Despite some marquee victories, the American Athletic Conference could not bridge the gulf separating it from the Power Five conferences at the end of last season.

Houston coach Tom Herman, who made headlines in two attention-grabbing years, left for his dream job at Texas. South Florida’s Willy Taggart, who guided the Bulls to a double-digit win total for the first time in program history, departed for Oregon. Perhaps most painfully, Temple’s Matt Rhule, fresh off a rare conference championship, headed to scandal-plagued Baylor instead of staying in Philadelphia.

The cold reality is the AAC never will be able to compete financially with the big-money conferences. The league’s task is validating Mike Aresco’s oft-stated tenet that the AAC is closer to the Power Five leagues than the other Group of Six conferences (Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American, Sun Belt) are to the AAC.

Look for Aresco to repeat that line at the Summer Kickoff and Media Days, which start Monday and end Tuesday in Newport, Rhode Island. Then wait to see if the AAC has found equally good coaches to replace the ones who left.

Houston and Herman provided three signature moments for the AAC in the past two years, beating FSU in the Peach Bowl in 2015, upsetting third-ranked Oklahoma last September and clobbering fifth-ranked Louisville in November.

Temple and Rhule beat Penn State in 2015, almost stunned No. 9 Notre Dame that same year and won the AAC championship game last season.

South Florida was the league’s only top 25 team at the end of 2016, finishing 19th in the Associated Press poll after beating South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

Throw in Memphis, which shocked No. 13 Ole Miss in 2015 before coach Justin Fuente bolted for Virginia Tech, and the talent drain at

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