2020 is going to be a strange season. Four conferences are not playing this fall and while the American Athletic Conference still is playing, schools have been forced to create new non-conference schedules in not much time with power conferences having very specific scheduling criteria. The AAC schools made it work and we have some interesting matchups to look at. For the purpose of ranking I used the adjusted rankings from the AP Poll. The real preseason AP poll includes teams not playing this season. This adjusted ranking has those teams removed. After the first week, the AP will not include any school not playing.
South Florida at Florida Atlantic - September 26
Florida Atlantic had a fantastic 2019 campaign, winning Conference USA and the Boca Raton Bowl. South Florida, on the other hand, had a miserable season, amassing four wins. Both schools now have new head coaches. While it is expected for South Florida to improve and Florida Atlantic to step back, there is intrigue with this matchup. South Florida has former Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. Florida Atlantic has Willie Taggart. Yes, that Willie Taggart. Former South Florida head coach Willie Taggart who left for Oregon after their outstanding 2017 season before failing miserably at Florida State. It’s Taggart facing his former employer that helped get this game on this list.
Would the real Cougars please stand up? In the battle of cats, both schools are looking for redemption. BYU had a let down of a seven win campaign last year, which included a pair of ranked wins and three losses by one score or less. As of publication, BYU will have an eight game schedule with the final six games in Provo, including this one. Their schedule was one of the most decimated after the Big Ten, PAC-12, MAC, and Mountain West canceled their seasons and the SEC went in-conference only. In total, ten games were scrapped and BYU had to patch together a new schedule on the fly. Meanwhile, the Dana Holgorsen era started out as poorly as possible. Originally anticipated to compete for the West Division crown in 2019, the team ended up tanking the season with star QB D’Eriq King redshirting after four games and then transferring out. Time for Holgorsen to take a mulligan and try again.
UCF at Georgia Tech - September 19
Just behind Cincinnati in the rankings at an adjusted fourteenth, the expectations in Orlando is high. Unfortunately, the best non-conference they were able to hold on to is a trip to Atlanta to play a still rebuilding Georgia Tech squad. The Yellow Jackets were at the bottom of the ACC last year and will probably be close to that again this year while UCF should contend for the Group of Five spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. The only saving grace for this game is that Georgia Tech is still a team in a Power Five conference.
Considering the scheduling constraints the AAC had to work with regarding the Power Five conferences, you’re going to see Army on this list quite a bit as one of the higher profile schools on the schedule. You know what you’re getting with Army and their triple option attack. Run, run, and more run. Tulane is a sneaky team in the AAC. Despite only winning seven games last year, they lost three conference games by one score or less. They make for an excellent spoiler.
The Cougars are back. This time, its their season opener at Navy. You’d think these teams would have played more, but this is only their third meeting and first in over 30 years. We already talked about BYU, but Navy is coming into the season with an adjusted ranking of 25th. Should they get past BYU, they will officially be ranked. Losing Malcolm Perry to graduation makes this squad a bit of a mystery, but you know that kind of offense they’re going to run and they’re going to run it a lot. Expect plenty of Jamele Carothers.
Along with Army and Navy, Air Force makes the third part of the Commander-in-Chief Trophy. With the Mountain West canceling their season, Air Force decided to press forward with their games against Army and Navy. With Air Force only playing two games all year, expect Navy to get their best.
Army at Cincinnati - September 26
Coming into the season, Cincinnati is the highest ranked AAC team at an adjusted thirteenth. As the reigning East Division champion and one of the favorites to wini the league, the pressure is on the Bearcats. Cincinnati has quarterback Desmond Ridder still, but lost running back Michael Warren II to the NFL. We already talked about Army.
Tulsa at Oklahoma State - September 12
At an adjusted rank of eleventh, Oklahoma State is the second highest ranked team the AAC is scheduled to play against. Tulsa is a better team than advertised. They were a couple of bad bounces from being a bowl team last year and pulling off some major upsets. OSU handled the Golden Hurricane last year, but there’s a feeling out there that the Cowboys are ranked too high. Despite the negative outlook, they still have future NFL running back Chuba Hubbard running the ball. Tulsa will need some help to win this one and there is a bigger profile opponent still out there, hence the game being ranked lower than it could be.
Checking in at an adjusted twenty fifth after finishing ranked last season with a Liberty Bowl win, Navy has high expectations. It doesn’t matter that Malcolm Perry is gone. Army vs Navy is always one of the highlights of the college football season. Despite Army falling short in 2019 after a strong 2018, Army vs Navy is still always a big deal, especially because both programs have generally done well the last few years.
A dark horse contender for the AAC title, SMU should have plenty of offensive firepower with quarterback Shane Buechele. TCU is coming off a disappointing 5-7 record last year with six of the seven losses being by a touchdown or less. Head coach Gary Patterson enters his 20th season with the Horned Frogs and is looking for revenge as SMU was one of those close losses in 2019. This game will serve as TCU’s opener, but SMU will already have a game under their belt from the prior week. This is a very winnable game for the Mustangs. SMU will be one of the rare teams with a full 12 game schedule.
South Florida at Notre Dame - September 19
Notre Dame is the highest preseason ranked team(adjusted to seventh) an AAC school will face this season. If the conference wants to raise their level of credibility, this is their biggest stage to do it. South Florida is under first year head coach Jeff Scott with a lot of question marks around the program. Maybe the Bulls can recreate some magic from the last time they played the Irish and come away with a win, but it’s really not likely to happen. This game gets top billing because it’s the highest profile opponent. The Irish have Ian Book for one more season and he should have the Irish ranked all season long. What’s interesting is that for 2020 only, Notre Dame will be a full football member of the ACC.