The American Athletic Conference has matched its 2015 bowl appearance total this year, with seven schools playing in the college postseason this year. Only two teams, Houston and Navy, managed to close out their seasons with a win as the conference went 2-5 in the bowl games.
This year hasn’t started out much better than last, as both UCF and Houston were dominated by their opponents in some of the earlier bowl games. However, Tulsa did blow out Central Michigan in the Miami Beach Bowl.
We’ll keep you updated with all the AAC bowl game action throughout the postseason, culminating in the AAC’s final bowl appearance at the Birmingham Bowl. Bulls Daily will be traveling to Birmingham to provide in-depth coverage of the Bulls’ match against SEC opponent, South Carolina.
Las Vegas Bowl - San Diego State (34) vs. Houston (10)
Talk about a fall from grace. Coming into the season, Houston appeared to be the clear favorite to win out and take the conference for themselves. In a season that saw Houston beat two top five teams (Oklahoma and Louisville), many believed that the Cougars had what it took to play with the big boys in a New Year’s game. After losing to Navy, the eventual conference champs, the Cougars seemed to mentally check out from the season.
With let downs coming in the forms of a disappointing loss to in-state and conference rival SMU, and being declined admission to the Big 12 conference (everyone was). To add insult to injury, head coach Tom Herman was poached by Big 12 powerhouse and in-state big brother Texas, before their bowl game.
Coming into the Las Vegas Bowl, the Cougars knew that they would have to rise above the adversity that they’ve had to face over the season. Houston started the game with a 10-0 lead in the first quarter with quarterback Greg Ward picking up a touchdown on the keeper sweep from the San Diego one yard line. Unfortunately for the Cougars, they wouldn’t see the end zone the rest of the game.
Ward went 25 for 34 with 229 passing yards, four interceptions and failed to throw a touchdown while also running the ball for one touchdown and zero yards on 22 attempts, finishing the game with a 20.9 quarterback rating. The only touchdown that Ward managed to throw was to San Diego cornerback Ron Smith, who intercepted Ward for a 54-yard pick-six.
The Cougars started their season with high expectations, but fell flat on their faces by the end of the year.
AutoNation Cure Bowl- Arkansas State (31) vs. UCF (13)
Let me start off by saying that we here at Bulls Daily know that most of our readers love to hate UCF, but in the postseason, you should silently be rooting for the Knights in the deepest and darkest part of your heart. The only reason for this, is that USF and UCF are tethered to each other whether you like it or not. The two teams are in such close proximity to each other that their fan bases overlap and both schools heavily recruit the same areas. With two of the largest television markets in the nation and a budding rivalry, it’s not hard to believe that if one team is scooped up by a Power Five conference, the other is tagging along.
Coming into the 2016 season, if the Knights managed to pick up just one win, it would have been an improvement. With longtime head coach George O’Leary leaving the program last year, UCF had to fill a big hole. With O’Leary also serving as the interim athletic director last year, the Knights had their hands full.
UCF seems to have struck gold with the hire of Scott Frost, the former offensive coordinator of the high-powered offense at Oregon. Frost was able to lead the Knights to a 6-6 record in the regular season, showing signs of life from a team that winless just the season before.
The Knights hosted the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the AutoNation Cure Bowl at the UCF’s former home, Camping World Stadium. While the score indicates a blowout loss, the game was much closer with one team taking advantage of mistakes.
The game saw a total of 457 yards, with the difference between the two teams being only 11 yards. Both teams attempted to run the ball at least 30 times and both averaged less than one yard per carry. However, the defenses came out to play as both teams fumbled three times a piece. The Red Wolves defense was able to recover all three of their forced fumbles, while UCF’s defense was only able to recover one of three.
While UCF may have lost to Arkansas State, they still came out of the season better than most expected; becoming a surprise team that was hungry and eager to get the program back on track. The Knights have some offensive issues that they will have to address in the next season, but look to be a team to watch out for going forward.
The Miami Beach Bowl- Central Michigan (10) vs. Tulsa (55)
There are plenty of great things to say about this Tulsa team, so it’s hard to find a place to start. First off, the Golden Hurricanes are an offensive powerhouse; able to seemingly move the ball at will. Averaging around 41 points per game, Tulsa was able to field the second highest scoring team in the conference and a top 15 scoring offense in the nation.
There are plenty of similarities between Tulsa and the Bulls, both fielding two 1,000+ yard rushers and high average quarterbacks. Tulsa’s Dane Evans is more a more traditional quarterback than the Bulls’ Quinton Flowers, with Evans being less versatile. Don’t let that fool you though; the senior quarterback threw for 3,044 yards and 27 touchdowns before this game, completing just shy of 60 percent of his passes and throwing only 12 interceptions.
The Golden Hurricanes came down to Miami to take care of business, showing that they are a team that isn’t to be overlooked in the AAC. Tulsa smashed Central Michigan in the Miami Beach Bowl 55-10, never really letting their foot of the pedal throughout the game. Evans threw the ball 38 times, completing 28 of them, five of which ended with a touchdown. Senior wide receiver Keevan Lucas caught three of Evan’s touchdown passes, pulling in a total of seven catches and 72 yards. On the ground, Tulsa managed to rack up 261 yards and one touchdown, bringing the team total yards to 581.
Tulsa will be losing Evans, Lucas and senior running back James Flanders next season, but have signed head coach Phillip Montgomery to a contract extension. Montgomery turned this program around from a 10-loss team to a 10-win team in two years (sound familiar?). As long as Montgomery stays in Tulsa, the Golden Hurricanes have the ability to stay a contender in the AAC.
Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 20, 7 p.m.) (ESPN)- Memphis vs. Western Kentucky
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m.) (ESPN)- Louisiana Tech vs. Navy
Military Bowl (Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m.) (ESPN)- (23) Temple vs. Wake Forest
Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 29, 2 p.m.) (ESPN)- (25) USF vs. South Carolina