The former Big East undergoes more changes in just its second year of operation as the American Athletic Conference. Two teams bolt and 3 enter as league says "goodbye" to Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten), and "hello" to former Conference USA members East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa. Navy will become the 12th member in 2015 to complete the planned expansion to 12 teams with 2 divisions and a playoff.
UConn is the only member to welcome a new head coach this year. The Huskies hired Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco on December 11 after firing Paul Pasqualoni on September 30 and continuing the 2013 campaign under interim head coach T. J. Weist.
Pasqualoni was dismissed after a 41-12 loss at Buffalo dropped UConn's record to 0-4. The embarrassing defeat came just a week after Connecticut nearly upset Michigan at home, but blew a 21-7 3rd quarter lead to fall 24-21. Pasqualoni was 10-18 in a little more than 2 seasons with the Huskies. The team managed to pick up 3 wins under Weist to finish 3-9.
Diaco has been the OC at Notre Dame since 2010 and also held the same position at Cincinnati (2009). He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with Iowa in 1996 where he played under the legendary Hayden Fry.
2013 was a break-through season for UCF, one of the largest universities in the nation in enrollment (second only to Arizona State with 59,770 students in the 2013-14 academic year). The Golden Knights football team stepped up to its first BCS appearance and beat Baylor 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl. But the BCS is history and playing your way into the new College Football Playoff system will be difficult without membership in one of the Power 5 conferences.
Indeed, the American is unquestionably a weaker conference with Rutgers and Louisville's departures. The computer rates the American's roster of teams at No. 7 out of 11 conferences if you count the Independents as a conference. The American tops only the Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA and Mountain West in average team power rating.
The conference's reduced overall strength is why the computer sees UCF going undefeated and only managing to climb to 7th by the end of the regular season. The 8-0 conference forecast ties Cincinnati's expected mark, but those two schools don't play each other. Even if they did, the computer would list the Knights as the favorite.
UCF's saving grace will be the "Group of 5" arrangement that forces the higher-ranked champion from the non-power conferences to be guaranteed a slot in the Fiesta, Cotton or Peach.
Only 5 of the American's 11 teams are projected to go bowling and Tulane is on the edge with a 6-6 forecast. Cincinnati, Houston and East Carolina join UCF as apparent shoe-ins for some sort of postseason play.
Memphis and Tulsa are picked to go 5-7 so either has a shot of stepping into the bowl picture at the probable demise of others as the conference only has 5 automatic bowl agreements.