Cincinnati's has four Big East championship trophies in the trophy case, but this fall the Bearcats are expected to add the first American Athletic Conference championship trophy to the collection. A media poll has labeled Cincinnati as the preseason favorite to win the AAC in 2014. Defending conference champion Central Florida was picked to finish second in the conference.
Cincinnati received 17 first-place votes out of 30 possible votes. UCF received seven first-place votes and Houston picked up the remaining six first-place votes. Houston was picked to finish third in the conference this fall, behind Cincinnati and UCF.
New conference member East Carolina was picked to finish fourth in the AAC after moving over from Conference USA. Joining East Carolina in the conference switch are Tulane and Tulsa. Tulane was picked to finish ninth overall in the conference, tied with UConn. Tulsa received the fewest total points in the media poll in its debut season.
Here is the full media poll, with first-place votes and total points received.
- Cincinnati (17 first-place votes), 311 points
- UCF (7), 296
- Houston (6), 268
- East Carolina, 262
- SMU, 158
- USF, 157
- Memphis, 133
- Temple, 105
- UConn, 98
- Tulsa, 94
This season, under the new College Football Playoff format, the highest-ranked conference champion from the AAC, Conference USA, Mountain West Conference, MAC or Sun Belt will be guaranteed a spot in the big-revenue bowl line-up. This gives the champion of the AAC a decent shot at playing in either the Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl or Peach Bowl against an at-large selection from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC (or Notre Dame). The biggest threat to the AAC at grabbing one of those lucrative bowl spots may come from the Mountain West Conference, where Boise State remains one of the top contenders for the guaranteed bowl spot. Utah State, playing in the same division as Boise State in the MWC, is also a viable threat.
Unfortunately, the AAC schedule happens to have Cincinnati and UCF not playing each other this season, which leaves the door open for a split conference championship. Cincinnati does play two key non-conference game son the road, at Ohio State (September 27) and at Miami (October 11). In conference play, the schedule is about as favorable as it can get by skipping UCF and getting Houston and East Carolina at home.
UCF will also get a chance to play some high-profile non-conference games. The Knights open the season in Ireland against Penn State and then travel two weeks later to defending SEC East champion Missouri. UCF will also host BYU in early October and play games on the road at Houston and East Carolina. Cincinnati may have the better shot at the conference championship, but it may be possible UCF has a better chance to end the year with a higher ranking.
That would be good news for Boise State or Utah State, perhaps.