Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 7:00 PM
Louisville’s departure to the ACC has created one could turn out to be one of the most exciting conference races in 2014 across the college football landscape. Four different teams can make legitimate claims as possible champs if you dig deeply into the numbers. But, all four of Cincinnati, East Carolina, Central Florida, and Houston have potential negatives that could keep them from going the distance.
We continue our summer series of college football conference previews today with a look at all the contenders and pretenders in the AAC…
American Athletic Conference
2013 Record: 9-4
2013 Rankings: 23 on offense, 9 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Notebook: Cincinnati is the main beneficiary of Louisville leaving the AAC, at least in the eyes of the media. But, we’re more skeptical. They had a ridiculously easy schedule last season…losing to Illinois and South Florida (!), and barely scraping by pathetic Miami of Ohio. They did have a great outing at Louisville late in the season, before no-showing the Belk Bowl against North Carolina. Transfer quarterback Gunner Kiel could be an immediate difference-maker, or he could be rusty and overrated! We’ll see what happens in September vs. Toledo and Ohio State before firming up our opinions about league play.
2013 Record: 10-3 (in Conference USA)
2013 Rankings: 25 on offense, 36 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Ruffin McNeil
Notebook: Shane Carden is back at quarterback, which could give the Pirates a leg up on the upper division given how strong the offense rated last year. The problem will be inexperience on defense. This wasn’t a great unit anyway after you adjusted for context. Now, this will probably be a team that plays shootouts vs. anyone who knows what they’re doing. Tough to win a conference with shootouts. You have to respect a mid-major that schedules South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina in September.
2013 Record: 12-1
2013 Rankings: 40 on offense, 29 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: George O’Leary
Notebook: Blake Bortles is now in the NFL, and this UCF offense could only manage #40 nationally vs. a soft schedule when he was there! We’ll be looking at Unders out of the gate as a strong defense returns eight starters. The new starting quarterback will be tested out of the gate by Penn State and Missouri. No way to know the true hopes of the team until we see what the new offense looks like.
2013 Record: 8-5
2013 Rankings: 55 on offense, 79 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Tony Levine
Notebook: There’s a chance for things to get very interesting here. John O’Korn is back at quarterback after showing promise as a freshman last season. That 8-5 record is more solid than it looks because the largest regular season loss was by 7 points to both Louisville and Cincinnati. Houston hung with everybody until their bowl game against Vandy when they were unable to step up against SEC players. In the context of the AAC, these guys could certainly rise to the top given what we’ve read so far. Nobody’s a sure thing to be great. Houston’s very likely to improve off what was already a competitive season.
2013 Record: 2-10
2013 Rankings: 121 on offense, 21 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Willie Taggart
Notebook: South Florida’s on the list of programs (like Southern Miss) who weren’t satisfied with “pretty good” and inadvertently destroyed their program with coaching changes. This is why Cincinnati’s loss to them was so bad! The offense was stunningly pathetic last year for a school based in a talent-rich state. The defense has to rebuild this year. We’re not going to be believers until we see something positive. Good tests early vs. Maryland, NC State, UCONN, and Wisconsin in September. We rate these guys below where Athlon does (our sources for returning starter information all through the summer previews).
2013 Record: 3-9
2013 Rankings: 112 on offense, 51 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Bob Diaco
Notebook: The only first-year head coach in the ACC is Diaco, who takes over a program that started last season with a double digit loss to Towson! Things did pick up late in the season with wins over Temple, Rutgers, and Memphis. If the new coach can harness that resilient attitude, then the Huskies may get some league results. Two of the first three regular season games are against BYU and Boise State…oddly both at home. Watch those games for hints of what may lie ahead.
2013 Record: 5-7
2013 Rankings: 41 on offense, 72 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: June Jones
Notebook: Garrett Gilbert is gone at quarterback, which is probably bad news but it’s possible his replacement will have better touch and more leadership capabilities. Tough to open at Baylor with a new quarterback! We’ll see how the new signal caller performs in September before deciding how to invest on or against this team in AAC action. A lot of question marks at quarterback in this league in 2014, and somebody’s going to be a pleasant surprise.
2013 Record: 3-9
2013 Rankings: 116 on offense, 39 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Justin Fuente
Notebook: The program hasn’t responded as well as was hoped to Coach Fuente. One of last year’s three wins was over Tennessee-Martin. And, the team went in the tank the last two weeks after playing Louisville tough. There’s a lot of experience back, and you have to respect that defensive ranking from last season. Probably a good “defensive dog” to back in value spots against flat or offensively-challenged favorites.
2013 Record: 7-6 (in Conference USA)
2013 Rankings: 115 on offense, 22 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Curtis Johnson
Notebook: Tulane comes over from Conference USA, where they surged to a surprising bowl bid last year on Coach Johnson’s second season. Unfortunately, the team is another one breaking in a new quarterback. We like the spirit and attitude we’re seeing down in New Orleans, and will look to back these guys as value underdogs if they show early promise. The market often takes forever to take rebound programs like this seriously.
2013 Record: 2-10
2013 Rankings: 74 on offense, 108 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Matt Rhule
Notebook: Ugly year for the Owls, with one of their two wins coming over lowly Army, and the other coming in a virtual tank job from Memphis after the Tigers played Louisville tough. P. J. Walker is back at quarterback, which could matter in a season where so many teams are breaking in newcomers. Tests right out of the gate against Vanderbilt and Navy will tell us a lot.
2013 Record: 3-9 (in Conference USA)
2013 Rankings: 100 on offense, 93 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 9 on defense
Head Coach: Bill Blankenship
Notebook: Remember when this team used to be scary? Now they’re just another Tulane (who they open the season against). No offense last year, and little offensive experience this year. Maybe there will be an element of surprise in the new conference, at least in terms of home field advantage. Things very much heading in the wrong direction under Coach Blankenship.
Only the SEC is left in our preview series. That went fast! We’ll close things out with the nation’s premier conference in a couple of days. First, smart bettors must continue to build their bankrolls for football with great GAME DAY BASEBALL! You can purchase game day BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about baseball or football service, call us at 1-888-777-4155.
The next few days in the NOTEBOOK…
Monday: MLB Series Preview… Pittsburgh at San Francisco
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…either LA Angels at Baltimore or Atlanta at LAD
Wednesday: College Football…SEC “East” Preview
Thursday: College Football…SEC “West” Preview
Friday: MLB Series Preview: Milwaukee at St. Louis
Saturday: MLB Big Game Preview: either Seattle at Baltimore or LAA at Tampa Bay
Sunday: NFC East Preview to get you ready for the NY Giants vs. Buffalo in the Hall of Fame Game!
That’s right…we’re now a week away from the start of NFL! Get locked in NOW for the best in baseball and football from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!