It’s safe to say that the American Athletic Conference has established itself as the best of the “Group of 5.” Over the last two seasons, the conference has showed it’s best can compete with the best of the “Power 5” teams.
In 2015 there plenty to go around. Temple knocked off Penn State, Cincinnati beat Miami (FL), East Carolina upset Virginia Tech, Memphis stunned Ole Miss and Houston won at Louisville and defeated Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Plenty more followed last year, including Houston over Oklahoma, Navy over Notre Dame, and ECU over NC State.
The conference has made it clear they want the Group of 5 changed to the group of 6. While it’s unlikely to happen in the near future, you can’t argue with the results. The talent on the field also can’t be ignored. Last year the AAC had more players drafted than the Big 12.
American Athletic College Football Preview & Predictions
Last season the American Athletic had high hopes for Houston making the playoffs. The Cougars were on the right track after a 5-0 start (ranked as high as No. 6), but they finished a mere 9-4.
The team that ended the year on top was Temple, who defeated Navy 34-10 in the title game. The Owls were on of three teams to record a 10-win season. Accomplished also by Tulsa (10-3) and USF (11-2).
New Head Coaches
|Name (School)||Previous Job||HC Exp (Record)|
|Charlie Strong (USF)||HC at Texas||7 yrs (53-37)|
|Geoff Collins (Temple)||DC at Florida||None|
|Luke Fickell (Cincinnati)||DC at Ohio State||1 yrs (6-7)*|
|Major Applewhite (Houston)||OC at Houston||None|
|Randy Edsall (Connecticut)||HC at Maryland||16 years (92-97)**|
- *Fickell was Interim HC at Ohio State in 2011
- **Edsall previously coached at UConn 1999-2010
One of the reasons the AAC has had so much success is the talent they are landing at head coach. Just look at some of the big hires this past offseason. Houston’s Tom Herman was hired at Texas. Willie Taggart parlayed his success at USF to a job at Oregon. Lastly, Temple’s Matt Rhule landed with Baylor.
There were five vacancies and it’s hard to get upset with any of the hires. The Bulls gladly welcomed Charlie Strong from Texas. He’s so much better than what he showed with the Longhorns. Temple’s Geoff Collins and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell are both rising stars. There’s a ton of potential with Major Applewhite in Houston and Randy Edsall has had previous success at UConn.
Keep in mind there are 6 other coaches in the league with 2 or fewer years with their respective teams. The only exception is Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo. This will be his 10th go of things with the Midshipmen.
Below is a complete breakdown of the American Athletic Conference for 2017. You will find my projections on where each team finishes in the standings. As well as numerous betting odds for some of the top players and programs in the ACC.
Do I think a team in the ACC has what it takes to make the playoff? Find out by taking a look at my college football predictions. Now is also a great time to check out the win totals for each team. You can also get a jump start on early games, as opening week lines have already been released.
2017 AAC Projected Standings, Rankings & Betting Odds
Most are going to write off Houston after losing head coach Tom Herman and starting QB Greg Ward. That would be a mistake. The Cougars are going to be just as dynamic offensively under Applewhite. They are also well equipped to replace Ward with Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen. Allen was a 5-star recruit and rated by several as the top QB prospect in his class out of high school.
Allen was with the team last year and knows the offense. With 8 other starters back on the offensive side of the ball, Houston’s offense could put up even better numbers. Add that with the 7 starters back on what should be the AAC’s best defense and you have a team that could run the table.
If Houston were to stumble, my next favorite team in the West is Memphis. The Tigers also bring back a ton of experience with 16 starters. That includes 9 on what could end up being the AAC’s most productive offense. Keep in mind this is now year two under Mike Norvell and he guided them to 8-wins after losing a No. 1 draft choice at QB in Paxton Lynch.
You might think Tulsa or Navy would be next on my list, but I’m going with my big sleeper team in SMU. I couldn’t have been more impressed with what Chad Morris was able to get out of this team. The Mustangs went 5-7 after losing their starting QB in the opener. That included a win over Houston. They got 9 starters back on offense and I see them scoring close to 35.0 ppg.
Last year Tulsa had a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers. Only one of those are back and that’s backup running back D’Angelo Brewer. They also lost 3 of their top 4 tacklers. As much as I like head coach Philip Montgomery, the deck is stacked against him this year.
Similar story with Navy. The Midshipmen will have their least experienced starting QB to open a season since 2012. It takes time to master the triple-option offense. Combine that with a tough schedule and I think they disappoint. With that said, I wouldn’t be shocked if they proved me wrong.
Last but not least is Tulane, who is a team I think will cause some major problems. The Green Wave may have only won 4 games last year, but that was in the first year under head coach Willie Fritz, who installed all new schemes on both sides. Fritz has a track record of winning and with 16 starters back, Tulane should be greatly improved.
If a team out of the ACC were to make a run at a playoff spot, most would give USF the best shot. In fact, the Bulls are the only team with odds even listed to make the playoffs (see below). As previously mentioned, South Florida will be changing head coaches.
That’s always a concern, but I got a lot of confidence in Strong stepping in and keeping this team on track. The Bulls return 16 starters from a team that finished ranked No. 19 in both the AP and Coaches Poll. That includes a legit Heisman candidate in senior QB Quinton Flowers. A player who put up very similar numbers to that of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
Strong has made it clear he wants to run a similar up-tempo offense that fits Flowers’ strengths. New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert has quite a track record of putting up big numbers. If the defense can improve on it’s 31.6 ppg allowed (9 starters back), look out. The only concern here is whether the team can handle the hype. Something a lot easier said than done.
As you can see, I don’t see a legit threat to the Bulls in the East. Temple, who has won the last two division titles, figures to suffer a setback. While I like the hire of Collins, the Owls have just 10 starters back and will be one of the least experienced teams in the country. I got Temple going just 3-5 in league play.
My biggest threats to USF are UCF and Cincinnati. The Knights should be greatly improved in year two under Scott Frost. Keep in mind he took over a team that went 0-12 and guided them to a bowl game in year one. If McKenzie Milton matures into the player he believes he can be as a sophomore, this team will be tough to beat.
The Bearcats were one of the huge disappointments last year. Cincinnati went 1-7 in AAC play and some had them winning the division. I love the addition of Fickell, who will bleed new life into the program. That combined with a favorable schedule and the Bearcats should be back in a bowl game.
Clearly I’m not high on either UConn or East Carolina, but there’s reason for both to be optimistic. Edsall had a winning record (70-63) in his 11 years with Huskies. The offense can’t be any worse (14.8 ppg last year) and will be moving to more of a no-huddle attack. The big questions is whether they have the skill players to score enough to compete with the top level teams in the league.
East Carolina was more competitive than their 3-9 record would suggest. Things should be better in the second year under Scottie Montgomery. They can’t be any worse on defense, which gave up 36.1 ppg and 453 ypg. They will be switching to a 4-2-5 scheme and if that works, this team could easily escape the basement of the East.
AAC Championship Game Prediction: USF defeats Houston
|Players (Pos, School)||Odds|
|Quinton Flowers (QB, USF)||+5200|
|Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)||+17500|
|Courtland Sutton (WR, SMU)||+20000|
Find out where these odds rank against the other top players in the country in our Heisman odds section.
To find out South Florida’s odds to win it all click on the link.