By Quinne Lowe @sports_qa on August 26, 2014
The American Athletic Conference is oftentimes overlooked when experts comment on competitive leagues -- and it's apparent by its omission from being included with the power five conferences, but here are the top 10 games in 2014 that will allow the nation to see that there are plenty of great teams in the conference.
Yes, the Mustangs are coming off a disappointing 5-7 2013 season, but any time you can get an SEC team to play you in your own backyard, it makes that contest that much more intriguing. The Aggies have a new starter at quarterback this season in addition to what many called a shaky defense last season, so if SMU is able to get some defensive stops, we could see a closer-than-expected game in Dallas.
Larry Coker has created a nice program at UTSA, and the Roadrunners will be traveling to Houston with the mindset of pulling off a major upset. UTSA returns a nation-leading 55 lettermen and have senior experience at all four offensive positions so the Cougars shouldn't overlook UTSA because the gap in talent isn't that wide. This will also be the inaugural game in Houston's on-campus stadium so the energy level will be high.
This game in Provo, UT will showcase two quarterbacks in Taysom Hill and John O'Korn that have the ability to fill up the stats sheet quickly. Hill provides a nice pass/run option for the Cougars while O'Korn will look to find his Cougars wide outs, specifically Deontay Greenberry early and often. Whichever defense is able to slow the opposing offense down could have the advantage in getting the victory.
An in-state rivalry game for ECU will allow the Pirates to gain respect from the ACC if they are able to pull the upset. Hosting games against a power five conference team is a good brand builder and it could be another opportunity for quarterback Shane Carden to show the nation that he is a legitimate Heisman Candidate contender. A Pirates defense that only returns four starters will have the tough task of stopping quarterback Marquis Williams.
The Bearcats travel to the state of Florida with seven players being from the state -- so not only is this a homecoming for them but an opportunity to show a team that probably didn't recruit them that they made a big mistake. The luster has worn off the "U" lately and with Miami having uncertainty at quarterback, this is a perfect opportunity for Cincinnati to steal a game against a power-conference opponent.
Last season the UCF upset Penn St in Happy Valley 34-31 and are looking to continue the winning streak this season. Unfortunately, the Knights lose two key offensive weapons in Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson, and if they plan on winning this year in Ireland it will be because of the defense let by Terrance Plummer and Brandon Alexander.
Another tough out of conference game for the Pirates has them traveling to Columbia to take on South Carolina. South Carolina is known for their tough defense, so this could be a battle of strength vs. strength as ECU looks to rely on the passing combination of Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. With three new starting defensive backs, the Gamecocks could be vulnerable to an upset.
This match up got a little more interesting with the season ending injury to Braxton Miller. Three games into the season is more than enough time for Tommy Tubberville to have an idea of how his offense will operate being led by Gunner Kiel. If successful, they could put the Buckeyes in the precarious position of being upset when you consider the struggles OSU had on defense last season.
The last game of the season for these two AAC contenders could very well decide who wins the division. Last season's match-up ended in a 24-17 road victory for Cincinnati. The Bearcats hold the advantage because weather in December in Ohio will not be friendly to the Houston-based Cougars. John O'Korn is an accomplished passer, but if they want to win this game it may be because their run game performed well.
Another end of the season marquee match up has last season's conference champion face what many consider the darkhorse to win this season. At this point in the season, the Knights quarterback situation should be settled and the Pirates will have established some defensive cohesiveness, so this game could come down to who makes the final defensive stop in what could be a shootout in a nationally televised Thursday night game.
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