Our top four takeaways from the college football weekend:
That’s the question for the American Athletic Conference teams eagerly awaiting next week’s Big 12 announcement on expansion.
That is, if the Big 12 expands. The conference might announce it will remain at 10 schools.
That might disappoint the 12 expansion finalists, which reportedly include Cincinnati, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane, UCF and UConn from The American.
But it shouldn’t.
The former Big East has supplanted the Big 12 as a “Power 5” conference based on the nonconference winning percentages of the 10 FBS conferences through six weeks this season. In fact, the AAC is just behind the fourth-place Pac-12.
Seven of the AAC’s 12 teams have overall winning records while only two have losing records. Until Saturday’s 46-40 upset loss to Navy, Houston was ranked No. 6 and in the discussion for the four-team College Football Playoff.
Two AAC teams were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 released Monday —the Cougars at No. 13 and Navy at No. 25.
“I think everything is on an upward trajectory,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco told ASN at the conference’s media day. “It all feeds on itself. If you’ve had success you’re more likely to have success.”
One question raised by the possibility of expansion is what the Big 12 would gain by adding two or more of the reported finalists. Given the AAC’s success, it’s fair to ask what those schools would gain by joining the Big 12.
In two “New Year’s Six” bowl appearances, the AAC is 2-0 — including UCF’s 52-42 victory against Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. This season, Houston beat Oklahoma 33-23 in the opener.
If you can beat ’em, why join ’em?
The fledgling four-year-old conference appears to have a good thing going. Attendance increased 10% last year, Aresco said, and the AAC has eight bowl tie-ins. It also will contend for another New Year’s Six appearance.
But the grass is always greener — and so is the Big 12’s TV money. AAC schools each get $2 million from their current TV deal, which expires after the 2020 season.
“I think that we’ve gotta hit a home run with our next TV contract in order to maintain or sustain the momentum that our conference has right now,” Houston head coach Tom Herman said in June. “Because if we don’t then the gap [widens].”
On the playing field, at least, the AAC has closed the gap.
“Eventually our goal is to be a P-6 (Power 6 conference),” Aresco said. “I think we are now, but who knows what perceptions will be if we lose some schools. But I think those will be temporary, we’ll get right back. And if we (do) then it’s a new ballgame. It effects everything — perception, whatever. So that’s our long-term goal.”
CAN BRONCOS BUCK PLAYOFF SYSTEM?
Houston’s loss to Navy makes it unlikely that a Group of 5 team will make the College Football Playoff.
But what if Western Michigan goes 12-0 and wins the MAC Championship game?
The Broncos are 6-0 after Saturday’s 45-30 victory against Northern Illinois, which had won six consecutive MAC West Division titles. Now the Broncos, off to their best start since 1941, lead the MAC West. The Broncos play Eastern Michigan on Oct. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ASN.
“It’s huge,” senior quarterback Zach Terrell said about beating NIU for the first time in his career. “They are the champs and they will continue to be the champs until someone dethrones them and none of us up here have ever beat them. They are a very tough team and they know how to win, that’s why they are champions.”
They also might be the reason an undefeated Western Michigan team is left on the playoff sidelines. In the last days of the Bowl Championship Series, the Huskies earned an at-large berth to the 2013 Orange Bowl and lost to Florida State, 31-10. An Orange Bowl staffer said the Huskies were “undeserving and unwanted.”
So if not the playoffs, the Broncos are a contender for the Group of 5’s spot in the New Year’s Six. Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press noted this week:
The biggest factor in WMU’s favor is its remaining strength of schedule — at Akron, vs. Eastern Michigan, at Ball State, at Kent State, vs. Buffalo and vs. Toledo. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Western has a 44.2% chance of winning out and a remaining strength of schedule that ranks 109th in the nation. (Thank you, MAC!)
There are 11 remaining undefeated teams in FBS, but only two in the Group of 5: WMU and the Mountain West’s Boise State (5-0).
The Broncos are averaging 44.8 points per game and allowing only 20.5, both tops in the MAC. They’ve beaten two Big Ten teams — Illinois and Northwestern.
On Monday, they reached another milestone — their first appearance ever in the Associated Press Top 25 (No. 24).
“We now have a 6‐0 football team here in Kalamazoo that is ranked in the Top 25 and only going up, I promise you that,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “This is a very special group of young men.”
Chase Edmonds, one of this week’s ASN FCS #GameChanger nominees, ran for 300 yards in a game for the second consecutive year.
Fordham’s running back gained 359 yards in a 58-34 Patriot League victory against Lafayette. He set school and league single-game records, surpassing his 347 yards last season against Lehigh. It was also the sixth-highest single-game total in NCAA Division I-AA/FCS history.
That’s not the worst part for Leopards head coach Frank Tavani. Edmonds is averaging 260.3 rushing yards against Lafayette and he’s only a junior.
“He’s a great young man and a great player,” Tavani said, “and we have to face him again.”
Edmonds, the leading rusher in FCS this season, has run over nearly everyone Fordham has played. In his career the 5-9, 205-pounder has 4,430 yards and 55 touchdowns rushing. He needs 2,130 yards more to pass Adrian Peterson (Georgia State 1998-2001) for the FCS career record.
Edmonds said he’s aware that he breaks records nearly every time out but added that the milestones are not singular achievements.
“When you look at record games like these, obviously the player’s going to get the spotlight, but me personally … gaining high numbers like 250 rushing yards speaks volumes to the offensive line and the tight ends and their blocking,” he said. “They did a great job getting me lanes. …
“I try to humble myself a lot and try to ignore the noise and focus on what I have to do to help the team win. I really work hard. I work for this. I always tell myself that. Today was a very good start for league play as to how effective our offense can be.”
Catch Edmonds and Fordham against Bucknell Nov. 19 on ASN.
AND FINALLY …
Four teams remain undefeated in CAA Football and two — James Madison (5-1) and New Hampshire (4-2) — face off Saturday on ASN. Both are 3-0 in the league along with Villanova. Stony Brook is 2-0.
JMU is one of five schools from the ASN family in the top seven of the STATS FCS Top 25:
2. Sam Houston State (5-0)
Next: Saturday vs. Abilene Christian
3. Jacksonville State (4-1)
Next: Saturday vs. Austin Peay
5. Chattanooga (6-0)
Next: Saturday at The Citadel
6. Richmond (5-1)
Next: Saturday vs. Villanova
7. James Madison (5-1)
Next: Saturday at New Hampshire (noon ET on ASN)
North Dakota State remained No. 1 and Eastern Washington stayed No. 4. The Citadel (8) and Charleston Southern (9) also cracked the Top 10.