Sunday was a great day for the American Athletic Conference. There weren’t any true surprises, but the confirmation of eight bowl bids for the 12-team league, highlighted by conference champion Houston’s appointment in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, made a major statement in the college football world.
It just might have been the best day in the history of the AAC.
Houston, which defeated Temple in the inaugural AAC championship game on Saturday, takes its 12-1 record to Atlanta to play traditional power Florida State (10-2) from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Cougars, under first-year coach Tom Herman, emerged as the top team from the Group of Five conferences that are considered outside the Power Five. As a result, Houston was chosen to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl
It’s the second time in the three-year history of the American that a conference team has played in either a College Football Playoff New Year’s Bowl or a Bowl Championship Series game. UCF, 0-12 this season, was a 52-42 winner over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2013 season.
Houston’s only loss this season came at Connecticut (6-6) when the Huskies ended the Cougars’ unbeaten streak 20-17 and gained bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. UConn will play Conference USA member Marshall (9-3) in the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field.
“This is something we’ve been working forward to since January,” Herman said in a press release. “Our goal was to build a championship culture at the University of Houston and we knew for our program to play in a game of this magnitude, we were going to need to accomplish one of our goals and win The American Championship. We know our season is not over and we look forward to reaching one more goal with a Peach Bowl championship.”
Another major accomplishment realized by the AAC Sunday came in the final CFP standings. Houston finished at No. 18, leading the way for three AAC teams. Navy (9-2), which gets a home game against Pittsburgh in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., was No. 21 in the final standings. Temple (10-3) was No. 24 and will play Toledo in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl.
Memphis, USF, Cincinnati and Tulsa will also go bowling out of the American. All eight teams were eligible with at least six victories and did not come from the extra pool of 5-7 teams needed to fill all the open bowl spots.
Last season, the AAC sent five teams – Memphis, UCF, Cincinnati, Houston and East Carolina – to bowl games and posted a 2-3 record.
This year’s lineup features three ACC opponents, one from the SEC, and two of the other nine FBS conference champions.
“Our goal with our bowl lineup is to provide compelling matchups for teams in locations that are desirable and accessible to our fans, and I am proud to say that we have done that,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement.
“The Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl will be a terrific opportunity for Houston to compete in a prestigious New Year’s Six Bowl against a Florida State team that is just two years removed from a national championship. I know that Coach Herman and his team will represent our conference well in Atlanta.”
Here’s a brief, early look at the AAC matchups.
2015 AMERICAN BOWL SCHEDULE
USF vs. Western Kentucky
Miami Beach Bowl – Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m., Marlins Park – Miami, Fla. (ESPN)
USF won seven of its last nine games in the regular season. Western Kentucky (11-2) was the Conference USA champion. This is the second Miami Beach Bowl. The schools last met in 2010 when USF won 24-12. USF coach Willie Taggart, who just signed a five-year extension, was coach of that Hilltoppers team and that is where he played his college football.
Temple vs. Toledo
Marmot Boca Raton Bowl – Dec. 22, 7 p.m., FAU Stadium – Boca Raton, Fla. (ESPN)
Temple will be making just its fifth bowl appearance in school history. The Owls are the American’s East Division champions and are built on a strong defense. Coach Matt Rhule’s team could not shut down Houston’s offense in the championship game Saturday, however. Toledo (9-2) spent five weeks in the national polls this season.
Cincinnati vs. San Diego State
Hawai’i Bowl – Dec. 24, 8 p.m., Aloha Stadium – Honolulu, Hawaii (ESPN)
Coach Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats fell short of preseason expectations but still posted a 7-5 record – good enough for a trip to the Aloha State. Cincinnati will meet the champions from the Mountain West. San Diego State (10-3) went unbeaten in conference play and the Aztecs are making their sixth straight postseason appearance. Cincinnati has gone bowling nine of the last 10 years.
UConn vs. Marshall
St. Petersburg Bowl – Dec. 26, 11 a.m., Tropicana Field – St. Petersburg, Fla. (ESPN)
This isn’t a glamor bowl, but the Huskies made one of the great turnarounds in college football. After a 2-10 record in coach Bob Diaco’s first season at UConn, the Huskies reached bowl eligibility by upsetting Houston and finished the season strong. Diaco asked UConn athletic director for a spot in the sand and sun and now the coach will be able to wear his swimsuit. A “beach bash” is on the schedule of bowl activities. “This will be the quintessential bowl experience,” Diaco said Sunday. Marshall (9-3) is looking for its third straight 10-win season.
Tulsa vs. Virginia Tech
Camping World Independence Bowl – Dec. 26, 5:45 p.m., Independence Stadium – Shreveport, La. (ESPN)
Tulsa goes bowling again after a two-year absence. The Golden Hurricane improved by four victories over last season under new coach Philip Montgomery. He will be making his bowl debut as head coach, going against Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, retiring with his 23rd consecutive bowl game appearance.
Navy vs. Pittsburgh
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman – Dec. 28, 2:30 p.m., Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium – Annapolis, Md. (ESPN)
Navy can’t start preparing for Pitt until it completes its regular season on Dec. 12 against Army at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Navy, led by quarterback Keenan Reynolds, takes a 9-2 record into the Army game. The Midshipmen will be making their 12th postseason appearance in 13 years.
Memphis vs. Auburn
Birmingham Bowl – Dec. 30, Noon, Legion Field – Birmingham, Ala. (ESPN)
This has the feel of old-time college football. It will be the ninth time Memphis has played at Legion Field but the first time the Tigers have participated in the Birmingham Bowl. Auburn (6-6) was a bit down in the SEC this season. It’s the first meeting between the schools since 1976.
Houston vs. Florida State
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl – Dec. 31, Noon, Georgia Dome – Atlanta, Ga. (ESPN)
Tom Herman had himself quite a week. After winning a divisional title in the AAC, he led the Cougars to the conference championship over Temple. And earlier in the week, Houston doubled his salary to about $3 million just to keep him from getting away. He gets another chance to show why he is one of the hottest names in college coaching. Houston has won 12 of its previous 16 meetings against the Seminoles – but they haven’t met since 1978.