After a poor 0-4 start to the college football bowl season, the Houston Cougars’ 38-24 win over Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl saved the entire conference. The Cougars, the American Athletic Conference champion, proved that they can play with the best when they went up on the Seminoles 21-3 at halftime and held off a late rally for the victory. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. accounted for 305 total yards, ran for two touchdowns and passed for another to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
The Houston win and Navy’s 44-28 victory over Pittsburgh were the only two bowl successes for the AAC. The conference’s 2-6 bowl record was the worst in the nation. Memphis, which had started the 2015 season 8-0, was handled by the last-place team in the SEC West – Auburn. The Tigers, who lost head coach Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech after the regular season, could never get their offense going in the 31-10 loss. Memphis’s only touchdown came on an interception return.
Temple, which was just a game away from playing in a New Year’s Six bowl, battled Toledo of the MAC for a little over three quarters and then gave up 20 points in the fourth in a 32-17 defeat. The Owls, who won the AAC East Division, finished the season 10-4. Fellow AAC East bowl entrants South Florida, Cincinnati and Connecticut all lost. The Bearcats 42-7 loss to San Diego State in the Hawai’i Bowl was the worst. Tulsa, which put up a furious comeback in the Independence Bowl in Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer’s final game, was the other AAC bowl loser.
Still, the Houston victory takes care of all the talk of the AAC being overhyped and the conference’s struggles during the bowl season. With the 13-1 campaign, an AAC title and the Peach Bowl win, the Cougars will enter the 2016 season ranked highly in the preseason polls. Houston will also likely carry the rest of the conference on its back, which is fine for now. The AAC will once again have to prove itself next season. It will get a chance real early. Houston opens the season with 2015 College Football Playoff qualifier Oklahoma.