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Memphis, Navy headline AAC football award winners

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Ahead of the American Athletic Conference’s championship game this weekend, one of its participants is, not surprisingly, well-represented in the latest league to release its postseason award winners.

Very late Wednesday afternoon, the AAC announced the winners of its five major awards based on regular-season play.  Memphis, which will square off with Cincinnati in the league’s title game Saturday, claimed two of those honors, as did Navy.

Below are those recipients:

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Malcolm Perry, QB, Navy

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Quincy Roche, DE, Temple

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE CO-SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Dane Roy, P, Houston
Antonio Gibson, WR/KR, Memphis

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE COACH OF THE YEAR
Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

The All-AAC teams were also unveiled, with just two players being unanimous selections — Memphis redshirt freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell, SMU senior wide receiver James Proche.  For the complete list of first- and second-teams as well as honorable mentions, click HERE.

AAC latest league to allow walk-ons to transfer without losing a year

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The so-called ‘Baker Mayfield Rule’ continues to spread throughout the country as players’ freedom of movement becomes a hot button issue in the world of the NCAA.

Per a release from the league office, the American Athletic Conference has formally approved a rule change that will allow walk-ons (or, more formally, student-athletes not on scholarship) to transfer to another school in the conference without having to sit a year. 

The move came as part of a broader set of issues that were discussed by AAC presidents and athletic directors during their annual fall meetings this week.

“We had another extremely productive meeting with our presidents and athletic directors this week in Philadelphia,” Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. “There was a great deal of discussion about the future of our league and the momentum that we have created as we prepare for our new television/media agreement with ESPN beginning next year. There is enormous enthusiasm in the wake of the Conference’s increasing football, basketball and Olympic sport success and we will continue to energize and refresh our successful P6 campaign.  We discussed the NCAA Board of Governors’ recent statement on name, image and likeness and we will be forming a conference working group to examine further that issue. We are all in agreement that this is a very complicated matter, and that preserving the amateur experience in a way that is fair to all student-athletes is of the utmost importance.”

The Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma first called attention to the issue after he was a walk-on at Texas Tech before eventually transferring to the Sooners and being placed on scholarship. Big 12 rules at the time stated Mayfield had to lose a season of eligibility as a result of the move but that was later amended to allow for such a scenario to happen without a player dropping a season. The Pac-12 and others have followed suit in recent years, with the AAC the latest at the Group of Five level to join the growing chorus.

In January, the NCAA also approved rules changes allowing walk-ons to transfer without penalty but many individual conferences had rules against doing so within their own league. That’s no longer the case in the AAC and others now as walk-ons finally get a measure of freedom that they didn’t have before.

Michigan drops home-and-home with UCLA for pair of Group of Five replacements

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If Michigan wants to make it to the Rose Bowl in the near future, they’ll have to do so by overcoming long odds and winning the Big Ten to make it to the Granddaddy of Them All.

That’s the result of the school announcing on Friday that they have terminated a future home-and-home series with UCLA for 2022 and 2023. At the heart of the move is a purely financial motivation: the Wolverines want to have seven home games both years and needed to axe the Bruins from the slate in order to do so.

As a result of the changes, Michigan has announced that they have replaced the UCLA series with a game against Hawaii for Sept. 10, 2022 at the Big House and will host another Group of Five program in East Carolina on Sept. 2, 2023.

The Wolverines do have high-profile meetings with Washington, Texas and Oklahoma still on the schedule in the 2020’s but the decision to end the games against UCLA still leaves non-conference openings in both 2022 and 2023 for the program. Could that be a potential opening for continuing their series with Notre Dame?

We’ll probably find out more on that front down the road on that front but for now we’re left with the maize and blue avoiding the powder blues on the field in an unfortunate move for fans of both sides.

Mike Aresco confirms AAC has received waiver to hold title game with 11 conference members

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Counting in college football is hard but at least the NCAA makes it easy to obtain a waiver to deal with such issues.

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco confirmed to reporters during a break in SMU’s victory over Temple on Saturday that the league has received the necessary waiver for the 2020 season to hold a conference title game despite having 11 members.

“It’s really a relief that this got done,” Aresco said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The conference championship is so important to the league.”

The reason the AAC is in the position of needing to get a waiver is, of course, the result of UConn’s decision to re-join the Big East in most sports and try their hand at football independence starting next season. The conference has so far declined to pursue a new member to replace the Huskies, resulting in 11 football programs going forward unless they make significant changes this offseason.

NCAA rules dictate that conferences must have either 12 teams in multiple divisions or require a round-robin schedule in order to hold a league title game. The waiver allows the American to bypass the requirements and keep their existing contracts with ESPN in place going forward for such a game, resulting in a nice little windfall in addition to their standard broadcast contract with the world wide leader.

According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Aresco also confirmed that the league will abandon it’s two division format starting next season and that the top two teams in the conference will meet in the title game in a manner similar to the Big 12 — albeit with 11 teams instead of 10.

Like we said, it can be hard to count in college football but thankfully, there’s always a waiver from the folks in Indianapolis for that.

Mike Aresco thinks New Year’s Six bid is important for AAC, but wants respect for the league more

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The American Athletic Conference has secured the Group of Five’s bid to the New Year’s Six bowl games in three of the first five years (winning twice) of the College Football Playoff era but the league is apparently still searching for something even more elusive: respect.

Yes, cue the Rodney Dangerfield line about not getting any but that seems to be the driving force behind some of commissioner Mike Aresco’s comments this week. The conference currently has three ranked teams and has enjoyed an impressive amount of success so far in 2019 but the driving force behind the AAC’s bid to be a “Power 6” league still doesn’t think they are getting their due.

“I would much rather not be a one-horse or a two-horse league,” Aresco told The Athletic. “I want to see a lot of really good teams. I want to see our league develop that strength of schedule where we’re respected. That’s more important than getting that New Year’s bid. That doesn’t mean the bid isn’t important. We obviously want to get it and play those top teams. … It’s important to get that bid, not only the financial part, but the exposure on New Year’s Day. But it’s more important to have what is perceived as the best G5 conference, and I think that’s what we’ve had since the beginning of this whole thing.”

Aresco probably isn’t wrong on that latter point, as the AAC has been a lot more consistent than peers like the Mountain West or MAC. The former has put together a very strong campaign this year and might be in the driver’s seat for the New Year’s Six bid however, with Boise State being the highest ranked Group of Five team at the moment. The MWC also has a national best eight Power Five wins on their resume as well.

It remains to be seen how it will all shake out given that there’s so much of the season left but something says this won’t be the only comments to come out of Providence from Aresco as the race to nab an invite to the Cotton Bowl this year looks tighter than ever