Rest easy, football fans — we are now less than two weeks away from the return of college football. This also means that we’re just a fortnight away from getting a look at the revamped American Athletic Conference, which will now feature 12 teams and two divisions thanks to the addition of Navy.
All 12 AAC teams will be in action during Week 1, which includes three games against Power Five opponents. Here are the top five AAC games to watch in Week 1.
5. Florida Atlantic at Tulsa (Saturday, September 5, 3:30 PM ET, CBS Sports Network)
Head coach Philip Montgomery’s debut on the Tulsa sidelines will come against a team that soundly defeated the Golden Hurricane in 2014.
Florida Atlantic steamrolled Tulsa 50-21 at home last year, which would end up being a bright spot in an otherwise dismal 3-9 campaign. However, FAU will have to travel to Chapman Stadium this time around to face a Tulsa team that will be looking to gain a measure of redemption for last season’s beatdown.
For Golden Hurricane fans, this game will present them with their first look at what the team might look like in 2015 with Montgomery at the helm. You can definitely bet on a more explosive offense, but the key to success in the season opener and beyond will be the improvement of a defense that surrendered 39.3 points per game last year.
4. Duke at Tulane (Thursday, September 3, 9:30 PM ET, CBS Sports Network)
Tulane’s season kicks off under the lights against the Duke Blue Devils, where the Green Wave will look to score an upset and earn their a win over an FBS opponent in their season opener for the first time since 1998.
For Tulane to have any chance of pulling off the shocking upset, it will need a strong performance from sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee, who will look to take better care of the football in 2015.
Lee struggled when these two teams met last year, throwing three interceptions (two of which were returned by Duke for touchdowns) in a 47-13 blowout in Durham. At the very least, the Green Wave will get to play at home, which certainly can’t hurt their chances.
3. Baylor at SMU (Friday, September 4, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN)
SMU really doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of upsetting Baylor in its season opener, but it’s worth tuning in just to see how well the Mustang offense fares under new head coach Chad Morris.
The Mustangs were absolutely abysmal in 2014, during which they finished 1-11 thanks to dismal play by both the offense and defense. But brighter days are on the horizon with Morris at the helm, and a respectful performance against a top-flight opponent like Baylor on national television will only increase fan enthusiasm toward the program’s future.
2. Florida International at Central Florida (Thursday, September 3, 6:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network)
Before UCF can begin its quest for a third consecutive AAC title, it must first deal with its non-conference slate of games, which starts off with a team that might be a tougher challenge than people think.
FIU was mercilessly criticized when school officials canned Mario Cristobal and ended up hiring Ron Turner following the 2012 season, and Turner’s 5-19 record in his first two seasons haven’t exactly quieted down his critics.
However, four of the Golden Panthers’ eight losses last year came by three points or less and the team showed clear signs of progress from the season before. With most of the defense returning and the offense left with nowhere to go but up, FIU could be a potential bowl team that UCF won’t want to overlook.
1. Penn State at Temple (Saturday, September 3, 3:30 PM ET, ESPN)
There’s really no debate as to what the marquee AAC game in Week 1 is — it’s Temple’s showdown with James Franklin’s Nittany Lions.
Penn State hasn’t lost to the Owls in 74 years, but this year’s matchup is Temple’ best chance at taking down the Nittany Lions in a long, long time. Just last year, the Owls gave Happy Valley a bit of a scare, staying tied with the Nittany Lions all the way into the third quarter before Penn State pulled away to win 30-13.
The key focus will be on Christian Hackenberg and the PSU offense vs. Temple’s stalwart defense, which could be among the best units in the country. If their defense is able to hold steady and limit Hackenberg, don’t be surprised if the Owls pull off the upset.