The American Athletic Conference has been more power than group this season.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is outspoken about his push to separate his league from the “Group of 5” persona, stating at the AAC Media Kickoff in July that the conference is more on par with “Power 5” conferences. “Power 5” conferences are the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC. “Group of 5” includes every other conference. The AAC’s push to be included more with the major conferences influenced its “Power 6” movement.
“We now stand on the precipice of the next step which I described: wide acceptance as a P6 conference and entry into the autonomous group of conferences,” Aresco said in July. “We are much more like them than we are different, and they know it.”
Tulsa will be the last team in the West Division to start AAC play when the Hurricane visits No. 24 SMU on Saturday. And the play in TU’s division has only boosted Aresco’s preseason remarks. As a whole, the West Division has a 74% winning percentage this season against nonconference opponents. With TU at 2-2, Houston is the only team in the division with a losing record, but its most recent loss, which put the Cougars below .500, was to AAC foe Tulane.
“Every week’s gonna be a war,” TU coach Philip Montgomery said. “We’ve talked to our guys about that — understanding what the schedule is and what our conference is and understanding every week you got to be ready to play, and we’re going to have to fight for 60 minutes.”
SMU has been the most surprising team in the AAC. TU beat the Mustangs in the final game last year to keep SMU at five wins and short of a bowl berth.
The undefeated Mustangs already have reached that win total this season, though.
“I think it’s going to be a big deal,” TU defensive end Trevis Gipson said. “Last year we ended up winning against SMU, and I don’t think that sat well with them. They were trying to be bowl eligible. I know they’re going to come into this game with a chip on their shoulder.”
SMU is one of two teams in the West Division with a win over a Power 5 foe, against the Big 12’s TCU. Memphis, which is also undefeated, beat Ole Miss of the SEC in its opener. Of the division’s combined 14-5 nonconference record, no losses were to “Group of 5” teams.
“I mean, as you look at the American Conference top to bottom, and it’s done extremely well,” Montgomery said. “You look at just the west side, there’s some beasts over there. …
“The ‘Power 6’ part is real. And, yeah, I think we ought to be mentioned along with all the other top conferences as you look at us.”