As the AAC announced this week that the conference will be split up into two East versus West style divisions starting in 2015, fans took to social media to gripe about being placed in a division with a 2013 BCS Bowl winner along with two other teams that won at least nine games last season.
While USF will play in the East along with UCF, UConn, Cincinnati, East Carolina and Temple, rather than looking at the division as a difficult place to be, Bulls fans should be thankful for the opportunity to play in such a division. If there is any hope for USF to achieve a national ranking or play in a respectable bowl game, they will have to defeat tough opponents.
Each division will include six teams. The addition of Navy next season allows for these even divisions because it will mark the 12th school in the conference. Based on 2013 standings, this division will hold the remaining top two teams from the AAC (UCF and Cincinnati) along with East Carolina, who finished second in the East division of Conference USA.
On the other hand, the West does not appear nearly as formidable. Houston looks as though it will be the team to beat in the West, having compiled an 8-5 record in 2013.
Barring a dramatic shift of talent, being placed in the East division is putting teams with high aspirations in a must-win scenario every week. For the Bulls, continually playing teams that will potentially be ranked, such as UCF and Cincinnati, will not only put them in the national spotlight and provide exposure, but it will also give the Bulls a chance to win games that could earn them national recognition.
Playing in the East with its higher strength of schedule, USF will benefit with better potential for attracting more fans and the chance to succeed in a difficult division. If the Bulls happen to win enough games to qualify for a bowl, they would likely draw a more respectable bowl game as well as a better crowd than if they were playing in the West.
Something that is potentially in the Bulls’ future is moving up into a better conference. By playing in the most difficult division in their league, USF will have the opportunity to move on to another conference such as the Big 12.
While it is a shame that the USF-UCF rivalry will never be seen in an AAC Championship game under this alignment, both teams will be guaranteed to play each other every season. This will continue the rivalry for years to come and will be season-long as both teams compete for spots in the standings as well as on the field.
In the short term, this will likely hurt the Bulls’ record and chances at winning the AAC. But when USF begins to catch up to the rest of the teams in the East division, there is more opportunity for them to make their case for national recognition and conference realignment with this new structure.