The American Athletic Conference (AAC) has solidified itself as the best of the Group of 5 conferences. In 2017 the AAC had 3 different teams (UCF, Memphis, Houston) post double-digit win seasons and finish the year ranked in the Top 25. No other Group of 5 conference had more than one team ranked at the end of the year. Last season two more teams (UCF, Cincinnati) accomplished the feat.
UCF was without a doubt been the cream of the crop in the AAC. The Knights posted a perfect record at 14-0 record in 2017, knocking off Memphis in the AAC Title game and stunning Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl. A lot of people, including myself thought they were destined to take a step back after head coach Scott Frost left for Nebraska, but UCF once again ran the table in the regular-season and won the ACC title game. They did however, lose in their bowl game to LSU.
Getting a team in a New Year’s Six bowl in back-to-back years is quite an accomplishment, but you have to wonder if there’s a path for a Group of 5 team to make the current 4-team playoff. It seems the only way they would have a shot at playing for a national championship, is if the playoff field expanded to more teams.
American Athletic College Football Preview & Predictions
One of the biggest challenges facing the American Athletic Conference is keeping their top notch head coaches around. The conference has done a fantastic job of hiring bright young coordinators to take over their programs, but those that have success are quickly scooped up by the Power 5 programs. Who can blame the coaches for leaving when there’s no realistic shot of their team making the playoffs. Not to mention the bigger pay days at the bigger schools.
Given what I just said, this year had a rare occurrence with Dana Holgorsen leaving a Power 5 program (West Virginia) to take over at Houston, who fired Major Applewhite. The other new head coaches are Rod Carey at Temple and Mike Houston at East Carolina. Carey comes over from Northern Illinois and got the job after they hired Manny Diaz (went back to Miami after Mark Richt retired). Houston is making the jump from FCS powerhouse James Madison, where he won a National Championship in his short 3-year stint.
There are only two coaches in the conference that have been with there team for more than 3 seasons. That being Philip Montgomery at Tulsa (4 years) and Ken Niumatalolo at Navy (12 years). UConn head coach Randy Edsall has coached at UConn for 13 years, but he’s just in year three of his second stint with the program.
Not only have I studied the coaching staffs of the 12 teams that make up the AAC, but I’ve also broken down who each team has lost from last year and who they have coming back, as well as each team’s schedule.
I’ve put that information to use and put together my projected standings for each team in the AAC, both in terms of their conference record and overall marks.
Want to know who I have making the playoffs this year? Find out by taking a look at my college football predictions. Now is also a great time to bet the 2019 win totals. You can also get a jump start on early games, as opening week lines have already been released.
2019 AAC Projected Standings, Rankings & Betting Odds
I think most would agree that the West is going to be a 2-way race between Houston and Memphis. There’s a lot to like with both teams, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Memphis returns junior quarterback Brady White, who threw for more than 3,000 yards with a 26-9 TD-INT ratio in hist first season with the Tigers (Arizona State transfer). The loss of star running back Darrell Henderson will hurt, but Memphis does also bring back Patrick Taylor, who rushed for 1,122 yards and 16 TDs. In total 14 starters are back, but the Tigers will have two new coordinators.
Houston only has 12 starters back, but return the electric senior signal caller D’Eriq King, who threw for 36 touchdowns and rushed for 14 more. King is the only AAC player going into the season with odds to win the Heisman trophy. Factor in how good Holgorsen has been with QB’s and this could be a real special season, as there’s a ton of skill players around him.
As you can see, I got both teams finishing with the same record. I do however, give the edge to Houston, as I have them beating Memphis at home in November to own the tie breaker. With non-conference games at Oklahoma and on a neutral site against Washington State, it’s unlikely the Cougars will reach double-digit wins.
SMU and Tulane are two teams that could play spoiler and shock everyone by winning the division. While SMU only won 5 games, they had to play TCU and Michigan in non-conference and drew both UCF and Cincinnati out of the East. This year the schedule is a lot more manageable and they have 16 starters coming back, which doesn’t include Texas transfer at quarterback Shane Buechele.
As for the Green Wave, Willie Fritz has done a remarkable job turning this program around. They got 13 starters back from a team that won 7 -games, including their first bowl win since 2002.
It wasn’t that long ago that Navy was a serious contender in this division and with how much turnover the program has year-to-year, they have to be considered a wild-card in 2019. I just think with the depth the conference now has, as well as teams now having a better understanding of their unique option attack, it will be hard for them to be a serious threat with only 8 starters back.
Picking Tulsa last wasn’t easy and while I have them finishing just 1-7 in the conference and 3-9 overall, a lot of that is more a result of their schedule. There’s definitely a lot more talent there than a 3-win team. The problem is three of their four AAC home games are against Memphis, UCF and Houston. They also have to play both Michigan State and Oklahoma State early in the year.
While UCF has posted a perfect 18-0 record (2-0 title game) against AAC foes the last two years, they are far from a lock to win the East division in 2019. In fact, I’m going to give the edge in the division to Cincinnati, who I have winning the head-to-head matchup at home to own the tiebreaker.
I’m not sure why people are sleeping on the Bearcats (win total is only 6.5), as they are coming off a 11-2 season. That was with freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder in charge. Ridder is no longer an unknown commodity. He’s one of the AAC’s best at the position. Cincinnati also has one of the best running back groups in the conference and you know the defense is going to be good under head coach Luke Fickell (former DC for Ohio State).
Not to say UCF head coach Josh Heupel isn’t the real deal, I just wonder how much of last year’s success was a result of having all those player that Scott Frost brought in. Now two years removed from Frost and the ultra-gifted McKenzie Milton out because of injuries, we could see UCF take a step back in 2019. I know they brought in Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of him with the Irish.
The schedule is also brutal. After opening with a cupcake game against Florida A&M, they go to FAU, host Stanford and have to travel to Pitt. They also have to play Cincinnati and Temple on the road, while rawing Houston out of the West.
South Florida started out 7-0 last year and then proceeded to end the year on a 6-game losing streak. However, that team overachieved early (were expected to be down in 2018). They got 15 starters back and are now in year 3 under head coach Charlie Strong. They are also bringing in a new OC that likes to play really fast. If the defense improves, this team could win the East.
Temple has really done a remarkable job with who they have hired as a head coach, going from Al Golden (LB coach with Detroit Lions), to Steve Addazio (Boston College), to Matt Rhule (Baylor) to Geoff Collins (Georgia Tech). I think Carey is another guy who is going to win and probably leave for something better. Carry steps into a great situation with 14 returning starters, 7 on each side of the ball.
That leaves East Carolina and Connecticut. While neither of these teams have any shot at winning the division and likely won’t win many games, both should be improved over what they sent out last year. The Pirates believe they found a gem at QB in sophomore to be Holton Ahlers, who started 5 games as a true freshman. He’s one of 14 starters back for ECU. The Huskies have 16 starters back. The problem is they just don’t have the talent to compete with the other teams.
AAC Championship Game Prediction: Cincinnati defeats Houston
2019 AAC Win Totals
|Players (Pos, School)||Odds|
|D’Eriq King (QB, Houston)||+6500|
Find out where these odds rank against the other top players in the country in our Heisman odds section.
Playoff Odds (Win National Championship
To see a full list of the odds to win it all click on the link.