“Underdog” AAC Fights for Legitimacy

The AAC Media day conference took place yesterday in Providence, RI and Commissioner Mike Aresco had a message for the NCAA and their College Football Playoff Selection Committee; make room for the sixth power conference.

Four years ago, the NCAA brought the college football world into a new era by installing the College Football Playoffs. The idea was simple, the new format would open the door for a more competitive post-season, creating more interest with the fans, while also creating an opportunity for new teams to play for the national championship.

Unfortunately, the entries are voted in by the CFP Selection Committee who seem fixated on the Power-5 conferences being the only ones who deserve an opportunity to join the tournament. The most significant influence appears to be the strength of schedule argument. Power-5 teams play in Power-5 conferences, and those conference champions are all but guaranteed a spot in the CFP (unless Alabama doesn’t win the SEC). The AAC has no intention of changing the minds of the committee. Instead, they challenge the idea that there are only five power conferences.

“Our presidents and athletic directors have had a vision for this conference, a Power 6 vision, and we are fulfilling the promise that was evident in our early years,” Said Aresco during his address.


Mike Aresco addresses the media during the 2018 AAC Media Day in Providence, RI

“They have made the commitment necessary for us to approach Power 6 status, they have provided the vision and resources in a tough environment that have enabled our student-athletes to compete at the highest level.”

There is no doubt that the AAC has become a force to be reckoned with since it was rebranded five years ago. For years the competition has been fierce and the product that comes out of the AAC leads to record-breaking performances, bowl-game victories, and NFL draft selections. Yet these accomplishments are diluted by the CFP Selection Committee when it matters.

The crown jewel in the AAC argument for becoming the sixth power conference is the undefeated 2017 UCF Knights. UCF was the only undefeated team after beating Auburn 34-27 in the 2018 Peach Bowl.

Auburn beat the eventual CFP champions, Alabama, 26-14 at home last year, which ignited the UCF faithful to deny the validity of last year’s CFP and crown themselves national champions. Yet the final AP rankings had UCF at No.6 despite being the only team other than No.1 Alabama to receive first-place votes (4).

“I salute the UCF Knights on their great undefeated season, and on the national championship that they have a right to claim. They finished #1 in the Colley Computer Index, and many schools over the years, including Alabama, have claimed national championships based on such metrics,” said Aresco, “We congratulate the Alabama Crimson Tide and Nick Saban on their CFP title, and we respect the CFP process, we are part of it. But that does not mean that we cannot celebrate our UCF Knights. They have become a national brand and have helped our conference become a national brand.”

But take away the undefeated run that UCF had last year, and you still see a power conference by every measure. There are multiple 9, 10, 11, and 12 win teams. There are numerous New Year’s Day bowl game victories. In fact, the AAC is undefeated in all three appearances since 2014.

The AAC passes the “eye-test,” having won 26 “Power-6” games in the past three years. They beat Oklahoma, Florida State, Auburn, Ole Miss, UNC, NC State, Pittsburgh, and Louisville just to name a few.

They pass the “market” test, as more than 90 games have had one-million or more viewers. They pass the “star-power” test, owning multiple NCAA all-time receiving records, an Outland Trophy winner, Nagurski Award winner, two Sullivan Award winners, and they just so happen to have seven players on this year’s Maxwell Award Watch List.

While the CFP Selection Committee has yet to see the value in the AAC, the NFL has taken notice. In 2018, 18 players, including UCF standout Shaquem Griffin, heard their name called in Dallas.


UCF standout Shaquem Griffin dons his Seahawks hat after being drafted with the 141’st draft pick in 2018.

This just adds to the long list of players who come from AAC teams and made the transition to the NFL, including Baltimore’s Tyus Bowser, and Shaquem’s brother Shaquill Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks.

The AAC is poised for another stellar season, and while many may doubt their claims, perhaps Aresco put it best; “If this is not power, then power loses its definition.”

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