By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, JUNE 4, 2014 – Excitement continues to build for the 2014 American Athletic Conference football season and the league plans to take things to the next level in 2015.
Last week the conference’s chief executive officers unanimously approved a new format that will feature two divisions comprised of six teams each and there is a lot to like about the move. Each team will face its five divisional foes and three opponents from the other division each year. Everyone plays everyone at home and on the road in a four-year span.
The East Division includes USF, UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, East Carolina and Temple. The West Division is comprised of Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa and Navy, which will become the league’s 12th football member in 2015.
“The East-West format we have adopted gives each division a distinct identity, provides long-term competitive balance and protects traditional rivalries while allowing each school to travel across the conference's geographical footprint on a regular basis," Commissioner Mike Aresco said in an American release.
Last year proved the American Athletic Conference provides fans will great matchups on a weekly basis and each season will be culminated with a grand finale under the new format. Division winners get to battle for the conference crown at the home stadium of the highest ranked divisional champion. That’s a pretty sweet deal for fans and a nice reward for the program that produces the most each season.
"This is an exciting step in the continued development of our conference," Aresco said. "With our performance on the field and the exposure we received from our media partners, I couldn't be more satisfied with our first year of American Athletic Conference football. Creating this divisional format will allow us to build upon that success. Our fans will enjoy our divisional play and the championship game that will be established in 2015.”
The evolution of the conference continues this upcoming season with three great additions to the league that brings the total up to 11 teams. East Carolina went 10-3 last season, Tulsa is just two years removed from a conference championship and Tulane gets to host conference opponents at its new on-campus stadium.
Learn more about The American’s 12 teams that will compete in the new divisional format below:
USF: The Bulls have booked trips to six bowl games since 1997 and the future looks bright. Head coach Willie Taggart and his staff put together the top recruiting class in The American this offseason and the Bulls return 17 starters from 2013. Purchase a season ticket package by calling 1-800-GoBulls or online HERE.
UCF: The Knights represented The American well last season by going 12-1 and defeating Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. UCF has made six bowl appearances since 2005 and it’s the youngest program to reach a BCS bowl. The Knights will look to capture their second consecutive American title after going 8-0 in league play last year.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats went to their 15th bowl game last season and finished 9-4 in coach Tommy Tuberville’s first year with the program. Cincinnati is one of the 10 oldest programs in major college football. The Bearcats started playing football in 1885 and headed to The American after winning four of the final five Big East championships.
UConn: The Huskies have made five bowls trips since becoming a member of the Big East in 2004. UConn won the Big East in 2007 and 2011 before competing in The American’s inaugural season in 2013. New head coach Bob Diaco will lead the team in 2014 after serving as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator the past four years on top of being an assistant head coach the past two seasons.
East Carolina: The Pirates head to The American with momentum after going 10-3 in 2013. East Carolina has been to 19 bowl games and has made a postseason appearance seven times in the past eight seasons. Head coach Ruffin McNeill is 29-22 in four seasons with the program.
Temple: The Owls enter their 116th season of competition and have made four bowl appearances. Head coach Matt Rhule and his staff assembled the No. 59 recruiting class in the country this offseason according to Rivals.com.
Houston: The Cougars have made the postseason 22 times and played in eight bowl games in the past 11 seasons. Houston went 8-5 in head coach Tony Levine’s second season with the program and faced Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Cougars will play all their home games at the newly built Houston Football Stadium on campus.
Memphis: The Tigers have been to seven bowl games and head coach Justin Fuente will look to lead them back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. Memphis returns nine starters on offense, including sophomore QB Paxton Lynch, and eight starters on defense.
Navy: The Midshipmen play their final season as an Independent before competing in The American in 2015. Navy has posted winning records in 10 of the past 11 seasons and returns 20 starters from the 2013 team that won the Armed Forces Bowl.
SMU: The Mustangs went to four straight bowl games prior to last season and have an impressive football history dating back to 1915. SMU has won three national titles, 11 conference championships and has made 15 bowl appearances overall. The Mustangs return 13 starters from last year’s team that went 4-4 in The American.
Tulane: The Green Wave will compete in their first season in The American and they’ll host opponents six times at Yulman Stadium, a new on-campus venue with a capacity of 30,000. Tulane went 7-6 last season and its trip to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl marked the program’s 11th postseason appearance.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane won its second Conference USA championship in 2012 and has made 19 postseason appearances. Tulsa returns 15 starters with 10 on defense including five in the secondary. Bill Blankenship, a former starting QB for Tulsa, is 19-8 in two seasons as head coach of the program.