Four Reasons Why ”American Power” Is Absurd
The American Athletic Conference wants to run with the power conferences, but there’s several reasons why #AmericanPow6r, for now, is lacking.
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Does a Power 6 actually exist in 2017? No. Will it exist anytime soon? Here’s why it might not.
If you’ve paid any attention to the college football landscape this offseason, you’ve noticed that the American Athletic Conference is attempting to make moves. They have a memorable media days tradition (lobsters!), a dicey hashtag (#AmericanPow6r!), and an eagerness to run with the big boys in the Power 5.
This is, at least with regards to the football field, pretty ludicrous. Here’s why:
1. An aspiring Power 6 conference should be willing to go toe-to-toe with the competent big boys in non-conference play.
I examined the 2017 schedule of every team in the Group of 5 –- Sun Belt, Mid-American, Conference USA, Mountain West and, yes, the American –- to count how many non-conference games each has with Power 5 teams that played in a bowl last season. How did the numbers shake out?
C-USA – 18
Mountain West – 15
Sun Belt – 13
MAC – 9
American – 8
Granted, there may be a few caveats that partially explain this discrepancy. Navy, for example, has an obligation to play Army and Air Force every season for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The SBC and C-USA play a fair share of cupcake games, too. In the American, however, both this season and in future seasons, the non-conference slate isn’t so much a slate as a… well, it’s soft. Consider South Florida and Memphis in the next couple of years. We often gave grief to San Diego State for similarly friendly scheduling in the last couple of years, but they’ve made strides in answering that criticism.
It isn’t like this across the board, of course. Tulsa won 10 games in 2016 and, this year open the season against Oklahoma State, the closest analogue to Houston’s opener against Oklahoma a year ago. East Carolina has back-to-back dates with West Virginia and Virginia Tech. On the whole, though, the conference needs to do more to schedule and win big games with the behemoths on the college football landscape.
2. An aspiring Power 6 conference will need a flagship program to lead the way.
The AAC has had some good teams in the last few years, but which program would you consider to be its pre-eminent brand? To break into the national consciousness like Boise State, you have to win and win a lot.
That same argument has been used regarding San Diego State in the past, and they’ve certainly helped their own case since 2015. As it pertains to the American, it’s worth noting that the only team to finish better than .500 in conference play in each of the AAC’s four seasons is Houston (in that same timeframe, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State have accomplished that feat in the Mountain West). Sustained success by one or two teams could be vital but, again, it’d help if it didn’t carry the questions of a soft schedule.
Take a longer look at Houston, for instance. The Cougars have had four seasons with double-digit wins and two losing seasons dating back to 2006. By comparison, Boise State has nine seasons of ten or more wins in that same span, and they have no losing seasons and three Fiesta Bowl victories. The Broncos may have slipped more recently, but they remain the gold standard by which all other G5 teams (and, by extension, the G5 conferences) will be measured until further notice.
3. An aspiring Power 6 conference will need stars.
Quinton Flowers is a dynamic quarterback and Ed Oliver is a terror in the trenches. Beyond those two, though, who are the AAC’s biggest names?
If you’re NFL Draft-savvy, you might point out SMU’s Courtland Sutton or UCF’s Shaquem Griffin, but the number of guys you could reasonably build a Heisman campaign around is smaller than it is in a place like the Mountain West, where Josh Allen, Rashaad Penny and Brett Rypien are unquestioned stars. There’s no clear-cut path to making that happen, but having more well-regarded athletes than you can count on one hand would be a start.
4. An aspiring Power 6 conference probably shouldn’t sleepwalk through bowl season.
Want to take a guess as to how many times the AAC has finished above .500 in its bowls? The answer is zero.
Yes, the UCF Knights did win the Fiesta Bowl in 2013, though that last BCS berth was gifted to the American after the implosion of the Big East. And yes, Houston did beat Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl.
Last year, though, their hopes of gaining real “power” sooner rather than later took enough hits to make you think BYU got hold of them: Temple lost head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor, then looked listless against Wake Forest. Houston got boat raced by San Diego State. UCF looked outclassed by Arkansas State, while Memphis and Navy couldn’t keep up with Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech, respectively.
If you’d like to defend the conference by pointing out its wins over 6-6 Central Michigan and 6-6 South Carolina, be my guest.
To paraphrase Ian Fleming, this isn’t something that’s happened to the AAC just once or twice. It’s a trend, and one that needs to be reversed before any power conference talk can be taken seriously.