The AAC was a volatile conference last year, exemplified in many ways by Cincinnati

The coaching upheavals in the American Athletic Conference represent an important story in a self-contained silo, but the larger issue facing Navy and the rest of the AAC is the volatility of various teams in the league last season.

The Navy Midshipmen did not play the Cincinnati Bearcats last year.

The Mids do not have to play Tommy Tuberville's team this year, either... unless the two teams meet in the AAC Championship Game (which is not very likely, especially from the UC side of the divide).

Let's establish at the outset that the course of Navy's 2016 season doesn't centrally depend on what Cincinnati does. That's not the point being advanced or even suggested here. However, Navy's season has more to do with Cincinnati than you might think. In other words, more than nothing -- there's certainly a place for Cincinnati in a discussion of Navy's coming campaign.

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When looking back at the whole of a college football season from the lofty perch of December, it is easy to see when one team rose or another team fell. One can attain clarity in terms of identifying turning points, wake-up calls, ambushes, and crossed thresholds. However, in the present moment, the various results which comprise a season can be extremely surprising.

Using this lens, few AAC teams produced more unexpected results in 2016 than Cincinnati.

The Bearcats' home-field loss to Temple in early September was an eye-grabber. It immediately threw the East Division into a state of chaos by sharply altering most preseason projections, which favored Cincy.

Team Tuberville then played on even terms against Memphis with Gunner Kiel on the sidelines. Hayden Moore's emergence wasn't exactly the kind of story everyone could see a mile away.

Cincinnati later pulled one of the supreme stinkers of the whole 2015 season, falling behind South Florida at halftime, 51-3. That's hard for even the worst teams to do.

The Bearcats' defense, however, didn't throw in the towel every week last season. UC very nearly pulled a grade-A upset at Houston. Cincinnati held the Cougars' turbo-charged attack to a modest 33 points -- that's not a bad performance at all in H-Town -- and came within an eyelash of knocking off Tom Herman's Heroes, something Navy didn't come close to doing on Thanksgiving Friday.

Cincinnati's 2016 results veered all over the place. The Bearcats were a portrait of volatility, and that's something Navy fans and coaches have to think about before the 2016 season begins.

Let's raise just a few Cincinnati-based questions which could have at least some connection to Navy's fortunes this coming autumn:

First, was Cincinnati's no-show against South Florida more the product of how listless the Bearcats were, or how improved the Bulls became in the final month of the 2015 season... or both? Navy plays at South Florida next season. The Bulls gained a lot of national notice from their thumping of Cincinnati, so if they're the real deal, the answer to that above question should change accordingly.

Second, what did Cincinnati do in its near-win against Houston that Navy can study and learn in 2016? The Bearcats didn't take advantage of home field against UH; they went on the road just as Navy did, but became a lot more successful than the Mids in slowing down the Cougars. What can Ken Niumatalolo and Dale Pehrson gain in the process of extended film study?

Third, UC bothered Memphis with a quarterback the Tigers weren't able to study much (if at all) on game film. Since Navy will trot out its own new quarterback against Memphis this season -- in the first year of the post-Keenan Reynolds era -- what can Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper identify in Memphis's defense (among the returning players on the roster) which will pry open some added opportunities to score against the Tiers in 2016?

Cincinnati doesn't play Navy this year (barring an AAC title game clash), but for a team which isn't on Navy's radar, the Bearcats offer more clues to the coming season in The American than you might have previously realized.

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