Tulsa Ready for Big Things in the American Athletic Conference
Former members such as Houston, Memphis, SMU, and Central Florida made the transition last offseason, while East Carolina and Tulane are joining Tulsa on its new journey into not-so-unfamiliar waters.
“What I like about (the move) is that we get to continue relationships with some of the best teams from the C-USA,” coach Bill Blankenship told FanIQ on Thursday afternoon. “But I’m also excited about upgrading the level of competition from a week-to-week basis.
“We get to keep the SMUs and the Houstons and the Tulanes and continue seeing UCF, but we also get to add teams like Cincinnati and South Florida,” he added. “It’s really going to be the kind of conference where there’s not really an enormous favorite that you have to overcome all the time; there’s never going to be a slow week.”
Before the 2013 season started, there was plenty of discussion to whether the AAC should be considered a power conference and receive automatic qualification to a BCS game. UCF, coming over from the C-USA, took the conference by storm, finishing with a 12-1 record and a huge 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
Its one loss came against a premier SEC opponent in South Carolina by three points, yet the Knights had to survive close calls against so-called weaker conference opponents like Memphis, Temple, South Florida and SMU. This opened some eyes of doubters and raised the excitement level for similar mid-major programs like Tulsa.
“I know we’re biased, but we’re certainly one of the conferences in the discussion for the Power Five and whatever else is out there,” said Blankenship, who is entering his fourth season with Tulsa. “Because of what (UCF) did on a national stage in a BCS win, it gives us a good measuring stick.
“UCF was a real pivotal matchup for us in 2011 and ’12, and it’s not lost on us that the quality of opponent that made a name for themselves on a national stage,” he continued. “We know what UCF has done and we’ve had huge battles with East Carolina (as well). Our guys have great respect for them.”
With all of the elation and anticipation of moving to the AAC and seeing new opponents on the schedule comes the realization that much work still needs to be done before the end of August. Tulsa finished last season with its worst record since 2002, closing with just three wins after an 11-win year in 2012.
While still not the SEC or the Pac-12, The American is undoubtedly a step up in competition.
“In the C-USA, we had really good teams that we had to face,” said Blankenship. “But there were weeks where we thought if we went out and played pretty well, we should win. Here, that’s a tough thing.”
Tulsa opens the 2014 season with a Thursday night showdown at home against former C-USA foe Tulane. The last time these two teams met was in 2012, where the Golden Hurricane won 45-10 and kick-started a seven-game winning streak.
“I think the first thing we have to do is look at our opening game with Tulane and realize that we start the year with a conference game and that will be a tone setter,” said Blankenship. “It’s vital that Tulsa gets into bowl viability. Last year was heartbreaking for us, and we have to be playing in the postseason for it to be considered a successful season.”
*All quotes were obtained first hand.
Tyler Waddell is the College Football Blog Manager for FanIQ. Follow him Twitter.