NCF Nation: AAC

Coaches and administrators from the American Athletic Conference gather Wednesday through Friday for the league's annual spring meetings in Key Biscayne, Florida. ESPN.com caught up with commissioner Mike Aresco late last week to preview what's on the agenda for the league, which is now preparing for its second season.

With other conferences' spring meetings in recent weeks helping decision-makers lay the foundation for looming NCAA change, Aresco insists that the American, too, will be focusing more on the big-picture items, despite the integration of new members East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa.

With the power five conferences pushing for autonomy, here are Aresco's takes on some of the governance changes that have been talked about across the nation and how the American will fit in with such discussions and proposals.
  • On the changing landscape of college athletics: "We think we have the resources to do some of the things. Maybe not all of them, but perhaps all of them, of the things that they're doing. We're concerned, too. We have the same concerns about health and welfare of student-athletes and nutrition. We have the same issues about financial aid and possibly helping out long term in terms of scholarships going beyond the four-year period to help someone achieve degrees. Time demands is a concern, academic support, recruiting. Again, we think that ultimately the cost of attendance, we've embraced the concept -- we want our student-athletes to have the full cost of attendance. We want to make sure they have appropriate and reasonable access to the things they need, whether it's nutrition, whether it's -- again as I said -- their health and wellness needs. Again, we think we're pretty much in the same place, and the fact is we're obviously not in the room where they make these decisions, although they have promised us that we will have conversations about these things."
  • The concern, it seems, is what happens if the power five begin to push for further changes once the initial wave comes and passes: "The other thing that I would point out when it comes to the autonomy: We would be concerned about the threshold for any new autonomy items down the road. There's a list now, and it's a fairly fixed list, of items that would be subject to potential autonomy. If there are new items once the redesign process is finished, if there are going to be new items in a year or two years or three years, we would want to know what the threshold is and who's going to vote on that."
  • With most power five conferences mandating at least one game each year against a school from another power five conference, Aresco said he has not heard any immediate reaction from American athletic directors about scheduling difficulties. But he is open to more neutral-site games and thinks his league has much to offer in the strength-of-schedule department: "When they say, 'OK, you have to play one game from another equity conference' or power conference, whatever you want to call it, that doesn't preclude us from playing those teams. Now, the fact that we haven't been mentioned in that conversation, we feel we should be in that conversation, and we feel that those conferences should be talking about us. ... We've just got game after game against those conferences [scheduled], and we're confident that they'll want to play us and continue to play us because we'll offer strength of schedule and we'll offer good opponents within their footprints, which makes a lot of sense in terms of travel costs, in terms of rivalries."
  • Aresco reiterated that he sees the American's relationship with BYU as a "quasi-alliance." The Cougars do not have any physical presence at the league meetings: "Nothing formal, but we call it kind of a quasi-alliance. It's a strong relationship where a number of our schools are playing BYU over the next four or five years. We have three games with them this year, three more next year. Going forward we're trying to schedule more with them. I have a strong relationship with [BYU athletic director] Tom Holmoe."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- No. 9 Louisville easily handled Ohio 49-7 on Sunday afternoon. Here is a quick look at how the Cards won:

It was over when: Teddy Bridgewater threw his first touchdown pass. At least it felt that way. Bridgewater was absolutely terrific from the moment the game started, opening 9-of-9 for 122 yards and two touchdowns. There is a reason NFL scouts filled the Louisville press box on Sunday.

Gameball goes to: Bridgewater. The Heisman hopeful threw four first-half touchdown passes, the most in a half for the Cards since Dave Ragone threw four in the first half against East Carolina in 2002. Bridgewater ended his day going 23-of-28 for 355 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in just three quarters.

Unsung heroes: Kai De La Cruz and Damian Copeland. The Cardinals have the best group of receivers in the American, and one of the most talented in the country. They are deep, too. You saw that against Ohio as each player caught two touchdown passes. Copeland ended with 98 yards, and De La Cruz registered the first 100-yard game of his career.

What it means: Louisville opened its quest to compete for a BCS championship without much trouble. While it is easy to dismiss Ohio as a team from the MAC, we also saw many FCS upsets over the weekend -- including one ranked team going down. Just about everybody expected to see a stellar performance from Bridgewater, who had both college and NFL experts drooling all over Twitter. Perhaps the best part of the game from a Cards perspective was seeing the way the defense played. This was a group that was sometimes lackadaisical last season and oftentimes did not exert its will up front. But we saw this group come on strong in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Florida, and that tenacity continued against the Bobcats. Ohio came in with a good dual-threat quarterback in Tyler Tettleton, but he was completely shut down and the Bobcats could get nothing going all day. Penalties were a problem for Louisville, but those are mistakes that can get cleaned up. When you couple a strong defense with talent at quarterback, running back and receiver, you have the makings of a very special season.

Video: Ohio at Louisville preview

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
2:43
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Andrea Adelson previews the matchup between No. 9 Louisville and Ohio.

UCF team preview

August, 13, 2013
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10:30
AM ET
Today we're looking at the University of Central Florida as the Knights look to improve on their bowl win last season.

Coach: George O’Leary (112-88 career, 60-55 at UCF)

2012 record: 10-4

Key losses: RB Latavius Murray, DB Kemal Ishmael

[+] EnlargeJamie Collings, Blake Bortles
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Blake Bortles leads an experienced offense in The American Athletic Conference's inaugural season.
Key returnees: QB Blake Bortles, S Clayton Geathers, LB Terrance Plummer

Newcomer to watch: WR Breshad Perriman

Biggest games in 2013: at Penn State (Sept. 14), South Carolina (Sept. 28)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Knights have one of the strongest nonconference slates in the American Athletic, playing Penn State and South Carolina in September. Needing to replace seven of their top 10 tacklers from last season, a challenging schedule early in the season could be too much for Central Florida by the time it gets to its conference opponents. The Knights will lean on Geathers, Plummer and cornerback Brandon Alexander on a young defense that led Conference USA in scoring defense and pass defense last year.

Forecast: In its first year in the American Athletic, Central Florida will have the benefit of an experienced offense. Bortles was named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, which goes to the nation’s most outstanding player. Passing for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, Bortles will have his two top receivers from last year in J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall. Though last year’s leading-rusher Latavius Murray is with the Oakland Raiders now, junior Storm Johnson had 507 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season, expect to step into the No. 1 running back role this year.

Winning its appeal of the NCAA’s one-year postseason ban, UCF will be eligible for the postseason in its inaugural American Athletic season. The Knights were originally issued the ban as part of sanctions levied last July for recruiting violations in football and basketball. “I was very happy that we got the ban rescinded,” O’Leary said. “I always laugh with Coach O'Brien at Penn State; I blamed him, because our case came up right after the Penn State case. I still think the NCAA had their guns blazing at that time.”

The Knights’ difficult nonconference slate will be telling for when UCF plays AAC-favorite Louisville on the road. Picked to finish fourth in the American Athletic in the preseason media poll, the Knights have the benefit of playing South Carolina, Rutgers, UConn and South Florida at home. O’Leary hopes UCF’s nonconference schedule will help to bolster the new league’s profile.

“I think the key thing with this conference is not the conference playing themselves but the nonconference games,” O’Leary said. “You've got to get your share of wins there if you're going to take notice. That's how I look at it.”

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