It’s time for the annual post highlights how the Mountain West Conference compares to the American Athletic Conference in a variety of important categories. Over the past two years, the AAC had the advantage overall, although it was a closer race last year when we reviewed 2018. Which one was the top Group of 5 conference in 2019? Read below to find out.
Head to Head
The Mountain West and American don’t have many opportunities to play each other from season to season. However, one conference made the most of their chances during the 2019 season. The two conferences played one another three times, all during the regular season. The AAC came away 3-0, mostly thanks to Tulsa. They beat San Jose State 34-16 and Wyoming 24-21. Then, Navy beat Air Force in a 34-25 content. After the MWC went 3-0 in 2018, the AAC returns the favor. This one is American all the way.
Top Teams Winning Percentage
This one is interesting. Memphis was the best team between the two conferences, but both conferences were pretty good looking at the top three teams.
The top five teams for the American all eclipsed the ten-win total. The top three were Memphis (12-2), Navy (11-2), and Cincinnati (11-3). Conversely, the Mountain West had four teams clear the 10-win mark. Boise State led the way with 12-2, then Air Force 11-2, and San Diego State at 10-3. The average winning percentage for the AAC teams mentioned above is 82.93%, while the MWC top three have an 82.5% winning percentage. In a year with both conferences having good seasons from good teams, the American beats out the Mountain West by the thinnest of margins.
Record Against Power 5 Schools
This one is pretty interesting. They play about the same number of games against Power 5 teams (20 for MWC, 19 for AAC, including bowl games). This year, the MWC tied with the SEC for most wins against P5 teams, going 9-11, good for a 45.% winning percentage. The AAC did fair as well, finishing 6-13 against P5 teams, which resulted in a 31.58% winning percentage. This one isn’t close at all and is a big win for the Mountain West.
Number of bowl teams/bowl victories
Both conferences had seven teams competing in bowl games last season. Both conferences had four teams earn wins, and three teams earn losses. This category could be declared a tie, or we could look at the quality of the respective wins and losses. The AAC beat Marshall, Kansas State, Boston College, and Southern Miss while losing to FAU, North Carolina, and Penn State. They won the games they should, had a “good loss” and two bad losses. The MWC was victorious over Central Michigan, BYU, Washington State, and Georgia State. Their losses were to Washington, Kent State, and Ohio. The conference won the games they should, but all three losses were terrible. This one barely goes to the American.
This one is pretty straightforward.
Memphis represented the Group of 5 in the New Year’s 6 in a year, where no G5 team had an undefeated season. Team Chaos was all over the place, but Memphis beating Cincinnati (who was also ranked) twice proved they deserved the change. Boise State was in the driver’s seat mid-season until they lost to BYU. Although this outcome didn’t happen, the fact that the committee would have been willing to put a two-loss Cincinnati in the NY6 if they beat Memphis in the conference championship over a one-loss Boise State demonstrates that the AAC is viewed as the stronger conference in national eyes. Even though Memphis lost in the bowl game, it’s still the AAC hands down.
It’s hard to know how exactly to decide on this category. Top team? Average of the top few teams? Average of each conference? Let’s go best two out of three in these categories, using 247 composite rankings for each one.
Boise State led the conference once again, securing the 63rd best class in this past recruiting cycle, finishing well behind Cincinnati’s 40th ranked class (breaking the Bronco’s 2019 record for best G5 class ever).
Looking at the top three from each conference, we have Cincinnati at 40, Memphis at 64, and Tulane at 68 as the top trio in the American for an average of 57.33. Comparing that with the Mountain West, there is Boise State at 63, UNLV at 79, and San Diego State at 91, good for an average of 106.67.
Taking the MWC 12 team average, it comes out to 95.17. Likewise, the conference average for the AAC is 76.67. There are other ways to evaluate recruiting classes, but the way it was laid out here, the American had a MUCH better year in recruiting as a whole.
The NFL draft demonstrates the star power of each conference as the top players get selected to go on to the next level. Last year was a neck and neck race. On the other hand, the 2020 NFL draft was not. The American produced 17 draft picks while the Mountain West only managed 10. Easy call for the AAC here.
Although many of these coaches aren’t with their 2019 teams anymore, last year’s names and figures are what is being compared with the help of USA Today. In the Mountain West conference, the top coach, Craig Bohl, made $2.137 million during the 2019 season, the only MWC coach over $2 million. Three other coaches topped $1 million annually, but the seven listed did not (Air Force does not list their figures). As a whole, the salaries of the 11 coaches come out to about $1.11 million.
The top AAC coach is Charlie Strong of USF, who checks in at a whopping $5 million, making him the 16th highest paid head coach in college football. Of the ten schools reported (Temple and Navy could not be found), six coaches making over $2 million and all ten are over $1 million (the lowest is $1.425 million), coming out to a ten school average of $2.46 million.
I’m no numbers guy, but the AAC numbers are higher than the MWC ones. While quite a few coaches got raises in the MWC over the winter, and there are now six new coaches in the conference, the money is flowing over in the American, so the AAC gets the category for this year regardless.
TV Contract Money/Exposure
The current AAC contract (almost $7 million per team) became the benchmark for Group of 5 media deals when they announced their new deal a year before the Mountain West.
The Mountain West media deal is $270 million total, which comes out to about $4 million for the ten teams under normal circumstances (not Hawaii or Boise State), a huge upgrade from the $1.1 million in the past deal.
However, more goes into the contract than just money, even though money is the bottom line, as this article explains a bit. The AAC took more money ($1 billion) for less exposure (most appearing on ESPN+). On the other hand, the MWC secured a smaller deal financially and traded being the late game on ESPN for potentially better time slots with Fox, as well as sticking with CBS Sports for their secondary game package. Another big difference is the length of the contract. The American is locked in for 12 years while the Mountain West decided to go for a short-term deal (6 years), citing the ever-changing media landscape and opted for flexibility in light of that.
Overall, money talks, and the American is getting more of it, even if only looking at the next six years. However, this category is closer than it appears as the MWC got a big boost and is potentially set up well for the future. A slight nod to the AAC.
Another year, another discussion about the American Athletic Conference topping the Mountain West Conference with a final total of 8 to 1 in the categories we determined as most important, although three of those eight are pretty even. Even so, it is clear the gap is growing between the two conferences each year these categories are compared. The MWC had a great year by all accounts, especially in wins by top teams, P5 wins, bowl eligibility, and bowl wins. Plus, they did well with their new media deal. However, they are still lagging behind the American in cash flow, money for coaches, recruiting, and in perhaps the most crucial category, New Year’s Six appearances (which lead to more national exposure, public perception, and more money for the conference). Will the Mountain West be able to turn it around next season or should we officially be including the American Athletic Conference in the Power 6?