How the AAC pans out for USF baseball

Four of USF’s AAC opponents finished the 2021 season over .500, including No. 13 East Carolina. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The American Athletic Conference is no easy task when entering conference play for USF baseball. With over half the Bulls’ opponents finishing over .500 last season, there is a lot of preparation needed before March 31.

South Florida (28-29, 8-16 AAC) struggled in its conference slate last season, finishing last in the AAC and only picking up eight wins.

Now, to repeat their postseason magic from 2021, the Bulls need to step up their game to prove they don’t deserve last place in the American.

Central Florida, March 31-April 2 and April 21-23

There is no other way to kick off the conference than playing against South Florida’s biggest adversary — Central Florida.

UCF (32-25, 14-10 AAC) ended their season with a semifinal loss to No. 3 seed Houston, even though they were placed No. 2 in the conference.

Instead of just one series, the rivals play a total of six games against each other — three in Orlando and three at home. Last season, the Knights swept the Bulls in their first meeting, but flipped the switch when coming to USF where they dropped two of three games.

This isn’t the only time the two schools have broken even in a campaign — they have done so almost every year.

Dating back to 2006, USF and UCF have historically split it down the middle. As of now, South Florida currently reigns the War on I-4 with an overall record of 33-32, including an 8-7 victory in the AAC tournament final.

Home-field advantage has played an obvious role in the feud, with both teams performing better at their respective locations. This year will determine who the official champion is with UCF leaving for the Big 12.

Tulane, April 6-8

Following USF’s return from Orlando, South Florida will host Tulane for the first time since 2018.

Tulane (33-26-1, 11-13 AAC) also dropped out of the semifinals against AAC champion East Carolina after overcoming its No. 5 seed slot. The Green Wave split its record and did so by dropping five series 2-1, four of which were back to back.

Against USF, Tulane has been fairly successful with an overall 15-8 record over the Bulls. It also took a pair of games in the three-game slate of 2022. If the Green Wave retains a similar batting order with the collective hitting a .272 average, the Bulls’ pitching staff will have to stay vigilant to survive the series.

Houston, April 14-16

South Florida will take a trip out west to take on the Houston Cougars who placed third in the conference last season.

Just like Tulane, Houston (37-24, 13-11 AAC) played its final game of the season in the semifinal round of the AAC tournament. In 2022, the Cougars also swept the Bulls scoring 28 runs in just three matches.

Being one of the more skillful teams on USF’s conference list, the Bulls will have to find a way to overcome its talented batting order that holds a .279 batting average.

Cincinnati, April 28-30

Finishing off its two-week homestand after hosting UCF, USF will welcome the Bearcats to Red McEwen field.

Cincinnati (24-31, 12-12 AAC) has finished fourth in the AAC two years in a row, completing its 2022 season with three series wins and one sweep. USF was able to hold them to a 2-1 series in Ohio and is expected to do the same while in Tampa.

Memphis, May 5-7

Just a few points beneath the Bulls is the Memphis Tigers, who hold a .473 winning percentage. It will be the first opponent on South Florida’s two-week road trip.

Memphis (26-29, 9-15 AAC) hasn’t made a huge impact in its time with the AAC, with not one title to its name. However, they have improved from its 2021 season where it posted an 18-39 record for the season.

With its enhanced record also came a 2-1 series win over the Bulls in Tampa during the height of USF’s injury bug. If South Florida can stay healthy in conference play, Memphis won’t be as much of a challenge.

Wichita State, May 12-14

To wrap up its extended road trip, USF will take on Wichita State in Kansas for its second to last weekend series.

The Shockers (21-36, 9-15 AAC) only hold the sixth spot in the conference for their AAC performance, not their overall production. In this case, the Bulls’ last meeting with them ended in a 2-1 series win.

Overall, USF has bigger fish to fry than Wichita State, making this team a lower priority on its list.

East Carolina, May 18-20

Just as South Florida starts off its season with a challenge, they will finish with one too — No. 13 East Carolina.

ECU (46-21, 20-4 AAC) is the reigning AAC tournament and regular season champion of 2022, has hosted and won both its Greenville Regionals the last two years and hosted its own Super Regional, where it ended up falling to Texas in the third game.

An impressive resume isn’t the only thing the Pirates showcase. In 2022, they finished conference play with five sweeps, an additional two series win and just one series loss to the Green Wave.

East Carolina will be the hardest team to beat in the AAC not just for South Florida, but for all six other teams as well.