Ranking the Hardest AAC Non-Conference Schedules

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AAC Non-Conference

The best way to measure one conference up against another is to look at non-conference. The 2022 AAC non-conference schedules are all over the place but every team has at least one Power 5 team on the schedule.

In this series, we will continue to look at each team’s out-of-conference slate and rank them based on difficulty. There are some teams who have serious gauntlets. Other teams have a cakewalk. With a strong showing, the AAC can solidify itself as the top Group of 5 conference in the nation.

The Hardest AAC Non-Conference Schedules

South Florida: vs BYU, vs Howard (FCS), @ Florida, @ Louisville

The second-worst AAC team from last year has the unfortunate honor of having to go through the toughest of the AAC non-conference schedules. The Bulls of South Florida managed just two wins last year. One of those wins was over Florida A&M (FCS). Last year’s leading passer, Timmy McClain, may have to battle it out with Baylor transfer, Gerry Bohanon for the job.

One of those many, many losses in 2021 was to BYU. The Cougars look like they will be good yet again in their final season of Independence, led by stud quarterback, Jaren Hall. It was a close game, however, with BYU taking it home, 35-27.

Florida is going to be solid this year, no matter who takes snaps at quarterback. Billy Napier will be looking to impress in his first year in Gainsville and the Gators are always super talented. Finally, my dark horse in the ACC is Louisville. They’re led by the ridiculously athletic Malik Cunningham. It’s going to be a long year for USF with this schedule.

Tulsa: @ Wyoming, vs Northern Illinois, vs Jacksonville State (FCS), @ Ole Miss

The Tulsa Golden Hurricanes were very nearly a 10-win team last year. Unfortunately, there is no category for “almost wins” and they dropped three of their four non-conference games. They began the year with a 19-17 loss to UC-Davis (FCS), a 28-23 loss at Oklahoma State, and a 41-20 loss at Ohio State. Their lone win was over a (2-10) Arkansas State team.

This year, Tulsa kicks off its non-conference slate at Wyoming, a (7-6) team from last year. That team went undefeated in non-conference play last year…then lost all but two MWC games. The challenge begins against Northern Illinois. The Huskies are “just” a MAC team, but they won the conference last year and are returning 81% of their productivity from last year.

Jacksonville State (FCS) is an average FCS team but they did manage to go to Florida State and upset the Seminoles with a last-second touchdown, so anything can happen. Finally, Ole Miss will be the real challenge. The Rebels were the second-best SEC West team and only lost to Alabama and Auburn en route to a Sugar Bowl loss. Even then, they likely would have pulled that one off if Matt Corral hadn’t gone down with an injury.

Cincinnati: @ Arkansas, vs Kennesaw State (FCS), vs Miami (OH), vs Indiana

The Bearcats have been riding a magical ride. Over the past four seasons, Cincinnati has won 52 out of a possible 61 games, culminating in a College Football Playoff appearance. In that span of time, UC has gone 4-0, 3-1 (Ohio State), 2-0, and 4-0 in non-conference play. Last year, they took down both Notre Dame and Indiana. Watch out for Corey Kiner this fall. UC has to replace Jerome Ford‘s 230 touches and Kiner was Mr. Ohio Football and transferred in from LSU to his hometown squad.

This year, Cincinnati has to replace Desmond Ridder, the school’s greatest quarterback. Right off the bat, they’ll have to contend with a seemingly up-and-coming Arkansas team, led by K.J. Jefferson and Raheim Sanders. Miami (OH) is one of the better MAC programs, led by the mightly Brett Gabbert. Cincinnati has won each of the last 15 matchups in this battle for the Victory Bell rivalry.

Finally, UC gets to run it back against Indiana. The Hoosiers’ season was derailed by Michael Penix’s injury but they’ll have Mizzou transfer Connor Bazelak to battle with incumbent Jack Tuttle for the starting job. Indiana has had plenty of underrated talent over the years. One of these seasons they’ll be able to put it together, right?

UCF: vs South Carolina State (FCS), vs Louisville, @ Florida Atlantic, vs Georgia Tech

The fourth most difficult of the AAC non-conference slates belongs to yet another AAC-to-Big 12 defection, UCF. The Knights won nine games last year en route to toppling the University of Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl. Dillon Gabriel has since transferred to Oklahoma, but the Knights were without his services for the final 10+ games anyway due to injury.

Incumbent quarterback, Mikey Keene, will have to earn his spot back after a battle with John Rhys Plumlee, the Ole Miss transfer. One of their four losses came against Louisville. This year, UCF gets the Cardinals at home and will look to avenge its 42-35 loss. Then, it’ll be a battle of a current AAC team vs a future AAC team. UCF and Florida Atlantic will be passing like ships in the night, but not before the (5-7) team faces off against these Knights.

Finally, Georgia Tech hasn’t recovered from switching from a triple-option offense just yet. If UCF can run the table, or at the very least win three, the Knights will be set up nicely for a run at the AAC and an At Large bid for an NY6 Bowl.

Navy: vs Delaware (FCS), @ Air Force, vs Notre Dame, vs Army

The Midshipmen, overall, struggled in 2021. They dropped three of their four non-conference games but beat Army. However, they just narrowly lost to UC, Houston, SMU, and ECU, so as usual, they have that fight in them.

As usual, Navy will face off against the other two service academies and Notre Dame. Navy hasn’t won the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy since 2019, though the three did share it last year. Additionally, Navy and Notre Dame have played 92 times…and the Midshipmen trail the series 13-78-1.

Memphis: @ Mississippi State, vs Arkansas State, vs North Texas, vs North Alabama (FCS)

Finally, the “easiest” “hardest” AAC non-conference schedules belongs to the Memphis Tigers. Last year, Memphis was home to a top AAC offense yet again, but they managed just a (6-6) record after taking three of their four non-conference games. Seth Henigan returns to back up his 3,332-yard, 25-touchdown performance.

Two of the four on this year’s schedule were on last year’s schedule. Memphis took down Mississippi State, 31-29, and Arkansas State, 55-50. Both were extremely close, exciting games but both programs look like they’ll be better in 2022. The Bulldogs are still home to Will Rogers and the Mike Leach offense. Arkansas State may be making a change at quarterback to former Florida State quarterback, James Blackman.

Power 6

The American Athletic Conference has been one of the more exciting and top-heavy Group of 5 conferences since its inception. They’re home to the 2017 National Champions* and the lone G5 team to crack the CFP ranks. After this year, it’s going to look very, very different.

Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF are all leaving to party in the Big 12. The AAC has responded and will add Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA. Things are going to be very different.

For More:

Mid-American: EasiestHardest
Conference-USA: EasiestHardest
Mountain West: EasiestHardest
Sun Belt: EasiestHardest
American Athletic: EasiestHardest
Pac-12: EasiestHardest
Big 12: EasiestHardest
ACC: EasiestHardest
SEC: EasiestHardest
Big Ten: Easiest; Hardest

 

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