Three teams in the college football Top 25 is not a big deal to the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 or ACC.
That’s where the American Athletic Conference wants to get, to the point where having three teams in the weekly rankings would be typical modus operandi and be accompanied with the shrug of a shoulder, not with fanfare and pomp and circumstance.
But, for now, the AAC will take it and celebrate accordingly, as it should.
The fledgling conference – created three years ago in the wake of the breakup of The Big East and the conference shuffle that all but guaranteed the demise of the legendary league – has three undefeated teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. Memphis is No. 18 after swamping now-No. 24 Ole Miss – yes, an SEC team. Houston is ranked 21st. And Temple – Temple! – is ranked 22nd.
To be fair, it’s not just the writers. The coaches recognized the league’s achievements over the first half of the season by also placing all three teams in this week’s Coaches’ Poll.
And to be clear, this is an achievement.
When the wheels were put in motion by even more conference movement and the switch was made from the Bowl Championship format to the College Football Playoff, the Big East not only lost its football league but its cache. In football, anyway. Remember, the Big East is still a basketball league and a viable one at that, having been re-formatted after the defections of Syracuse and Boston College and the like, but still able to place 60 percent of its teams in this past NCAA Tournament. That included a No. 1 seed in Villanova.
At the time of its creation in 1979, the Big East was literally a made-for-TV conference. Then-Providence athletic director Dave Gavitt founded the league with a huge assist from ESPN, the fledgling sports network looking for more programming, especially in the population-rich eastern seaboard.
But it was never a football league, not with programs like St. John’s, Georgetown and UConn, among others, not even Division I on the gridiron at the time. So, some might say it never really had cache in football and even with this new alignment, the current American Athletic Conference is still filled with basketball names – Memphis, Temple and Houston for example.
So, yeah, going 7-11 so far against the Power 5 conferences and getting three teams into this week’s poll is a huge deal.
How huge? Well, I don’t want to date myself here but the last time Temple football was ranked I was a 15-year old teenager still dealing with acne. I’m 51.
‘‘I’m really proud of our players and it’s a tribute to them that people have noticed how they have played to this point,’’ Temple coach Matt Rhule told the Associated Press. ‘‘I am thrilled that we have been able to get off to a 6-0 start. But I’ll repeat what I have said before: It’s a long season and I’ll be happier if we can finish the year ranked among the best in the country.’’
Houston, with its bevy of quarterbacks that have passed through the system, has been ranked before but Memphis has only earned that distinction twice – once in 2004, once in the final poll last year, neither time getting past No. 25.
And it was Memphis’ 37-24 win over Ole Miss on Saturday that really out the AAC out there.
‘‘It’s one of the biggest wins we’ve had. It may be the most important based on where we are now,’’ AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said. ‘‘UCF’s big win over Baylor [in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl] was really important because it gave us some instant credibility that year.’’
Credibility can be fleeting, however. Just ask the Big Ten, which has seen its share of down years.
For now, however, it is indeed a time to celebrate and bask in the good fortunes of the league. Just like with the emergence of such previously moribund programs like Baylor and TCU, it can’t hurt college football that the AAC is coming on strong.