The American Athletic Conference. While they are not a power conference, this does not mean the AAC is a conference void of talent. Temple University, the University of Houston, and the University of Memphis have all produced NFL talent over the past few years. Other schools, such as the University of Cincinnati, the Naval Academy, and the University of South Florida have also seen their recent share of good athletes. Last year saw a potential juggernaut, in the form of the University of Houston, brought crashing back to Earth with a disappointing 9-4 season. We also saw an unlikely matchup in the championship game between Navy and the eventual winner Temple.
In 2017, we see a new favorite emerging to take the crown, with a number of new coaches littering the AAC landscape, all of whom will be looking to make their mark on the conference.
Let us get right to it with my take on the American Athletic Conference.
University of South Florida Bulls (USF) – The Bulls won 11 games in 2016, but it was not enough to capture the AAC East Division title. A big change for South Florida this year is on the sidelines with former Texas and Louisville Coach Charlie Strong now in charge. Perhaps more importantly to USF is that Quinton Flowers returns at Quarterback to lead the offense, both throwing and running. Benefitting from a forgiving schedule, the Bulls play Temple, Cincinnati, Houston, and the University of Tulsa all at home. I find it hard to believe that South Florida, which returns most of its offense and almost its entire defense, will not be in contention for the AAC crown when it is all said and done.
University of Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (TU) – When you win 10 games yet do not win your division in a season, it makes your drive even stronger to win it next year. That is the case for Tulsa. While the Golden Hurricanes will sport a new Quarterback, the offense has a star in the making in the form of Running Back D’Angelo Brewer. Brewer is already a candidate for the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation’s best Running Back. Coach Phillip Montgomery may be one of the hottest coaches going by the time the coaching carousel begins to turn in December, as his short tenure in Tulsa has already exceeded nearly every expectation. Tulsa has the advantage at home against Houston and Memphis, but these home games are balanced out by difficult road games against South Florida and Southern Methodist University. Look for the Golden Hurricanes to compete strongly in the AAC West division, and make a serious run at the AAC Championship.
University of Memphis Tigers (Mem) – Two years ago, Paxton Lynch turned heads by leading Memphis to a 9-4 season, setting five school records in the process. Now in the NFL, Lynch’s departure left a void in the Tiger offense that seemed almost impossible to fill. In 2017, the Tiger Quarterback to potentially fill that void is a 6’4 Junior, Riley Ferguson, who is coming off a 32 touchdown, nearly 3700-yard season in 2016. Almost every offensive starter returns for 2017 from a team that scored 51 points in its bowl game and over 40 six times in the 2016 season. While being forced to play on the road against Tulsa, Houston, and the University of Central Florida will make the journey difficult, it might not matter in the end for Memphis. With their explosive offense becoming perhaps the most exciting thing to watch in the conference I see the Tigers making a good run at an AAC West division title.
University of Houston Cougars (UH) – In two years with Tom Herman, the Cougars won 22 games, by far the most of any recent Houston Cougars team over a two-year span. New coach Major Applewhite, with perhaps the best name of any coach in the state of Texas (and that is quite the accomplishment), has a tall task in trying to fill the shoes left by Herman after his departure to the Texas Longhorns. That being said, there is a good amount of talent returning from last year’s team, including Defensive Tackle Ed Oliver, who is already being considered for multiple national defensive awards. What will be interesting is how the Cougars do with Quarterback Kyle Allen, who was required to sit out last season following his transfer from Texas A&M. Unfortunately for Houston, I do not see things going as swimmingly as they did under former Coach Tom Herman. While it is wrong to say it will be a disaster of a season, having to travel to South Florida, Tulsa, and Temple will not make for an enjoyable experience during Head Coach Major Applewhite’s first year in charge. In general, I do not see this season being anything other than a small bump in the road for what has quickly become a strong AAC program. I look forward to seeing what Coach Applewhite can do over the coming seasons.
University of Cincinnati Bearcats (UC) – The Tommy Tuberville Era is dead in Cincinnati. The former coach failed to meet nearly every expectation that was placed before him, and it subsequently cost him his job. Enter Luke Fickell as the new Head Coach of the Bearcats, after a successful run as the Defensive Coordinator at Ohio State for many years, including a year as the interim Head Coach between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. Fickell has his work cut out for him, but with the prestige of coming from Ohio State without having to leave the state of Ohio, do not underestimate the Bearcats moving forward. Now, 2017 will not be a quantum leap forward from the 4-8 record a year ago under Tuberville, but Fickell has already changed the culture in just a few short months as head coach of UC. His intensity and attitude already have Bearcat fans buzzing around Cincinnati about the prospects of UC Football looking into the future. If the offense can come together under Quarterback Hayden Moore, Running Back Tion Green, and Receiver Devin Gray, then the 2017 campaign could be a surprising one for Cincinnati. If nothing else, this could be the start of a good run for the Bearcats.
The AAC is a conference that could see yet another first time champion in 2017. The favorite, South Florida, along with our contenders, Memphis, and Tulsa have never won the AAC, and each of them have a strong enough team to do just that in 2017. Among the other nine teams, it may be a wide-open competition to see who is the best of the rest, with the defending champion Temple, our sleeper pick Cincinnati, and even Houston all boasting teams with some firepower.
Look for an interesting season in the American Athletic Conference, with the champion being revealed at Midnight on Sunday, August 6, only on http://www.tedtalksports.com !