The division between the Power 5 and Group of Five conferences is plain on several fronts, including fan support, coaching salaries and recruiting. But one can argue that the distinction is reductive as it pertains to what actually takes place on the field. The American Athletic Conference, technically part of the Group of Five, remains a cut above the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West, Conference USA and the Sun Belt. MAC program Western Michigan’s invitation to a New Year’s Six Bowl last season (it lost the Cotton Bowl, 24–16, to Wisconsin) obscured the American’s collection of quality programs.
Houston, which handled Big 12 champion Oklahoma in September and looked like a playoff threat through the first month of the season before losing a close game at Navy, was the AAC’s marquee attraction, but the conference placed two different programs in the final playoff rankings (Temple and the Midshipmen at 24 and 25, respectively) and included six programs that finished in the top 55 nationally in S&P+. By contrast, the other four Group of Five leagues featured seven programs combined in that range. Also, the ACC West ranked higher than every other Group of Five division in Sagarin’s ratings, and the AAC East ranked higher than every one except the MW Mountain. The AAC is a strong league with talented coaches that merits its own category in college football’s Division I taxonomy.