I would point out they are clearly, in our estimation, a power team and one of the great college programs. We're proud that our teams are playing BYU. In the next several years we're going to be playing them quite a bit. —American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco
With teams from his conference potentially playing BYU four times this season, American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco paid the Cougars respect on Tuesday.
He called the Cougars a "power team" at the league's football media day while briefly mentioning the independent team as he was addressing his league's ambitions to push for power conference consideration.
"I would point out they are clearly, in our estimation, a power team and one of the great college programs," Aresco said. "We're proud that our teams are playing BYU. In the next several years we're going to be playing them quite a bit."
BYU currently has eight regular-season games scheduled over the next four years against teams from the AAC, according to fbschedules.com.
That includes three during the 2014 season as the Cougars open the year at AAC member Connecticut on Aug. 29, then host Houston on Sept. 11 in its home opener. BYU then travels to play at Central Florida on Oct. 9.
The Cougars are also contracted to play an AAC team in the Miami Beach Bowl if BYU qualifies.
After discussing the AAC's bowl tie-ins, Aresco said, "You have to beat the best to be the best. If our schools didn't have that as a goal, they wouldn't be in this conference."
Aresco told the Orlando Sentinel the conference doesn't have any active plans to pursue expansion.
"If (BYU) expressed interest in our conference, and they have not done that, we would certainly listen because they're just a superb program," Aresco said. "But I really want to not do is spark any rumors, there's nothing going on. BYU said down the road, they like being independent and we'll see."
Here's a quick look at one issue each of three AAC opponents the Cougars are playing this year are facing as fall camp approaches:
Three-man quarterback battle: First-year UConn coach Bob Diaco has a big decision to make at the quarterback position, as three players — senior Chandler Whitmer and sophomores Casey Cochran and Tim Boyle — are expected to vie for the starting spot in fall camp.
All three started four games last season. Cochran had the best stat line, throwing for 1,293 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 63.4 percent of his passes while starting the final four games of the season.
Whitmer started the first four games for the Huskies, who went 3-9 in 2013, including an 0-9 start. He threw for 896 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. Boyle completed just 44.4 percent of his passes for 621 yards, no touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"We're going to have a starting quarterback, but we're going to have more than one quarterback playing the games," Diaco told the Hartford Courant, saying he expects to name a starter two weeks before the season-opener against BYU.
High expectations in Houston: Last season, the Houston defense led the country in takeaways with 43, intercepting 25 passes and recovering 18 fumbles. That's eight more takeaways than the next-best team. Cougars coach Tony Devine is confident his defense can deliver again, especially since Houston returns 12 defenders with starting experience.
"At times you can say this year the team had the ball bounce a certain way, and next year they didn't. It's the same team and same coaches," Devine told reporters during his press conference.
"We don't feel like that was a fluke last year. Again, we were almost plus two in the turnover margin (per game) with the 43, which I think was by far and away No. 1 in the nation. It's something with nine returning starters on paper, as much experience as we have defensively, we're going to aim to do again this season."
No. 2 after a 12-1 season: Despite coming off a Fiesta Bowl-winning 2013 campaign, Central Florida is not the favorite to win the AAC this season. Cincinnati was picked to finish first in the AAC preseason media poll with 311 points and 17 first-place votes. The Golden Knights are projected to finish second, as they had seven first-place votes and 296 votes.
"You never want to come in second. That just shows we have to go out with a winning attitude and just prove them wrong," UCF defensive back Clayton Geathers told the Orlando Sentinel.
Golden Knights head coach George O'Leary said he counteracts the expectations the program has built by taking the team's 12 games and making them 12 one-game seasons.
"We have one goal on the team, period, and that's to win the conference championship. Every year same goal," O'Leary said in his press conference. "I think when you win the conference championship, that leads to individual honors. I'm not concerned about individual honors, I'm concerned about team. I tell our team that all the time. We're a 'we' team, all right? The 'me' part of it comes when we win."
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @brandonljudd