Does AAC stand for “American Access-bowl Conference”?

That was a good Tuesday for Navy Football.

ICYMI, the College Football Playoff Committee released the first set of rankings, which included American Athletic Conference members Memphis at #13, Temple at #22 and Houston at #25. With the only other “Group of Five” team in the rankings being then-undefeated Toledo at #24, a very clear path is drawn up for the AAC champion to be the highest ranked G5 champion and get the resultant Peach / Fiesta Bowl bid.

How clear a path? Well, one-loss Temple being AHEAD of then-undefeated Toledo says a lot about the committee’s opinion of the American’s overall strength. That the American championship contenders will strengthen their resumes by playing each other in coming weeks — the West Division round robin and Memphis-Temple — tells me that any zero- or one-loss American champ gets the Access Bowl bid over the only other visible contender.

And then Toledo lost to Northern Illinois Tuesday night, 32-27.

Who is left to challenge the American champ for the G5 Access Bowl slot? A quick look around the conferences doesn’t reveal any contenders and their records:

MAC-  That loss put Toledo behind the AAC contenders, but also behind WMU in the MAC West and tied with NIU and CMU. WMU, NIU, and CMU all have three or four losses. Also involved in several end-of-season matchups is East leader Bowling Green – wins against Purdue and Maryland look good (but not as good as several of the AAC’s P5 wins), and one of the 2 losses is to Memphis.

MWC – Boise State is, of course, the usual suspect, but isn’t even in the driver’s seat to win the Mountain Division. Utah State is, but has three losses, just like Air Force and West Division Leader San Diego State. In a composite of 112 rankings they are all behind Memphis, Houston, Temple, and Navy.

C-USA – This time last year, Marshall was undefeated and in this conversation; this year, there is little to no talk about a Rakeem Cato-less, one-loss Thundering Herd. Looking again at Massey’s Ranking Composite, the Herd is behind not only AAC’s top 5 (add Cincinnati) but their division rival Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have two losses and both will be hard pressed to overtake the AAC teams. Their 27 November matchup might become must-see TV however.

SBC – Interestingly enough, the potential wildcard here is 7-1 Appalachian State, lurking just behind the AAC’s top four, Toledo and Bowling Green, and Boise State in composite rankings. However, it is an incredibly steep climb for them to make up ground on the AAC teams. Arkansas State is the third and final team with a pulse on their whole schedule (having beaten Georgia Southern and gotten predictably shellacked by Clemson). They will be hard-pressed to build a resume to match even a two-loss AAC champ.

On that note, I will go so far as to say that even a two-loss AAC champion could still take the Access Bowl bid.

Why is that good for Navy? Well, an American rep to the Peach / Fiesta gets the conference $4 million not already in the budget. While G5 conference payouts from the College Football Playoff are not wholly transparent, some portion is distributed on the basis of the conferences’ relative rankings. In short, an access bowl plus being the strongest conference in the CFP rankings (rather than third last year) is probably worth roughly a half a million dollars to Navy.

That’s a half a million for having a conference-mate go to a New Year’s 6 Bowl. Without knowing the American’s distribution details, the attendee should get at least New Year’s expenses covered — Navy is still in contention for the AAC championship, and would likely get the NY6 Bowl bid winning that crown with one or two losses. Maybe we should talk about that after the Memphis game.

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