have what it takes to win consecutive American Athletic Conference titles?

5. How fast will SMU play?
The June Jones era in Dallas ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Jones resigned two games into last season and the Mustangs won only a single game under interim coach Tom Mason. If we take away Jones’ first season (2008) and his last (2014), in between the Mustangs enjoyed their greatest success since receiving the Death Penalty. To replace Jones, SMU hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Morris was the offensive coordinator at Clemson for four seasons and under his watch, the Tigers played with tempo. They averaged at least 75 plays per game each season, which represented a significant improvement in speed over the years prior to his arrival.
Can SMU expect a similar pace? To answer that question, it would be helpful to know how fast the Mustangs played under Jones. To put it succinctly, it varied.
That is a pretty big spread between the slowest and fastest seasons under Jones. Certainly, the 2008 team was poor offensively and thus likely endured a lot of three and outs, but the 2013 team was not an offensive dynamo and still managed to average nearly 79 plays per game. The Mustangs will play at a faster pace in 2015, but that will probably not result in significantly more plays if the offense does not improve enough to stay on the field.

No comments: