There will be no shortage of must-see action this season in the AAC. Several teams enter the season with high expectation, some are ready to play the underdog role, and others are hoping changes breathe new life into their program. The AAC schools have several interesting matchups this coming fall, but several of them really standout and can help propel a team into national discussions. These games can be important for a variety of reasons and below is my top list of can’t miss AAC action.
Each team likely has 3-4 games that can be considered must-watch TV, but since a list of 36 games seems rather impractical, I tried to narrow it down to around 11 games, in no particular order of interest. These games either feature national opponents or have big implications regarding the AAC division races. A lot of games to look forward to, but these are my favorites right now.
houston vs oklahoma
There is a lot of chatter in Houston right now with the big head coach acquisition and AAC Player of the Year candidate in D’Eriq King. The Houston offense will be potent, but will the defense be able to handle Oklahoma? That will be the biggest question heading into game #1 against a team with national title aspirations. Oklahoma is expected to roll by and cruise to a 3-4 touchdown win because no one is expecting Houston to have much of a defense in a transition year where the defense was pretty bad the previous season. Cauthen and Belk will have their work cutout for them to start the season. There is talent on this Houston defense, but to expect it to come together this early is asking for a lot when they have simply too many moving parts on defense to start the season. A fun game for people who like offenses.
memphis vs ole miss
Say what you want about Memphis, but if you want to respect as a P6 conference, your best teams have to win against mid-level P5 opponents. The Rebels went 5-7 last year and are still pretty young on the offensive side of the ball. They generally play sound defense, so it’ll be an interesting matchup with Memphis skill positions against the defense. They are my #1 team in the AAC Power Rankings heading into the season, they have to win this game, and they should. A nationally televised game on ABC can really get the momentum going for The Tigers.
cincinnati vs the ohio state university
Trademarks and all, Ohio State will look to secure early season momentum against the Bearcats. We know the story lines for the Buckeyes: playoffs blah blah blah, Justin Fields yada yada yada. Most are expecting the Buckeyes to be in contention, if not make the playoffs this season. New head coach (to start the season) and new QB won’t stop the pundits from prediction an 11-1 regular season, or something like that. Still, game #2 is early enough for a Cinci team to sneak up on OSU. Cinci is a team that returns much of its production from last season and is expected to be one of the better teams in the AAC. Cinci has a good defense and returns enough on offense to potentially cause problems. They are likely going to lose by a lot, but if Cinci can keep it close, we know they are for real this season.
temple vs georgia tech
Nothing like a good ‘ol head ball coach returning to face the team he left the previous season. This game will be played at Temple, which could result in a strong turnout considering the circumstances. Temple is probably the better team with more overall returning talent, but Georgia Tech has better talent overall. It will be interesting to see how Patenaude changes the Yellow Jackets offense this season. Also, Collins took the single digit tradition at Temple and brought it with him to Georgia Tech. Temple wasn’t the first school to make that a thing, but when a school has such few traditions to begin with, it’s not a cool move. Temple should win here and bolster the AAC’s OOC win totals.
cincinnati vs ucf
This match-up will come mid-season on October 4th, giving both teams plenty of game film to prepare. UCF is the overwhelming favorite to win the AAC East, but Cinci can make a huge statement with a win. The QB situation at UCF has become murky and that has grounded some of the expectations for the offense, for now. This game will be a fun one to watch as both defenses will be tested. A lot of fire power in the running game for both squads while Ridder tries to stake his claim as one of the best QBs in the AAC. A night game on ESPN that should feature two ranked teams is must see action.
usf vs wisconsin
Does Strong have a strong relationship with his players or is the locker room still in turmoil? After tumultuous end to the season last year which culminated in several dismissals from the program, Strong is looking to regroup his locker room and return USF to the top of the AAC. He will have his work cutout for him game #1 against a Wisconsin team that will be on the hunt for a B1G 10 title and the playoffs. I think the Badgers win this one comfortably, but USF has a lot of weapons on offense. Its the defense the worries me the most.
tulane vs houston
Not going to really excite most people as they look across the schedules in the AAC, Tulane has quite a few really solid players on both sides of the ball. Houston returns a lot of talent on offense and is generally considered one of the best teams in the AAC. Still, if Tulane can even modestly improve on offense from last year’s dreadful performance, Tulane will be a good football team this year. Right now they are probably close to a double digit underdog, this game will have implications for the AAC West race and occurs early enough in the season to possibly catch Houston sleeping. No one is expecting much out of Tulane, except Tulane. They remind me a bit of the 2015 Owls, who ended up getting to the AAC Championship Game after going only 6-6 the year before. Tulane returns just enough key play makers and continuity to cause problems in the AAC West.
smu vs north texas
Another game that will probably not turn too many heads in the AAC, this one is interesting from several perspectives. The Mean Green are looking to win the CUSA Championship this year, but have quite a bit of defensive production to replace. They return a ton of weapons on offense and the strength of SMU will be their defense. It’ll be an interesting chess match its likely this game could go either way as it’s only game 2 for both squads. I like North Texas as a program because they are sort of stuck behind a lot of bigger schools, yet they make things work. This will be an interesting out of conference match-up against a solid CUSA school and a litmus test for SMU.
memphis vs cincinnati
You can really pick the last 3 games for Memphis as must see tv and not be wrong. They face a gauntlet of Houston, USF, and Cinci to close out the season. If the Tigers are successful enough to make it to the AAC Championship game, they will have more than earned it after defeating these 3 teams. This game will occur in the final week of the regular season which means there will be huge post-season implications for both squads. The game will be at home for Memphis, likely a nationally televised game, so the Tigers will be favorites assuming they are who we think they are. This will be a very exciting game to see.
ucf vs usf
The war on I-4 is always a game you have to watch, especially with these offenses. The final game of the season for both teams likely means a lot will be on the line in the AAC East race. Likely to become a night game in the Bounce House, most will favor the Knights. If USF can improve their defensive performance and try not to fall into locker room disarray by season’s end, this should be a highly competitive game with high stakes. This will be a can’t miss game to end the regular season.
navy vs army
I don’t really think I need to explain this one, but I’ll do it anyways because you made it this far. The tradition itself is hard to match in any other game. Almost all of the kids playing will go on to serve soon after. This one means a lot to military families across the country and especially in Philadelphia where the military academies have strong support.
That being said, Navy football is in trouble. I cannot say what the root cause is, but there are issues in Annapolis that are unlikely to be resolved with simple staff changes. Army has slowly turned things around and will likely stake their claim as the top service academy by season’s end. Army has a light schedule overall and should have a nice shiny record heading into this game. Navy on the other hand is expected to have another tough season, but a I really hope not. I hope Navy can turn things around, but if nothing else at least this game is almost always competitive no matter the team’s record heading into it. The game is at the Linc this year before heading up I-95 to MetLife Stadium next season. Always a great game to watch to end the regular season.