Dallas Colleges: American Athletic Conference

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 9, 2013

UCF Knights (11-1) vs. Baylor Bears (11-1)

Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)

UCF entered its first year in the American Athletic Conference with high hopes. But nobody outside the program anticipated the Knights would win the conference championship. Not with preseason No. 9 Louisville standing in the way.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/John RaouxBlake Bortles has led UCF to the first BCS bowl in program history.
But the Knights served notice early on they were a team that should be taken seriously. They went on the road and beat Penn State in Week 3. Then they gave South Carolina everything they had in a 28-25 loss that came down to the very end. It became obvious their game at Louisville in October would have an impact on the conference title race.

UCF went on the road and never flinched, not after falling behind 28-7. Blake Bortles calmly led a 38-35 comeback win, throwing the winning touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey with 23 seconds remaining. The win paved the way for UCF to earn the American title outright and its first BCS bid as new league members. It also served as the biggest win in school history given where the Knights stand today.

Bortles keyed the season. The junior from Orlando threw for 3,280 yards this season, with 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He has risen up through NFL draft boards with his performance and now faces a decision about whether to return to UCF. But he wasn’t alone. The Knights have one of the deepest receiving groups in the league, as three players have at least 600 yards. Storm Johnson ran for 1,000 yards, and the Knights ranked in the top 20 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and rushing defense.

But the season was not without its share of drama. Five times UCF needed to come from behind in the second half to win conference games. That includes victories over Memphis, Temple and USF -- three of the worst teams in the league.

The Temple victory was perhaps the closest UCF came to seeing its BCS dreams end. The Knights trailed 36-29 with 2 minutes to go, but J.J. Worton made an acrobatic, one-handed touchdown catch to tie the game, and Bortles got the Knights into field goal range with 2 seconds left to lead the win.

History has been made. As the American moves forward into a new era, UCF gives the league plenty to build on. -- Andrea Adelson


Dreams came true in Waco, Texas, this season, as Baylor rose from the conference cellar to Big 12 champions under the direction of Art Briles. The Bears could win 12 games for first time in program history with a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win over UCF.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty's Bears soared to new heights this season ... and they're not done.
Yet, there was a time when it looked like the Bears might not even make a BCS bowl after getting drilled by Oklahoma State 49-17 in late November. But BU responded to win its final two games over TCU and Texas to finish 11-1 while securing the Fiesta Bowl berth and outright Big 12 title.

Quarterback Bryce Petty was easily the best signal-caller in the conference and played a major role in the Bears’ FBS-leading 53.3 points per game and 624.5 yards per game this season. He will lead a passing attack that could be a handful for a UCF defense that allowed 229.83 passing yards per game, tied for 61st in the FBS.

Even though Briles’ squad featured the nation’s most productive offense, the real foundation of Baylor’s first Big 12 championship was its defense. The Bears defense ranked among the top three in the Big 12 in most categories and led the conference in yards per play allowed (4.53) and yards per rush allowed (3.26).

Safety Ahmad Dixon brought a physical tone and unyielding confidence to the defense, while its front seven, led by defensive end Chris McAllister, was underrated throughout the fall.

After its strong finish to the 2012 season, Baylor was viewed as an Big 12 sleeper heading into the 2013 season. Turns out the Bears were the Big 12’s sleeper team. And much more. -- Brandon Chatmon

SMU season preview

August, 16, 2013
Today we're looking at Southern Methodist University, which is being picked to finish near the bottom of the rankings in The American Athletic Conference's inaugural season.

Coach: June Jones (107-75 career, 31-34 at SMU)

2012 record: 7-6

Key losses: RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, LB Taylor Reed

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
AP Photo/Michael SullivanQuarterback Garrett Gilbert returns as the Mustangs' leading rusher -- averaging 3.7 yards per carry last season.
Key returnees: QB Garrett Gilbert, LB Randall Joyner, CB Kenneth Acker

Newcomer to watch: DB Shakiel Randolph

Biggest games in 2013: at Texas A&M (Sept. 21), at TCU (Sept. 28)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Mustangs will be looking for somebody to replace Line in the running game this year. Amassing 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns as the main rushing threat last season, Line was crucial to the SMU offense that gave Gilbert the ability to be a dual-threat -- running for eight touchdowns and passing for 15. Gilbert won’t be able to do it all this season, so the Mustangs could be looking to Line’s little brother, Prescott Line, to carry some of the responsibility.

Forecast: While SMU has the benefit of not having to play AAC-favorite Louisville in the regular season, it plays three Texas heavyweights in the nonconference schedule. Opening with Texas Tech on a Friday night, the Mustangs travel to Texas A&M and TCU in back-to-back weeks in September. SMU has tallied four consecutive winning seasons and has played in four consecutive bowl games, but the first half of the Mustangs’ schedule might be too ambitious with Rutgers waiting as the first American Athletic game on the schedule. SMU is picked to finish eighth in the conference.

Like several teams in the American Athletic, the Mustangs are rebuilding on defense, having to work with a new group of defensive linemen. But four starters return in the secondary, including Acker, who was named to the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation’s top defensive back. Acker had 13 interceptions and 12 pass breakups last season. Joyner and Stephon Sanders are the returning starting linebackers.

Offensively, SMU fits the American Athletic trend of teams having an established quarterback. Gilbert was on Jones’ radar when he was just a recruit committed to Texas because Jones had a relationship to Gilbert’s father. When Texas wasn’t the right fit for Gilbert, Jones welcomed him.

“It’s a plus for him that he's involved at SMU now and doing what he's doing,” Jones said. “I noticed last year by middle of the season he was finally starting to get a little bit of his confidence back. I think he took it upon his shoulders to compete and win maybe three, four games through the end that just was him, and even though we did it a little bit different than we normally do it, which normally doing it is passing the football. He was a very good runner. We inserted some things into the game plan to allow him to do some things that he does very well. And he gained a lot of confidence both in the passing game just from doing that.”