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AAC chief says league will keep performing at ‘highest level.’ Will it?

Almost half of the conference’s biggest football wins were achieved by teams that have departed.
 
USF running back Kelley Joiner Jr. (3) breaks for yardage in last season's game against UCF. The Knights have departed the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12, meaning their annual series against the Bulls is discontinued for now.
USF running back Kelley Joiner Jr. (3) breaks for yardage in last season's game against UCF. The Knights have departed the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12, meaning their annual series against the Bulls is discontinued for now. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published July 26|Updated July 26

Prepared, polished and mildly defiant, Mike Aresco stood at a podium Tuesday in Arlington, Texas, and applied the glossiest veneer possible to his depreciated product.

“This conference will continue to achieve at the highest level,” the American Athletic Conference commissioner proclaimed Tuesday at his league’s annual football media day.

“The American has been and is a power conference; we have separated from the other so-called Group of Five conferences. Our conference branding will continue to embrace the word ‘power.’ Our DNA aligns with the so-called Power Five, and not the Group of Five.”

The tenor of Aresco’s speech — a chunk of which also decried the use of the term “Power Five” — stood to reason. Three of his most prized commodities — UCF, Houston and Cincinnati — have bolted for the Big 12, and six non-power programs were brought in to help salvage the AAC’s status as the nation’s premier non-autonomy conference.

Aresco’s job is to defend the merits of his refurbished league, installing window dressing where necessary. But based on football numbers the commissioner himself regurgitated Tuesday, the AAC’s unofficial status as the country’s sixth “power” league appears in peril.

Take the AAC’s 63 wins against Power Five teams in the league’s 10-year existence. More than half (32) were recorded by teams no longer in the conference: Louisville (now in the ACC) had two, Rutgers (now in the Big Ten) had one, and Cincinnati, Houston and UCF combined for 29.

Of the remaining AAC teams, USF has the most Power Five triumphs since 2013, with seven. And of the four New Year’s Six bowl triumphs boasted by the league, three went out the door with Houston (2015 Peach) and UCF (2013 Fiesta, 2017 Peach).

Moreover, the six league newcomers have combined for three Power Five triumphs in the last five years. And no AAC team is listed in ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index (FPI) top 25.

Yet on Tuesday, Aresco used terms such as “resolute,” “gritty” and “battle-hardened” to describe the teams in his revamped league.

At this point, underrated may also be a fitting adjective, until proven otherwise.

“We will continue to upset the (Power Five) narrative,” Aresco declared. “We will continue, as an ESPN announcer said, to provide rocket fuel to our members. We will continue, as a (Power Five) commissioner mentioned to me, will our conference to greatness.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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