What are the odds of the Heisman Trophy winner and the overall No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft coming from a conference that many college football fans have never heard of?
Welcome to the American Athletic Conference, which is comprised of teams from the former Big East Conference, plus flotsam and jetsum primarily from the East. The AAC (not to be confused with the ACC) stretches north to Connecticut, west to Southern Methodist and south to South Florida, making up a league which has an abundance of talent and a guaranteed BCS berth, but no history.
When the season opens up this coming week, all AAC eyes will be on the talented Teddy Bridgewater. The Louisville quarterback passed for 3,800 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, and with a solid set of receivers back this year, those 2012 numbers could be just an appetizer. Every time 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel does something stupid, eyes turn toward Bridgewater as a combo Heiman/No. 1 pick candidate.
Speaking of Louisville, the Cardinals appear to be everyone’s pick to win the inaugural AAC title. Besides Bridgewater and all those inviting targets, Louisville returns a solid defense that includes three-time All-Big East safety Hakeem Smith. Smith is on everyone’s watch this for this or that defensive award, and the only question mark is why the senior has yet to turn pro. Must like college, which is a rarity.
Louisville should come flying out of the box, with non-taxing non-leaguers against Ohio (Sept. 1), Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky and Florida International, but if the Cardinals find a banana peel to slip on, Cincinnati could be ready to pounce. The Bearcats are coming off a 10-3 season with their fair share of decent players back, and have a successful new coach in Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville will be able to coach as long as he wants after leading Auburn to that undefeated 2004 season, but will be tested early this season with early games against Purdue and Illinois.
If form holds (no guarantee in college football), the league title and BCS berth will probably not be decided until early December, when the Cardinals and Bearcats meet in Cincinnati in their final AAC game of the season. If there are enough injuries and upsets, though, Central Florida of South Florida could destroy the mold. And we may finally find out why Rutgers keeps sending so many players to the pros. Memphis, UConn, Temple, Houston and SMU should fight it out to see who’s the best of the rest.