With all of the conference moves and expansion in recent years, there is a need for a weigh-station in college sports. In the mid 90s, Conference USA was created to effectively fill that role when a group of loosely-aligned, mostly independent sides organized their own league while each school dreamed of moving up the food chain at some point. None of the original C-USA remains, with most of the teams now playing in the American. We're not sure AAC commissioner Mike Aresco much cares about his league being referred to as the "New Conference USA," but his only argument would be semantics. "Old Conference USA" might be more appropriate as six teams make the move from CUSA to the American this fall after the AAC was raided by a hungry Big 12 for three of its flagship programs -- Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF, who combined have won seven of the last nine American titles. That's a lot of power to lose in one fell swoop.
Replacing them (and then some) in the American will be Conference USA refugees Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA. Among this group are the last six CUSA winners. (Apologies to Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee, now the longest-serving members of CUSA, and whose names have yet been called for promotion).
At the outset, the American might lose a little, but keep in mind that the conference won a New Year's Six bowl game last season when Tulane shocked USC at the wire in a thrilling Cotton Bowl, and the Green Wave most definitely remain in the American. The future expansion of the playoff to 12 teams should also give the AAC champ a chance to participate, at least for a first-round game in most seasons, after the conference has seen its champs often qualify from the effective mid-major "Group of Five" for the New Year's bowl date in recent years.
It's worth noting that four (Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, and UAB) of the six new entries to the American from CUSA are breaking in new coaches, while three new coaches (at Navy, Tulsa and USF) are making their debuts from the AAC holdovers. Thus, half of the teams in the new-look American will have first-year coaches this season.
Don't expect the carousel to stop spinning in regard to American membership, either. SMU is being openly mentioned as a potential target for the USC and UCLA-depleted Pac-12, while Memphis is acting like it might be willing to throw in Graceland to any Power 5 conference that might want to extend an invitation (say, the Big 12). Tulane is back on the front burner too after its recent success, newer on-campus stadium, and location in New Orleans. Ditto new members FAU, North Texas, and UTSA, schools and programs on the move in bustling locales.
Among the 2023 debutantes, most regard Jeff Traylor's UTSA, fresh off back-to-back CUSA titles, as the most likely to contend, though we have seen new FAU head coach Tom Herman do some magic very early in his past assignments at Houston and Texas, and would regard the Owls as a sleeper to watch. After its aforementioned Cotton Bowl win, Tulane looks to enter the season as the team to beat, especially after keeping head coach Willie Fritz and several key contributors from last season in the fold.
We will get around to picking our best bet for the 2023 title in a moment. What we won't do is predict what this conference might look like a couple of years from now, except to say that more change is likely on the horizon. Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, and Louisiana Tech should stay on Aresco's speed-dial.
2023 AAC title odds
Per Caesars Sportsbook
- Tulane +230
- SMU +280
- UTSA +280
- Memphis +650
- Florida Atlantic +850
- North Texas +2200
- Navy +2800
- Temple +2800
- East Carolina +3500
- UAB +4000
- Tulsa +4000
- South Florida +4000
- Rice +7500
- Charlotte +12500
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