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AAC preview: top non-conference games of '17

As a precursor to next week's American Athletic Conference Summer Kickoff and Media Days, we're spending the next few days previewing various parts of the conference, from schedules to story lines to significant players. Today, we look at the AAC's most critical non-conference games (in terms of how they could affect the league's national profile).

1. Tulsa at Oklahoma State, Sept. 2
Remember how Houston's season-opening beatdown of Oklahoma last year spiked the AAC's street cred (at a time when the Big 12 was considering expansion, no less)? This game could yield a similar result. If momentum can be carried over from December, then the Golden Hurricane -- 55-10 winners against Central Michigan in the Miami Beach Bowl -- have it in bulk supply. Tulsa has to groom a new quarterback, but the rest of the offense is well-stocked.

2. Houston at Arizona, Sept. 9
Another game that could have AAC honchos hoisting that "Power Six" banner more furiously than ever. While the revenue disparity between the Power Five and AAC is enormous, the competitive chasm is narrowing; the conference was a collective 8-14 against Power Five foes last season. Imagine how the AAC brand would be fortified if Tulsa and the Cougars could notch signature wins on consecutive Saturdays.

3. UCLA at Memphis, Sept. 16
Now imagine Tulsa, Houston and Memphis knocking off three Power Five opponents in as many weekends. Again, it would do little to lessen the Power Five-AAC revenue breach, but it very well could help Commissioner Mike Aresco's efforts to get a sweeter TV/broadcast deal.

4. Navy at Notre Dame, Nov. 18
The Fighting Irish once owned this series, winning 43 in a row at one point (1964-2006), but Navy has won four of the last 10 including a 28-27 squeaker in Jacksonville last November. If the Irish are struggling entering this contest, the Midshipmen conceivably could put the final figurative nail in Brian Kelly's coffin.

5. SMU at TCU, Sept. 16
The previously abysmal Mustangs have made gradual progress under third-year coach Chad Morris, but sorely lack a signature non-conference triumph. As astounding as last year's 38-16 thumping of Houston was, a Mustangs upset in Fort Worth would be bigger. SMU hasn't defeated a Power Five team since January 2012 (a Compass Bowl win vs. Pitt).

The next five
6. Temple at Notre Dame, Sept. 2
7. Cincinnati at Michigan, Sept. 9
8. Texas Tech at Houston, Sept. 23
9. Illinois at USF, Sept. 15
10. Army vs. Navy (in Philadelphia), Dec. 9

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