The American Athletic Conference has generally been considered the best Group of Five conference for good reason. The New Year’s Six bowl spot has been awarded to the AAC champion in seven of the nine years since the current format went into place.
Last year, Tulane earned the spot and beat USC 46-45 in the Cotton Bowl. So we know the AAC has been the gold standard, but losing UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston to the Big 12 has hurt its depth.
Even with those losses, the AAC could again be the top G5 conference, especially with teams such as Tulane, Memphis, and SMU leading the way (though we will learn a little more about the AAC when Tulane visits Memphis on Friday night).
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And even though newcomer UTSA (2-3, 1-0 AAC) has gotten off to a slow start, with the return last week of QB Frank Harris who missed two games with a turf toe injury, the Roadrunners could be a factor in the AAC.
That said, the Mountain West appears to at least be the deepest conference in the early going.
The depth of the league is displayed by the fact that Fresno State, which had a 14-game win streak snapped in a 24-19 loss at Wyoming, is behind four teams that are undefeated in conference play.
Air Force, which had a bye last week, is 3-0 while Wyoming is 2-0.
These two teams meet Saturday at Air Force in one of the best games of the entire college football schedule.
Wyoming is banged up, while Air Force is rested, so the Falcons will be difficult to beat. With dual-threat QB Zac Larrier, Air Force will be more than competitive against everybody on its schedule.
He has rushed for 362 yards and three touchdowns while completing 73.7% of his passes for 410 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
His passing is a diversion to the triple option offense featuring the always formidable rushing attack. Once again, Air Force leads the nation in rushing, averaging 329.8 yards per game.
Still, nobody should sell Wyoming short. The Cowboys’ lone loss was 31-10 at Texas. Wyoming also owns a win over Texas Tech and one against Sun Belt East contender Appalachian State.
That’s an App State team which has only one other loss: a 40-34 double overtime defeat to No. 12 North Carolina (5-0).
Boise State (2-0) and UNLV (1-0) are the other teams still unbeaten in Mountain West play.
UCF needed a last-second field goal to beat Boise State 18-16 and the other losses were to No. 7 Washington, 56-19, and at Memphis, 34-31.
Any of the four unbeatens could contend, and don’t count out Fresno State either.
And remember Colorado State gained attention for taking Colorado into double overtime before losing 43-35.
That is the same Colorado State team that lost this past weekend, 44-24, at Utah State in its first Mountain West game.
Utah State suffered its only Mountain West loss to Air Force, 39-21. The other two losses were to James Madison and Iowa. That means that the Aggies have lost to three teams with a combined 15-1 record.
Counting Utah State and Colorado State, that is seven teams that have been highly competitive.
And we didn’t even mention San Diego State, which opened its season with a 20-13 win over an Ohio team that hasn’t lost since and is considered a major contender for the MAC East Division.
SDSU also lost 34-31 to Boise State, showing that nobody should consider the Aztecs an automatic W.
It’s still early enough that so much can happen. Any of the other G5 conferences could step up to the forefront. But at least now, the Mountain West has proven to be deeper than any other.
By the end of the season, it could very well be the No. 1 G5 conference.