The conference realignment that defined college sports over the last half-decade ended a couple years ago, but the final movement (for now) actually comes into place this fall as Navy ends 135 years of independence by joining the American Athletic Conference. And though the Midshipmen’s practice fields are but an errant pass away from the waters that will become the Atlantic Ocean, Navy joins the West Division alongside Memphis, Tulane, Tulsa, SMU and Houston. Navy, along with the rest of the conference, learned its full 2015 schedule as the American released the slate on Thursday.
The new American West instantly becomes one of the most intriguing divisions in college football. The hirings of Tom Herman at Houston, Chad Morris at SMU and Philip Montgomery at Tulsa, plus defending tri-champion Memphis’ ability to hold on to Justin Fuente, means the newly-created group should pattern after its 19th-century harbinger: shootouts galore.
The East Division contains the other two of the American’s 2014 tri-champs, Central Florida and Cincinnati, along with Temple, Connecticut, South Florida and East Carolina. The new divisional structure means the American joins six of the remaining nine FBS conferences in staging a championship game. The inaugural AAC title game will be held Saturday, Dec. 5 at the home of one of the division winners.
Holding a championship game does have drawbacks, though. Like fellow non-title game holder conference in the Big 12, the American staged a number of Championship Saturday games, giving the league some additional exposure around other conferences’ championship games and building in extra rest for certain clubs. Stretching out the regular season allowed a number of American teams to play 12 games over 15 weeks. No more. Adding a 13th game for two of its teams means 11 teams (all except Navy, which keeps the Army game in the middle of December) must play all 12 regular season games by the final weekend in November and, on top of that, the schedule falls differently in 2015 than it did in 2014 and 2013, leaving one fewer Saturday between Labor Day weekend and Championship Saturday. So while a number of clubs had three byes in 2014, that number drops to one in 2015.
Before we get to the schedule, a few notes:
– Power Five teams visiting AAC campuses: Penn State (at Temple, Sept. 5), Baylor (at SMU, Sept. 4), Duke (at Tulane, Sept. 3).
– Power Five teams hosting ACC teams: Stanford (vs. UCF, Sept. 12), Florida (vs. East Carolina, Sept. 12), Florida State (vs. USF, Sept. 12), Georgia Tech (vs. Tulane, Sept. 12), Louisville (vs. Houston, Sept. 12), Kansas (vs. Memphis, Sept. 12), Maryland (vs. USF, Sept. 19), Oklahoma (vs. Tulsa, Sept. 19), TCU (vs. SMU, Sept. 19), South Carolina (vs. UCF, Sept. 26), Virginia Tech (vs. East Carolina, Sept. 26), Miami (vs. Cincinnati, Oct. 2), Notre Dame (vs. Navy, Oct. 10, vs. Temple, Oct. 31.)
– As much as commissioner Mike Aresco fights to deny it, a conference that plays 13 road games against the Power Five against only three home games is a mid-major, not the sixth of the Power Five leagues.
– Your American East de facto championship game, mid-February edition: Central Florida at Cincinnati on Halloween night.
– Tom Herman at Philip Montgomery, Oct. 3; Chad Morris at Tom Herman, Oct. 10; Philip Montgomery at Chad Morris, Oct. 31.
– ESPN has picked up SMU’s opener against Baylor, meaning the Mustangs will open on a Friday or Sunday for the sixth straight year.