Continuing with my 2013 College Football Preview, here is my preview for the American Athletic Conference, a weird conglomeration of what remains from the old Big East and some additions from Conference USA. In sum, this is not a very good conference, but it is home to some solid teams (two of them–Louisville and Rutgers–will be off to the ACC and Big Ten respectively after this season) and the conference does have some depth. Here is a ranking and team-by-team look at the AAC for 2013 (as always, tell me where I’m right and where I’m wrong in the comments!):
1. Louisville (No.10 in the country)
How perfect was the ending to last season for Louisville? The Cardinals roared by third ranked Florida with QB Teddy Bridgewater passing the ball all over the Gators’ vaunted defense in the Sugar Bowl. And that, my friends, is how you should end a season if you want to get respect going into the next one. With a deep and talented group of receivers, the strong armed Bridgewater at QB, and ballhawking dudes like Terell Floyd roaming their defensive backfield, the Cardinals will unquestionably be the team to beat in the AAC this year.
The Bearcats are the type of team that seems to exceed expectations every season (well…except for that 2010 team). This year they have a new coach in Tommy Tuberville (not a bad deal), and also a lot coming back on the offensive side of the ball, including two serviceable QBs. They should score a lot. Defensively, they won’t be bad either, and they’ll feature an excellent group of linebackers. The Bearcats should be pretty good on both sides of the ball and they are set up to play a pretty soft schedule, so they could certainly break the top 25 at some point. I’m looking for a strong first season for Tuberville at UC.
While it ended with three straight losses, the Scarlet Knights’ 2012 season has to be considered a success. Thanks to one of the toughest defenses in the nation, Rutgers roared out to a 7-0 start which launched them to 15th in the polls before coming back to earth down the stretch. With solid (if not spectacular) signal caller Gary Nova returning as well as big receiver Brandon Coleman, there are signs that Rutgers should be good again this season. The bad news for Rutgers, however, is that many of the key players who made the defense so good last season are gone, including tackle machine Khaseem Green. Rutgers will still be solid, but expect them to take a small step back before heading off to the Big Ten.
In their first season in the AAC, I think the Knights will be more than competitive. They have one of the more underrated QBs in the nation in Blake Bortles and they should be solid in the trenches. The only thing about them that scares me is that they have been doing this on-off thing where they have a good season and then a bad season for the past few years, and they had a good one last year. Makes me nervous with this pick…but that’s crazy talk; the Knights will be good.
The Huskies were a decent, possibly even good, team at times last season (they beat Louisville, Maryland pre-all their QBs getting injured, and Pitt) and a really atrocious one at others (they lost to USF, Syracuse by 30 and, early in the season, they lost–remarkably–to Western Michigan). The good news for UConn is that a majority of their key cogs return this season and they won’t play Western Michigan. The bad news is that they still lack explosive players offensively and they’re set to play tough games early in the season against Maryland and Michigan.
The Mustangs ended last season with a bang, beating Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl by a final tally of 43-10. SMU did have some other very nice performances last year, including a 72 point offensive outpouring against Houston and a win over a good Tulsa team. Not bad for a team that also lost to Tulane (yeah…Tulane) in the same season. With a good share of their better players coming back this year, SMU will try to take a step forward in their first season in the AAC.
It seems that the Bulls made a good choice in hiring Willie Taggert to coach their team after he did a phenomenal job the past few years at Western Kentucky. Sadly, Taggert does not exactly inherit a team that is rich with talent. Last season, the Bulls didn’t really stop anyone (well, except for UConn) and they didn’t score much either. This year, their D-line should be decent and they do boast some good receivers, but getting to a bowl will be tough for the Bulls.
They won’t stop anyone. And I mean anyone. The Cougars were terrible defensively last season (they let up almost 500 yards per game) and they lost a lot on that side of the ball in the off-season (maybe a good thing?), but they will score, A LOT, even without speedster running back Charles Simms, thanks to a ridiculously talented group of receivers and a good O-line. Still, they won’t win games unless they can find a way to quell their ghastly defensive problems.
For the Owls, everything will be new. New coaching new staff, new QB (the old one, Chris Coyer, is moving positions), and, for the most part, new guys at running back. The Owls shouldn’t be terrible defensively, but this will definitely be a transitional year for Temple football.
The Tigers are improving, having won more games in each successive year going back to 2010. I’m not so sure that the win trend will continue this season, however, as Memphis moves into a better conference. Even if the Tigers do struggle, quarterback Jacob Karam will be fun to watch. And cheer up Tiger fans, there is always basketball!