Commentary | American Athletic Conference needs USF football to win

adell@bradenton.comAugust 1, 2013 

The American Athletic Conference's inaugural football media day looked more like a convention of advertisers.

This reinvented Big East has a lot of image building to undertake, and it wouldn't hurt to learn from how the ACC pulled off the biggest heist since the Brinks robbery.

If it wasn't for the ACC, the Big East would still be the Big East and USF, Cincinnati and Connecticut would not feel as if they missed the last boat off the Titanic.

This is more than sour grapes. The NCAA goes to a playoff next season, and only five conferences will automatically be part of the new high-tier bowl arrangement.

We get it: The SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 deserve entry.

But before the ACC raided the Big East, you could argue in certain years it wasn't even as good.

The gap is so small that the ACC doesn't deserve automatic entry, while the sixth and final choice for the remaining bowl will come from the highest ranked team among the other leagues: AAC, Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA and Sun Belt.

There also is talk the NCAA might add a fourth division that will include only the five so-called power conferences.

One person not offended by college football's new hierarchy is new USF head coach Willie Taggart. He sounds like a party crasher.

"I see USF being one of the leaders in the country. But we're a program that really hasn't lived up to our potential," Taggart said. "Our program is a sleeping giant. But we can't rely on anybody else to say that for us. It's on us to go out and do it. There's not a lot of expectations other than the ones we have."

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco made it clear that he believes there should be six power conferences with his league part of it.

"The American Athletic Conference belongs in it. Not because we say we do, but because the empirical indices say we do," Aresco said. "Whatever the highest level of Division I is in the future we expect to be part of it."

The commissioner talks about big stadiums and revenues that are just as good as the ACC and about past successes of the AAC's current members.

He makes a case. Who has Duke ever scared on the football field?

Look at the bottom of the ACC football: Duke, Maryland, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Virginia and North Carolina all have losing records against league opponents for the past 10 years combined.

Miami is not the Miami it was and has a 38-34 ACC record in the past 10 years in a mediocre conference and is 20-17 overall the past three seasons. Clemson was 11-2 last season, but 16-11 the previous two years and lost a bowl game to USF.

The ACC will add Syracuse and Pittsburgh this season, but they are shadows of what they once were. The league gets Louisville in 2014, but before last year's 11-2 season, the Cards had back-to-back 7-6 seasons and were 4-8 and 5-7 prior to that. USF, Cincinnati and Connecticut are a combined 6-7 vs ACC teams during the past five years.

The AAC spawns some intense rivalries, but none bigger than USF-UCF. The last time the teams met in Tampa, the game drew nearly 66,000 fans, and their last meeting in Orlando at Bright House Networks Stadium drew 46,805, the second-largest crowd in stadium history.

Former USF head coach Jim Leavitt beat UCF in all four of their meetings, but he didn't like the rivalry and stopped it.

Now it's different. The league needs this rivalry to build its image.

It also needs USF to become one of its better teams because of its TV market and location in the same state as Florida, FSU and Miami. For Leavitt, it was more about not losing to UCF than winning.

UCF head coach George O'Leary already chided Taggart for saying he is going to own the I-4 corridor when it comes to recruiting.

"We're on the I-4 corridor. I hope he understands that," O'Leary told an Orlando radio station.

In a response Taggart referred to his first press conference when he said, "We bow down to no man or no program here at South Florida."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.com

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