American treasures last run at BCS bid

The American Athletic Conference is in no rush to say goodbye to
the BCS.

The Bowl Championship Series goes away after this season, but
for now the American remains one of six conferences with automatic
entry into college football’s biggest games.

While most of the college football world eagerly awaits the
implementation of the new four-team playoff in 2014, the conference
that used to be called the Big East is marking its last year of
elite status.

”Our conference features legitimate football national
championship contenders,” Commissioner Mike Aresco said. ”Our BCS
representative this year will be a strong team. And I would remind
people we remain a BCS conference this fall.”

The conference ravaged by realignment remains a conference in
flux.

Louisville and Rutgers are saying their goodbyes.

Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and Houston are saying hello,
moving in from Conference USA.

Holdovers Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida are making
the best of being left out of the realignment shuffle. And Temple
is just happy to be out of the Mid-American Conference.

The Cardinals, heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014,
won the league last year and are favored to do it again. When
Aresco talks about national title contenders, he’s mostly talking
about coach Charlie Strong’s team. Louisville, with a manageable
schedule and legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback
Teddy Bridgewater, has the potential to give the American some nice
parting gifts on its way out.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) LOUISVILLE’S CATCH-22: For Louisville to be taken seriously
in the national title race, at least a couple of its conference
rivals will have to emerge as legitimate Top 25 teams. And of
course if that happens, the road to an undefeated season gets much
tougher for the Cardinals. Which conference rivals have the most
potential to pose a serious threat? Cincinnati, Rutgers and Central
Florida have the best blends of experience and talent. It’s
important to remember that while Louisville made a phenomenal final
impression last season with a come-from-behind win at Rutgers to
earn a BCS bid and an impressive victory against Florida in the
Sugar Bowl, this is a team that was thumped by Syracuse and lost at
home to UConn. Don’t pencil in Louisville for 12-0 just yet.

2) TWO YOUNG GUNS AND ONE OLD COWBOY: Three teams in the
American have new coaches. Two hired a young up-and-comer. The
other for grabbed a veteran with an impressive track record.

– Willie Taggart, a Bradenton, Fla., native, takes over at South
Florida. The former Western Kentucky coach and Jim Harbaugh protege
turns 37 right before the season starts.

– Temple brought back former Owls assistant Matt Rhule, who
spent last season with the New York Giants. The 38-year-old Rhule
was part Al Golden’s staff that turned Temple from sad sacks to
respectable.

– Cincinnati went a different route hiring 58-year-old Tommy
Tuberville, who spent three awkward years at Texas Tech. He has a
130-77 record in 17 seasons as a head coach at Mississippi, Auburn
and Tech.

3) STARS NOT NAMED BRIDGEWATER: Blake Bortles was a revelation
for Central Florida last season as a sophomore, throwing for 3,059
yards and 25 touchdowns. SMU is hoping Garrett Gilbert, yes, the
guy who was expected to replace Colt McCoy at Texas, is ready to
flourish in coach June Jones’ pass-happy offense. Rutgers receiver
Brandon Coleman is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds.
Former blue chip recruit Deontay Greenberry should blossom as a
sophomore receiver in Houston’s fast-paced offense. Notre Dame
transfer Aaron Lynch returns to action after sitting out a season
and combines with Ryne Giddins to give USF the top defensive end
combination in the league. Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood
should give Lynch a strong run for defensive player of the
year.

4) PLAYING UP: The American plays 15 games against BCS automatic
qualifying conferences and Notre Dame. It’ll need to win a few to
gain some credibility. The most notable:

– USF at Michigan State;

– Cincinnati hosts Purdue and plays at Illinois;

– UCF plays at Penn State;

– UConn hosts Michigan;

– Rutgers hosts Arkansas.

5) WHO KNEW? The longest current winning streak in conference
entering this season belongs to Cincinnati and … Memphis. The
Tigers have gone through some dark times recently but their first
season under coach Justin Fuente ended with three straight
victories.

Predicted order of finish

1. Louisville

2. Central Florida

3. Rutgers

4. Houston

5. Cincinnati

6. USF

7. UConn

8. SMU

9. Memphis

10. Temple