It’s a new look AAC after the departure of three schools and the addition of six others.
Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF are off to the Big 12, and The American has replaced them with North Texas, UTSA, Rice, FAU, North Texas, and UAB — all from Conference USA. I think it’s safe to continue to label the AAC as the top Group of Five conference in the nation, even without those three schools that left. The three combined to win five total championships in the conference’s eight-year history.
The 2023 AAC football schedule for the 14-team league was released two weeks ago, and here are some takeaways:
Quality Power 5 opponents
Through the nonconference slate, we’ll find out quickly how good this conference can be. In Week 1, ECU plays at Michigan, Rice plays at Texas, and UTSA visits Houston — an interesting game that will create a lot of chatter if the visitors win. The next week, Tulane hosts Ole Miss and SMU visits Oklahoma. In Week 3, FAU visits Clemson, USF hosts Alabama, and Tulsa hosts Oklahoma. And in Week 4, UAB travels to Georgia and UTSA travels to Tennessee.
I can’t imagine many wins coming from the small guys in these contests, but that’s why they play the game. This also doesn’t include Navy’s Week 0 game against Notre Dame.
Defending champs to be tested
It’s mentioned above that Tulane faces Lane Kiffin’s Rebels in Week 2. The Green Wave even get to play that game at home. That comes after what should be another tough game against a solid South Alabama squad in the season-opener. Tulane also faces Memphis on the road and travels for another road game the following week against a gritty ECU team. This will be an interesting two-week stretch for the league’s defending champs.
To wrap up the season, Tulane will host two-time defending C-USA champion UTSA. This could potentially determine who winds up in the AAC title game. Who knows though, maybe it’ll be the first of two consecutive games between the two. There’ll be a lot of fresh competition for the Green Wave, who will only play three programs that were in the conference last season.
There seem to be a lot of games that will be played during the week conference-wide. Most notably is that Tulane-UTSA contest, which will be played on Black Friday. That will be UTSA’s second consecutive game in a row on a Friday and third weeknight outing. Memphis, SMU, and Tulsa each have three weekday games. Obviously, it’ll create opportunities for more eyes on the league.
New conference, familiar foes
With the haul of squads coming from C-USA, there will be plenty of familiarity in the new AAC. Each new team will play an old (but new) conference opponent at least twice, with Charlotte being the only school with two such games on the schedule — FAU on Oct. 28 and Rice on Nov. 18. North Texas and UTSA will have four such contests with UNT facing two former-conference opponents in Week 2 and 3 versus FIU and Louisiana Tech. UNT and UAB will play in the final game of the regular season along with Rice vs. FAU. In these final — possibly important — contests, it’ll almost be a little too familiar for these four teams. And even more so for Rice, who plays UTSA, Charlotte, and FAU in the final three weeks of the season.
We’ll learn a lot from this league soon and who separates itself as one of the top dogs. We know who we can expect to lead the pack, but there could be some surprises. ECU faces three of its toughest opponents in a four-week stretch and if the Pirates win one or two, they could set themselves up well. UTSA seems to have a favorable schedule with what looks like all but one of their biggest conference games at home, and teams like UAB and UNT will hope to make some early noise.
This league and its schedule should bring plenty of excitement this fall.