PROVIDENCE, R.I. —
The American Athletic Conference is in no rush to say goodbye to the BCS.
The Bowl Championship Series goes away after this season, but for now the American remains one of six conferences with automatic entry into college football's biggest games.
While most of the college football world eagerly awaits the implementation of the new four-team playoff in 2014, the conference that used to be called the Big East is marking its last year of elite status.
"Our conference features legitimate football national championship contenders,'' Commissioner Mike Aresco said. "Our BCS representative this year will be a strong team. And I would remind people we remain a BCS conference this fall.''
The conference ravaged by realignment remains a conference in flux.
Louisville and Rutgers are saying their goodbyes.
Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and Houston are saying hello, moving in from Conference USA.
Holdovers Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida are making the best of being left out of the realignment shuffle. And Temple is just happy to be out of the Mid-American Conference.
The Cardinals, heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, won the league last year and are favored to do it again. When Aresco talks about national title contenders, he's mostly talking about coach Charlie Strong's team. Louisville, with a manageable schedule and legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, has the potential to give the American some nice parting gifts on its way out.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW
1) LOUISVILLE'S CATCH-22: For Louisville to be taken seriously in the national title race, at least a couple of its conference rivals will have to emerge as legitimate Top 25 teams. And of course if that happens, the road to an undefeated season gets much tougher for the Cardinals. Which conference rivals have the most potential to pose a serious threat? Cincinnati, Rutgers and Central Florida have the best blends of experience and talent. It's important to remember that while Louisville made a phenomenal final impression last season with a come-from-behind win at Rutgers to earn a BCS bid and an impressive victory against Florida in the Sugar Bowl, this is a team that was thumped by Syracuse and lost at home to UConn. Don't pencil in Louisville for 12-0 just yet.
2) TWO YOUNG GUNS AND ONE OLD COWBOY: Three teams in the American have new coaches. Two hired a young up-and-comer. The other for grabbed a veteran with an impressive track record.
- Willie Taggart, a Bradenton, Fla., native, takes over at South Florida. The former Western Kentucky coach and Jim Harbaugh protege turns 37 right before the season starts.
- Temple brought back former Owls assistant Matt Rhule, who spent last season with the New York Giants. The 38-year-old Rhule was part Al Golden's staff that turned Temple from sad sacks to respectable.
- Cincinnati went a different route hiring 58-year-old Tommy Tuberville, who spent three awkward years at Texas Tech. He has a 130-77 record in 17 seasons as a head coach at Mississippi, Auburn and Tech.
3) STARS NOT NAMED BRIDGEWATER: Blake Bortles was a revelation for Central Florida last season as a sophomore, throwing for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns. SMU is hoping Garrett Gilbert, yes, the guy who was expected to replace Colt McCoy at Texas, is ready to flourish in coach June Jones' pass-happy offense. Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds. Former blue chip recruit Deontay Greenberry should blossom as a sophomore receiver in Houston's fast-paced offense. Notre Dame transfer Aaron Lynch returns to action after sitting out a season and combines with Ryne Giddins to give USF the top defensive end combination in the league. Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood should give Lynch a strong run for defensive player of the year.
4) PLAYING UP: The American plays 15 games against BCS automatic qualifying conferences and Notre Dame. It'll need to win a few to gain some credibility. The most notable:
- USF at Michigan State;
- Cincinnati hosts Purdue and plays at Illinois;
- UCF plays at Penn State;
- UConn hosts Michigan;
- Rutgers hosts Arkansas.
5) WHO KNEW? The longest current winning streak in conference entering this season belongs to Cincinnati and ... Memphis. The Tigers have gone through some dark times recently but their first season under coach Justin Fuente ended with three straight victories.
Predicted order of finish
2. Central Florida