Tag Archives: Matt Rhule

2017 Big 12 Conference Football Projections

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Y-Oklahoma State Cowboys 12-1 (9-1)

When Bob Stoops shocked the college football world by retiring as the head football coach of the Oklahoma Sooners this past June, there was sigh of relief that was released in Stillwater from the folks who support the Oklahoma State Cowboys. In 18 years as the head football coach at Oklahoma, the Cowboys were only able to defeat Stoops and the Sooners four times in the Bedlam Game which consistently kept them from winning the Big 12 Conference more often. Oklahoma State has only won the Big 12 once compared to the ten titles that the Sooners have claimed. But with Stoops now enjoying retirement, will the Cowboys and head football coach Mike Gundy be able to take advantage?

If you are a fan of watching wide open offenses in college football, then you need to pull up a chair and take a look at Oklahoma State’s passing attack. The Cowboys were ninth in the nation last season in passing offense and you can expect more of the same this time around. Senior quarterback Mason Rudolph has five games where he passed for at least 300 yards last season which included going for 540 yards in a victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers. Rudolph passed for more than 4,000 yards last season and if he does it again, we’re more than likely looking at the Big 12 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

James Washington

Last year as a junior, wide receiver James Washington tallied 71 receptions for 1,380 yards. Washington could have left school early in order to pursue a career in the National Football League, but he decided to return to Stillwater for his senior season. And as Washington has returned to Oklahoma State, he will be one of the favorites to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. Washington is a speed demon at the wide receiver position and his ability to draw attention from opposing defenses should open things up in the passing game for his teammates.

It isn’t just about Oklahoma State’s passing game as they were 14th overall in the total offense in the nation last year. As a true freshman, running back Justice Hill gained 1,142 yards on the ground last season, and as he is the perfect compliment to the Oklahoma State’s passing game, reaching the 1,500-mark in the category is not out of the question for him this season.

The Cowboys offense should once again be set to shine for head football coach Mike Gundy as the Cowboys arguably possess the best offensive line in the Big 12 Conference. Led by left tackle Aaron Cochran, the Cowboys will have four seniors on the starting offensive line as that experience should give them edge in the race to win the Big 12 Title.

Defense continues to be an issue for the Cowboys as they were 92nd in the nation last season in total defense. One key player to look out for this season will be senior free safety Ramon Richards. However one man alone does not make a team and the Cowboys lack of talent on defense could hinder their chances of making the College Football Playoff.

The Cowboys are in possession of a very manageable non-conference schedule, while their chances of winning the Big 12 Title will come down to consecutive road games in October versus the Texas Longhorns and West Virginia Mountaineers, along with getting past the Sooners at home in Bedlam on November 4.

X-Oklahoma Sooners 9-4 (7-2)

The 2017 college football season will have a different feel to it for the Oklahoma Sooners as for the first time since 1998, Bob Stoops will not be leading this team onto the field. In 18 years as the head football coach at Oklahoma, Stoops comprised a record of 190-48, while going 121-29 within the Big 12 Conference. Under Stoops the Sooners claimed 10 Big 12 Conference Championships, along with one national title as he led Oklahoma to a bowl game in each of his seasons in Norman. But as nothing last forever, it will be up to Lincoln Riley to replace Stoops at Oklahoma.

Lincoln Riley

Riley has spent the last two years as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator. And although that Riley is only 33-years of age, the folks in Norman have confidence in him that he’ll be able to keep the Sooners machine going which will be important as the expectations are once again high for Oklahoma.

Baker Mayfield

A big reason why the expectations for Oklahoma are lofty is because of senior quarterback Baker Mayfield. In two years as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, Mayfield has been a finalist for the Heisman Trophy twice, while also being named as the Big 12 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Mayfield has only thrown 15 interceptions with Oklahoma as his elusiveness allows him to keep plays open and make things happen which makes the Sooners so dangerous. But unlike the last two seasons the Sooners don’t have the same amount of talent around Mayfield on offense like they did in recent years.

The Sooners must replace more than 2,300 rushing yards that is now in the National Football League in the form of running backs Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Last year as a freshman, running back Abdul Adams averaged 5.3 yards per carry as the understudy to Mixon and Perine, but now he will be getting the bulk of the carries as it is all about speed with him. Oklahoma is also inexperienced at wide receiver and the same can be said about their offensive line where they’ll only have one senior in center Erick Wren.

Defensively Oklahoma will be okay since the unit will still be led by defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Senior middle linebacker Emmanuel Beal and senior outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will be vital members to the Sooners potential success on defense as it all about athleticism on the defensive side of the football for Oklahoma.

Riley will be entrusted to keep the Sooners machine going, but his first time around the block won’t be easy. Oklahoma will travel to Columbus to face the Ohio State Buckeyes of the Big Ten Conference who came to Norman and won as the rematch won’t be easy. The Sooners will also have road games within the Big 12 versus the Baylor Bears, and Oklahoma State Cowboys, along with their annual meeting in Dallas against the Texas Longhorns. Oklahoma should continue to be one of the top teams in the Big 12, but they’ll take a step back in regards to being the top team in the conference.

X-Kansas State Wildcats 10-2 (6-3)

2016 was a typical year for the Kansas State Wildcats on the gridiron as there were not that many expectations for them, but they found a way to be successful. The Wildcats went 9-4 in spite of the fact that they were never in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. It also marked the Wildcats second nine-win season in the last three years as head football coach Bill Snyder continues to do it without getting five-star recruits. Snyder has made it his business to find players who have a chip on their shoulder after being overlooked by the bigger football programs, while also bringing in junior college talent. And as that philosophy has helped Kansas State under Snyder, they could once again be a dangerous team here in 2017.

Jesse Ertz

The Kansas State passing game was not a thing of beauty, but with senior quarterback Jesse Ertz set to begin his second season as the Wildcats starting signal caller, he should be able to generate more consistency. Ertz’s best asset is his legs as he was the Wildcats leading rusher last season. And if Ertz is able to get to the edge, the chances of him getting past most linebackers are good.

For defensive coordinator Tom Hayes, he may have one of the better units on that side of the football in the Big 12. Last year as a freshman, defensive end Reggie Walker was able to record 6.5 sacks, and he is ready to become one of the better edge rushers in the conference. The Wildcats secondary is loaded with ball hawks as they recorded 16 interceptions in 2016. And junior cornerbacks Duke Shelley and D.J. Reed are ready to once again test their skills against the best wide receivers that the Big 12 has to offer.

The Wildcats won’t be tested in their non-conference, but if they can get past road affairs with the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma State Cowboys, along with welcoming the Oklahoma Sooners to the Little Apple on October 21, they could be a sleeper to win the Big 12.

X-Baylor Bears 8-4 (5-4)

It has been a tough 15 months around the Baylor Bears football program. In wake of a sexual assault scandal that tarnished the school, Art Briles was fired as Baylor’s head football coach in 2016 as his 65-37 record at the school could not save him from the shame that had been brought upon the university by the scandal and cover up.

Last year saw former Wake Forest Demon Deacons head football coach Jim Grobe lead Baylor. Grobe had come out of retirement to lead the Bears a 7-6. However the off-the-field issues caught up to Baylor on the field as after starting the season 6-0, they would lose their next six games before rebounding to defeat the Boise State Broncos in the Cactus Bowl. And as Grobe was simply the stop gap guy at Baylor, school officials set their sights on finding a head coach who would be able to navigate them through these tough times, while helping the team shed its tarnished image.

Matt Rhule

Matt Rhule spent the previous four seasons as the head football coach of the Temple Owls and in the process led them to the American Athletic Conference Title last year. Rhule comes to Waco with a record of 28-23, but more importantly he was brought in due to the fact that he made Temple who had a reputation of being a subpar program into a winner.

Last year as a freshman, quarterback Zach Smith got his feet wet when quarterback Seth Russell succumb to an injury. Smith went 1-3 as a starter, but his play improved in each game which should be able to carry over to this season under Rhule. Rhule has always been focused on the running the football which should continue with junior running back Terrence Williams leading the way this season for Baylor. Williams is coming off of a season where he averaged 5.7 yards per carry which included him gaining at least 100 yards in a game four times. But now with Williams set to be the feature back, those numbers should increase. And the running ability of Williams will be very important since Baylor doesn’t have the explosion at the wide receiver position that they’ve had over the past few years.

However Rhule will inherit a very experienced offensive line which includes three seniors and two juniors. Senior left tackle Maurice Porter and senior center Tanner Thrift are both anchors on this unit and it would not surprise me to see either player be All-Big 12 performers this year.

Solid defensive football hasn’t been a trademark for Baylor which was evident by the fact that they were 81st in the nation last year in total defense. Upon taking over at Baylor, Rhule named Phil Snow as the team’s defensive coordinator. Snow spent the last four years serving as Temple’s defensive coordinator under Rhule which included the Owls being third in the nation in total defense last season.

K.J. Smith

Any success that Baylor intends to have on defense this year will hinge on the play of senior defensive end K.J. Smith and senior outside linebacker Taylor Young as Rhule and Snow are attempting to adjust to life in the Big 12.

As Baylor is looking to once again be one of the top teams in the Big 12, they will be tested as soon as conference play begins when they host the Oklahoma Sooners on September 23. However with road games versus the Kansas State Wildcats, Oklahoma State Cowboys, and TCU Horned Frogs, it is going to be a long shot for the Bears to finish with the top spot in the conference.

X-West Virginia Mountaineers 8-4 (5-4)

The West Virginia Mountaineers spent the entire 2016 college football season flying under the radar. But when it was all said and done the Mountaineers had won 10 games for the first time as members of the Big 12 Conference. The Mountaineers only suffered two conference losses as they fell to the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The last time that West Virginia had consecutive 10-win seasons came in 2005 and 2006 when they were in the Big East Conference. But for West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen, will he and his team be able to avoid taking a step back after a successful 2016?

In 2015, Will Grier was emerging as the quarterback who was going to return the Florida Gators to prominence. In six games as Florida’s starting quarterback, Grier was 6-0 which included orchestrating a comeback victory over the Tennessee Volunteers. But on October 12, 2015, Grier was suspended by the NCAA for one year after it was revealed that he tested positive for performing enhancing drugs. Grier decided to leave Florida as he found a new home at West Virginia. And after Grier sat out 2016, he will be the guy who is under center in Morgantown.

What Grier brings to the table for West Virginia is a player who has a strong and accurate arm which will bode well in Holgorsen’s system. And if Grier is on point, he has the potential to be the Big 12 Conference’s Newcomer of the Year.

As a team the Mountaineers averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2016 with the majority of that production coming on the legs of running back Justin Crawford. Crawford ran for 1,184 yards last season which included rushing for 331 yards against the Oklahoma Sooners. Crawford’s speed and versatility are the perfect compliment to the Mountaineers passing game which should translate to another solid offensive season for West Virginia.

Senior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton leads a defensive unit that will looks to shed its image of being lackluster as the Mountaineers cannot solely rely on the offense to win games for them.

West Virginia will get a big test to begin the college football season as they’ll travel to FedEx Field in Maryland to meet the Virginia Tech Hokies of the Atlantic Coast Conference. This year might not be as easy for West Virginia to navigate through the Big 12 as their schedule includes road games against the TCU Horned Frogs, Baylor Bears, as well as the Kansas State Wildcats, while they’ll finish up with the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks.

X-Texas Longhorns 7-5 (5-4)

The start of the 2017 college football season will see the Texas Longhorns in an unusual position. This marks the first time since 1989 that the Longhorns have finished unranked in the Associated Press poll in at least four consecutive seasons. Texas finished 5-7 in each of the last two seasons which led to the dismissal of Charlie Strong as the school’s head football coach and the hiring of Tom Herman. Herman takes over at Texas after going 22-4 in two seasons as the head football coach of the Houston Cougars which included leading them to their first Peach Bowl victory in school history. Now Herman is charged with getting Texas back among the elite of college football as the money and resources in Austin are second to none.

After the Longhorns offense was stuck in the mud last year, there should be more fluidity this time around. A few years ago quarterback Shane Buechele was a highly touted high school prospect who decided to remain in the Lone Star State. Buechele took his lumps as a true freshman in 2016, but he was also able to flash his potential by throwing 21 touchdowns. And in Herman’s offense, Buechele has the potential to be as good as advertised due to his strong right arm, along with his pocket presence.

It will be hard for Texas to replace the contributions of running back D’Onta Foreman who rushed for 2,028 yards last season. But it will be up to junior Chris Warren III and sophomore Kyle Porter to provide some balance for the Longhorns offense.

However for Texas to once again become respectable, it is going to have to start on defense. Last year the ‘Horns were 94th in the nation in total defense which included surrendering at least 40 points on four occasions. Todd Orlando served as Herman’s defensive coordinator as Houston where his unit was 13th in the nation in total defense. What the Longhorns must get back to is not only winning the recruiting battle within the State of Texas, but also playing with an attitude on defense. I expect Orlando to light a fire under his unit, but will it be enough to help the Longhorns get back on track?

Texas will get tested this season which includes traveling to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 16th to face the USC Trojans in the first meeting between the schools since the 2006 Rose Bowl. And when Big 12 pay begins, Texas must face the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys in consecutive games, along with having to meet the Baylor Bears, TCU Horned Frogs, and West Virginia Mountaineers all on the road. Herman’s first year in Austin will be tough, but it should end with the Longhorns playing in a bowl game.

X-TCU Horned Frogs 7-5 (4-5)

After winning a combined 23 games in 2014 and 2015, the TCU Horned Frogs took a big step backwards in 2016. TCU finished 6-7 as things never seemed to come together for them. But as the Horned Frogs got away from their winning ways, head football coach Gary Patterson was able to coach his team up just enough to get them to a bowl game. And hopefully for the Horned Frogs, that extra practice time will be able to translate to bigger things for them this season.

For Texas Christian to have a shot at being a force in the Big 12 Conference, they will need improved quarterback play. Last year quarterback Kenny Hill was up and down which was evident by him throwing 17 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Hill has a big arm and his athleticism allows him to keep plays going. However as Hill’s senior season is set to begin, he will need to be locked in for the Horned Frogs.

Kyle Hicks

Senior running back Kyle Hicks is a solid ball carrier for TCU, while he will running behind an experienced offensive line that has three seniors which includes left tackle Joseph Noteboom.

Gary Patterson

Patterson built his reputation on the defensive side of the football, but in recent years the Horned Frogs have been giving up more yardage and subsequently more points. Last year Texas Christian was 76th in the nation in total defense. However players such as senior outside linebacker Travin Howard who led the team in tackles in 2016 with 130, and senior safety Nick Orr whose 4 interceptions were tops on the unit last season are back. TCU was also eighth in the nation in sacks with 43 as they will need to once again be able to create pressure in order to slow down the high octane offenses of the Big 12.

Road games versus the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kansas State Wildcats, and Oklahoma Sooners will make it difficult for TCU to win the Big 12, but overall they stand to be an improved team as compared to last season.

Texas Tech Red Raiders 4-8 (2-7)

If you enjoy the fireworks that come with a prolific passing offense, then cozying up in your favorite chair to watch the Texas Tech Red Raiders is the thing for you. Last year the Red Raiders scored at least 50 points in a game six times as they averaged 566 yards per game en route to possessing the top offense in the nation. But as good as things were for Texas Tech on offense, it was just as bad on defense as they were last in the nation in total defense being that they surrendered 554 yards per contest. Kliff Kingsbury has been the Red Raiders head football coach for the last four years and he has kept the school’s tradition of wide open offenses going which included the tenures of former head coaches Spike Dykes and Mike Leach the school. And although that Texas Tech will indeed be a long shot to win the Big 12, things should be exciting once again in Lubbock.

Nic Shimonek

Quarterback Nic Shimonek stood on the sidelines last year as the understudy to Patrick Mahomes as he watched him pass for more than 5,000 yards. But with Mahones leaving school early to try life in the National Football League, it is Shimonek’s chance to sling the football around. Shimonek saw some time in relief of Mahomes last year on four occasions. But being that Kingsbury’s offense relies on the quarterback taking the majority of his snaps out of the shotgun, Shimonek should be able to get the football out quick enough in order to keep Texas Tech’s offense rolling.

However Shimonek is going to have to do things behind an inexperienced offensive line as the Red Raiders won’t have any seniors in the unit, as it will be bolstered by three sophomores and a true freshman in right guard Jack Anderson.

Being that the Red Raiders were last in the nation in total defense, it can only get better. Sophomore middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks was Texas Tech’s leading tackler last season, but it will need to be a group effort in order to improve. The Red Raiders must find a way to get off of the field on third down as they allowed opponents to convert on 43% of their third down situations, while they only tallied 14 sacks as a team.

Just like 2016, the Red Raiders will be fun to watch on offense, but without a quality defense don’t expect them to be one of the top teams in the Big 12.

Iowa State Cyclones 2-10 (1-8)

The Iowa State Cyclones football program has never been considered as a powerhouse. The Cyclones have never won the Big 12 Conference and their last bowl appearance came in 2012. Since then Iowa State has not won more than three games which includes going 2-7 in each of the last two years within the Big 12. And by the looks of things, it won’t be getting better anytime soon in Ames.

Matt Campbell

For Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell, one standout player on his team will be junior outside linebacker Willie Harvey. Harvey has solid instincts and if he were on a better team he would be a household name.

It will once again be an uphill battle for the Cyclones as their non-conference schedule includes games with their in-state rivals in the Northern Iowa Panthers and Iowa Hawkeyes, while their Big 12 schedule kicks off with them hosting a Texas Longhorns and traveling to meet the Oklahoma Sooners. And for the folks in Ames, it is once again going to be a long football season.

Kansas Jayhawks 1-11 (0-9) 

You have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time that the Kansas Jayhawks finished a college football season with a winning record. Since then the Jayhawks have been relegated to being just another team in the Big 12 Conference as the parade of success has passed them by. Kansas has not won more than three games in a season this decade as things have been extremely tough for them on the gridiron. And as a new college football season is set to begin, does Kansas head football coach David Beaty have any tricks up his sleeve in regards to getting things turned around for the Jayhawks?

Being that Kansas was only able to win two games last year, they were 106th in total offense and 109th in total defense. Offensively one shining star for the Jayhawks could be junior wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. At 5’10”, 176 lbs., Sims will use his speed to navigate his way through traffic in the secondaries around the Big  12 as he looks to make Kansas relevant. Junior defensive end Dorrance Armstrong Jr. led the Jayhawks in sacks with 10, and his ability to rush the passer is going to be important if Kansas is going to be able to pull off some upsets this season.

Whereas Kansas has been passed by in the Big 12 for a decade, that trend will continue here in 2017 as they simply do not have the talent to keep up.

Big 12 Championship Game-AT&T Stadium-Arlington, Texas: Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State

Conference Champion: Oklahoma State

X-Bowl Eligible

Y-Conference Champion

Sources: Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com, Cfbstats.com

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2016 American Athletic Conference Football Projections

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East

Temple Owls 12-1 (8-0)

It isn’t that often that you’ll hear the term potential conference champion put into the same sentence with Temple Owls Football, but it is indeed a new day for college football in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Owls are coming off of their first 10-win season since 1979, and after head football coach Matt Rhule turned down offers from bigger college football programs, Temple is looking to once again be a force in the American Athletic Conference.

Senior quarterback P.J. Walker has improved as a passer in each of his first three years at Temple. And now as a senior, Walker should get some consideration as far as being the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year. Senior left tackle Dion Dawkins is one of two returning starters on the offensive line that will look to open holes for running back Jahad Thomas who has the potential to gain at least 1,500 yards on the ground this season.

The Owls were 20th in total defense in the nation last season and even though that six starters must be replaced from last year’s team, this still has the potential to be one of the top units in the American Athletic Conference as they’ll be led by senior middle linebacker Jarred Alwan who was second on the team in tackles in 2015 with 74.

Temple’s non-conference schedule includes a road game against the Penn State Nittany Lions whom they upset last year while their home game in late October against the Cincinnati Bearcats could determine who represents the Eastern Division in the American Athletic Conference Title Game.

Cincinnati Bearcats 10-2 (6-2)

Last year the Cincinnati Bearcats were expected to contend for the Eastern Division Title in the American Athletic Conference, but instead they had to settle for a third place finish to go along with their 7-6 record. But for Cincinnati head football coach Tommy Tuberville, hope springs eternal as he and his team are seeking a trip to the AAC Title Game.

Gunner Kiel

After a solid 2014 campaign, quarterback Gunner Kiel had to battle through injuries that limited him and Cincinnati in 2015. But as Kiel is set to embark on his senior campaign for the Bearcats, he is looking to put it all together and help Cincy win the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats have three starters returning on their offensive line as they will look to open holes for junior running back Mike Boone and senior running back Tion Green. Last year Boone and Green combined to rush for 1,478 yards, but in 2016, each player will have his sights set on gaining at least 1,000 yards.

Defensively the Bearcats took it on the chin last year as they were 78th in total defense. But for Tuberville and his co-defensive coordinators in Robert Prunty and Steve Clinkscale, things are looking up as they will have nine returning starters on the side of the ball for the upcoming season.

The Bearcats will open up their conference schedule at home against the Houston Cougars and along with road games within the American Athletic Conference against the Temple Owls and Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Cincy holds their destiny in their hands as far as winning the conference crown.

Connecticut Huskies 7-5 (4-4)

Bob Diaco

Bob Diaco is coming off of his second year as the head football coach of the Connecticut Huskies and he is building a program that is taking solid strides in the American Athletic Conference. Although that the Huskies will enter the 2016 college football season fresh off of their fifth consecutive losing season, Diaco has something to build off of due to a bowl appearance last season.

Junior quarterback Bryant Shireffs is developing into a solid college quarterback, and if he can shed the label of a game manager, it could mean a solid season for the Huskies in 2016. Diaco has been finding high school talent within the State of Connecticut and junior running back Arkeel Newsome could be ready to put together a 1,000-yard season on the ground. Led by senior left tackle Richard Levy, the Huskies are returning four starters on the offensive line as they could spell trouble for opposing defenses within the American Athletic Conference.

Connecticut will return six defensive starters from a unit that was ranked 33rd in the nation in total defense last season. And led by junior middle linebacker Junior Joseph, the Huskies defense could be a top-20 unit in 2016.

If Connecticut is able to score a pair of non-conference wins against the Atlantic Coast Conference as they’ll host the Virginia Cavaliers and Syracuse Orange, it could set the tempo for a solid season for them within the American Athletic Conference.

East Carolina Pirates 6-6 (4-4)

The Ruffin McNeill era is over as the head football coach of the East Carolina Pirates as he was fired and replaced by Scottie Montgomery.  Like McNeill, Montgomery didn’t have any previous head coaching experience prior to coming to East Carolina. But Montgomery is hopeful to build off of his experience over the last two years as the offensive coordinator of the Duke Blue Devils along with his four-year playing career in the National Football League.

Blake Kemp

Led by senior quarterback Blake Kemp, the Pirates are returning some talent on offense as they’ll look to be a player in the American Athletic Conference. Along with Kemp, the Pirates are returning their top pass catcher in senior wide receiver Isaiah Jones along with three offensive lineman.

And even though that East Carolina was ranked 66th in total defense last year, they are returning seven starters from last year’s unit as they could become a bit pesky.

If East Carolina is able to become bowl eligible in their first year under Montgomery, it would be big for him as he looks to establish him in Greenville.

 

South Florida Bulls 6-6 (4-4)

It has taken South Florida Bulls head football coach Willie Taggart as few years to establish his program in Tampa, but South Florida is coming off of their best season since 2010 as they are seeking their first conference title in 2016.

Junior quarterback Quinton Flowers is a dual-threat as a passer and runner that can give defenses in the American Athletic Conference fits with his play making ability while junior running back Marlon Mack can no longer fly under the radar as a dynamic back. But as good as Flowers and Mack can be, they cannot do it by themselves as South Florida will need to replace four starters on their offensive line.

Auggie Sanchez

Defensively the Bulls were a middle of the pack unit last year. But as South Florida will return six starters on the side of the ball, they’ll be led by junior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez who led the team in 2015 in tackles with 115.

South Florida’s schedule won’t be an easy one as they’ll take on the Northern Illinois Huskies of the Mid-American Conference, along with the Florida State Seminoles and Syracuse Orange of the Atlantic Coast Conference before their American Athletic Conference schedule kicks off which includes road games against the Cincinnati Bearcats and Memphis Tigers.

Central Florida Knights 3-9 (1-7)

Scott Frost

After going 0-12 last year, the only way for the Central Florida Knights to go is up. Central Florida went to the Pacific Northwest to find their new head football coach in Scott Frost. Frost spent the last three years as the offensive coordinator of the Oregon Ducks. Prior to that Frost enjoyed a spectacular playing career as an option quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers before embarking on a professional playing career in the National Football League with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now Frost is looking to make the most of his opportunity to lead a football team.

What the Knights have to do in 2016 is to find a way to be physical at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. The Knights only averaged 2.7 yards per carry on the ground which isn’t going to get it done at any level of football, but with four starters on the offensive line returning including center Jason Rae, things could be better this fall in Orlando. Even in the midst of a winless campaign, wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith showed promise that he can be an impact player which might include him being an All-American Athletic Conference performer in 2016 as a sophomore.

Central Florida was 114th in total defense last year, but with eight starters returning including three seniors in defensive end Luke Adams, free safety Drico Johnson, and Jeremy Boykins, the Knights should be able to show some improvement.

Frost is laying the foundation for a successful team, and it should be interesting to see how Central Florida will improve as the season goes along.

West

Houston Cougars 10-3 (7-1)

After going 13-1 last year, the Houston Cougars won’t enter the 2016 college football season searching for respect. The Cougars capped off their stellar season with an upset victory over the Florida State Seminoles in the Peach Bowl. And for Houston head football coach Tom Herman, he has a team that is capable of crashing the College Football Playoff party.

Greg Ward Jr.

Senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr., is the heart and soul of the Cougars team as he can put Houston’s offense on his back which is why there is a good possibility that he’ll named as the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. With the departure of wide receiver Demarcus Ayers, senior wide receiver Chance Allen should become Ward Jr.’s go-to wide receiver. And at 6’2″, Allen is a matchup problem for defenders in the conference. The Cougars also return three starters on the offensive line as this is a veteran bunch that will definitely have a say in Houston’s chances of winning the American Athletic Conference.

The Cougars will return six starters of the defensive side of the football, but they must replace three of their top four tacklers from last season. However senior linebackers Tyus Bowser and Steven Taylor, along with junior linebacker Matthew Adams are capable of stepping up to fill any void.

The Cougars will have their hands full to begin the season as they’ll take on the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 Conference at NRG Stadium in Houston before opening conference play on the road against the Cincinnati Bearcats. But this is a Houston team that won’t back down from a challenge and this should be an interesting college football season for them.

Navy Midshipmen 8-4 (6-2)

Ken Niumatalolo

There’s definitely a winning tradition for Navy Midshipmen under head football coach Ken Niumatalolo. And under Niumatalolo, the Naval Academy is 68-37 with just one losing season. Navy is coming off of their first 11-win season in school history and they dodged a bullet when Niumatalolo turned down an offer to become the head football coach of the Brigham Young University Cougars in order to return to Annapolis which will once again give the Midshipmen a shot at the American Athletic Conference Title.

2015 marked Navy’s first year in the American Athletic Conference and they were one victory shy of playing in the conference title game. But for Navy to get back to that level of success, they must find a way to replace 10 starters on the offensive side of the football, along with Keenan Reynolds who was one the most dynamic players in the history of the program as he contributed to a Midshipmen rushing game that was tied for second in the nation last year. Navy must also replace three starters on defense as together this senior class helped to account for 36 wins over the last four years.

Tago Smith has spent the last three years as the backup to Reynolds and now he will have his opportunity to lead Niumatalolo’s triple-option attack.

Niumatalolo will have to plug in new players on offense, but as the season progresses for Navy, they will be a team to nobody wants to face.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane 8-4 (5-3)

After rebounding from 2-10 record in the previous college football season, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane were able to become eligible last year for the first time since 2012. And although that Tulsa only finished with a record of 6-7 in 2015, they could have a hand in who wins the American Athletic Conference in 2016.

What was able to get Tulsa into contention last year and what they’ll need ride to any potential success in 2016 is their passing offense. Last year the Golden Hurricane had the 11th best passing offense in the nation under first-year head coach Philip Montgomery who brought the pass-happy attack with him from his time as the offensive coordinator of the Baylor Bears where the football hardly touched the ground.

Dane Evans

Senior quarterback Dane Evans can sling the football around as good as anyone in that nation. And in the past two years, Evans has passed for 7,434 yards while also throwing 48 touchdowns over that stretch. Evans will have a reliable wide receiver to throw the football to in senior wide receiver Joshua Atkinson who is a prime candidate to get at least 90 receptions this year. And Evans should once again enjoy some solid pass protection in front of his as four of the “big uglies” on the offensive line are back which includes junior left tackle Evan Plagg who will be charged with protecting Evans’ blindside.

But for Tulsa to become a serious title contender in the American Athletic Conference, they must improve defensively as they finished 2015 ranked 126th out of 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense which included giving up at least 40 points in each of their last four contests. Co-defensive coordinators Brian Norwood and Bill Young will have their work cut out as they look to improve this unit, but they have to be optimistic with seven starters returning.

Outside of a road game against the Ohio State Buckeyes from the Big Ten Conference, the Golden Hurricane’s non-conference schedule is extremely favorable. But in order for Tulsa to be a player in the American Athletic Conference, they are going to have to get it done on the road with games against the Houston Cougars, Memphis Tigers, and Navy Midshipmen.

Memphis Tigers 7-5 (4-4)

The Memphis Tigers are coming off of their best two-year stretch in school history and they are looking to avoid taking a huge step backwards in 2016. As the head football coach at Memphis, Justin Fuente took the program to new heights which saw him become a hot commodity as he is the new head football coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies. As Memphis was searching for a new head football coach to replace Fuente, they would travel to the desert where they would find Mike Norvell who spent the last four years as the offensive coordinator of the Arizona State Sun Devils where he helped them have the 20th ranked passing offense in the nation last season.

But unlike Fuente, Norvell won’t have the luxury of quarterback Paxton Lynch who decided to leave school early in favor of the National Football League. And along with Lynch, Memphis must replace five offensive starters from last year’s team. As of right now the starting quarterback position appears to be Clay Holgorsen’s to lose. Last season Holgorsen saw some mop up duty behind Lynch, and you have to wonder if he is ready to be the guy at Memphis; especially in a new offense, and under a new head coach. However Holgorsen does come from a solid football family as he is the nephew of current West Virginia Mountaineers head football coach Dana Holgorsen.

Whomever that Norvell will put under center to begin the season will have the luxury of playing behind an offensive line that will return four starters which includes senior guard Chris Roberson as the unit could be the best in the American Athletic Conference.

Norvell also inherits seven returning starters on defense, but this was a Tigers unit that was ranked 77th in the nation last year in total defense as they had seven contests in which they surrendered at least 30 points. And it wasn’t a surprise that Memphis was 3-4 in those games.

Memphis will enjoy a favorable non-conference schedule, but when American Athletic Conference play begins, the Tigers will be faced with games against the Temple Owls, Navy Midshipmen, Cincinnati Bearcats, and Houston Cougars where wins won’t be easy to come by.

SMU Mustangs 5-7 (3-5)

As the Southern Methodist Mustangs are set to embark on their second year under head football coach Chad Morris, they must find a way to become more competitive. SMU went 2-10 last season and in those losses, eight were by at least 19 points. Morris has been attempting to recruit within the football crazy State of Texas as he is hopeful to make the Mustangs competitive in the American Athletic Conference, but will it all come to fruition in 2016?

Matt Davis

Senior quarterback Matt Davis is arguably SMU’s best athlete as he led the team in both passing yards and rushing yards last season and he’ll be vital to any success that the Mustangs want to have in 2016. SMU must find a way to have more consistency on offense while they were 76th in the nation in total offense while also being 119th in total defense.

 

 

Morris is attempting to lay his foundation in Dallas which would be a huge step if Southern Methodist is able to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2012.

Tulane Green Wave 1-11 (0-8)

With only three winning seasons since 2000, the Tulane Green Wave are an afterthought on the college football scene. After leading the Georgia Southern Eagles to a 17-7 record over the last two years, Willie Fritz was hired to be the new head football coach at Tulane and hopefully get this team to compete in the American Athletic Conference as they lost six games last season by at least 28 points. But Fritz has his work cut out for him as Tulane was 80th in the nation in total offense and 120th in total defense.

If the Green Wave are able to get a few wins under their belt in 2016, it would give Fritz the ammunition that he needs to turn this program around.

AAC Championship Game: Houston vs. Temple

Conference Champion: Temple

Coach of the Year: Matt Rhule-Temple

Offensive Player of the Year: Greg Ward Jr.-Quarterback-Houston

Defensive Player of the Year: Jarred Alwan-Linebacker-Temple

Sources: Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com, Cfbstats.com

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2015 American Athletic Conference Football Projections

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East

Cincinnati Bearcats 9-4 (6-3)

The Cincinnati Bearcats football program is all about transition. Since 2003, the Bearcats have had five different head football coaches as folks have tended to leave Cincinnati in order to pursue more money at bigger schools. Cincinnati’s current head football coach is Tommy Tuberville who has been there and done that as far as being in charge of a big time college football program. Tuberville has previously been the head football coach at Ole Miss, Auburn, and Texas Tech and he is fitting like a glove at Cincinnati. In two years at Cincy, Tuberville’s record is 18-8 and they’re coming off of winning a share of the American Athletic Conference Title in 2014. As the 2015 college football season is set to begin, the Bearcats have a good shot at participating in the inaugural AAC Title Game.

Gunner Kiel

Gunner Kiel was a highly sought after high school quarterback and after spurning both LSU and Notre Dame, he has settled in with the Bearcats. At 6’4″, 208 lbs., Kiel has good size for a quarterback and there isn’t a throw that he cannot make as he’ll be in the discussion to be the AAC Offensive Player of the Year.

On Halloween, Cincinnati will host the Central Florida Knights in a game that will more than likely decide the winner of the Eastern Division of the AAC.

Central Florida Knights 8-4 (6-2)

George O’Leary

It doesn’t matter which conference that the Central Florida Knights are in under head football coach George O’Leary as they are able compete and be one of the top teams in that league. Central Florida will once again be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference in 2015 as they’ll be led by junior quarterback Justin Holman who is one of the conference’s better signal callers.

Central Florida will face a brutal schedule in 2015 as they’ll meet the Stanford Cardinal of the Pac-12 Conference and the South Carolina Gamecocks of the Southeastern Conference in non-conference tilts along with road games in the AAC against the Cincinnati Bearcats and Tulsa Golden Hurricane, but O’Leary’s teams are always battle tested.

East Carolina Pirates 6-6 (5-3)

Ruffin McNeill

Under head football coach Ruffin McNeill, the East Carolina Pirates have had one of the top offenses in the nation. Last year the Pirates were ranked fifth in the nation in total offense and they had five games where they scored at least 40 points. But with most of those explosive players having graduated at East Carolina, it will be back to the drawing board this season for the Pirates. And if the Pirates are going to once again be able to find their groove on offense, junior wide receiver Isaiah Jones will have to step up and be one of the top pass catchers in the American Athletic Conference this season.

East Carolina will more than likely fly under the radar for the majority of the 2015 college football season, but in the end they should still be one of the top teams in the AAC.

Temple Owls 6-6 (4-4)

The Temple Owls enter the 2015 college football season looking to build off of the fact that they are coming off of their first non-losing season since 2011. The Owls went 6-6 in 2014, but they weren’t pegged for a bowl game and the only way for them to change that is to improve their record in 2015 under head football coach Matt Rhule. Any chances for Temple this year in the American Athletic Conference will hinge on the play of junior quarterback P.J. Walker. Walker was able to show flashes last year, but Rhule and Temple will need him to put it all together for a full season in 2015.

Right out of the chute it will be tough for Temple as they’ll host the Penn State Nittany Lions of the Big Ten Conference which will be followed by their first conference game of the season against the Cincinnati Bearcats. After that things will slow down somewhat for Temple as they look for consecutive non-losing seasons for the first time since 2011.

South Florida Bulls 3-9 (2-6)

From 2000-2010, the South Florida Bulls only had one losing season. But since then the Bulls have failed to secure a winning campaign. Willie Taggart is entering his third year as the head football coach at South Florida and he’s fighting an uphill battle in the American Athletic Conference.

For South Florida to contend in the AAC this season, their offense which was ranked 121st in the nation last year must improve drastically. And the Bulls only building block offensively this season is sophomore running back Marlon Mack who will need to gain at least 1,500 yards on the ground for South Florida to have a shot at bowl eligibility.

The Bulls football program is headed in the wrong direction and it won’t get any better in 2015.

Connecticut Huskies 3-9 (1-7)

Ever since Randy Edsall resigned as the head football coach of the Connecticut Huskies in 2010, the program hasn’t been able to stand up on its own. In Edsall’s last two years at UConn, the Huskies won 16 games, but since they’ve only won 15. Bob Diaco is in his second year as the head football coach at Connecticut, but he has been unable to land some of the top high school football talent from the New England area as he’s been overshadowed by schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten Conference. And until Diaco is able to establish himself as a recruiter in the New England area, the Huskies will continue to falter in the American Athletic Conference.

West

Navy Midshipmen 10-3 (7-2)

Things will be different for the Navy Midshipmen football program in 2015. For the first time in the 122-year history of Navy’s football program, they will be in a football conference. Navy agreed to join the American Athletic Conference as a football-only member and they could find themselves in the conference’s inaugural title game. Ken Niumatalolo in entering his eighth full season as the head football coach at Navy and he’s only had one losing season there. Due to the service commitment to the United States Military that cadets must give once their eligibility is done, Navy doesn’t get the blue-chip talent coming to Annapolis, Maryland. But the Midshipmen run a triple-option attack on offense that will test their opponent’s endurance and it should once again be tough with senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds leading the way.

It won’t take the Midshipmen that long to get indoctrinated into the American Athletic Conference as they’ll host the East Carolina Pirates in their second game of the season in what could become a good rivalry for the conference due to the proximity between the two schools.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane 8-4 (4-4)

Bill Blankenship

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane were only able to go 2-10 in 2014 for head football coach Bill Blakenship, but there is reason to believe that they’ll be able to turn things around in 2015. The Golden Hurricane had six games last season where they scored at least 30 points and they return some talent on offense for 2015 in the form of junior quarterback Dane Evans, senior running back Zack Langer, and junior wide receiver Keevan Lucas as all three players have the ability to be amongst the best at their respective positions this season in the American Athletic Conference. And a favorable schedule will play a big part in the potential turnaround this year for Tulsa.

Houston Cougars 7-5 (4-4)

Unfortunately for the Houston Cougars, they were unable to live up to expectations of winning the American Athletic Conference in 2014. The Cougars  were able to record their second consecutive eight-win season which they’re hopeful will propel them to bigger things in 2015. And for Houston head football coach Tony Levine, any chance that his team will have this season will come down to the right arm of junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and the legs of senior running back Kenneth Farrow.

The Cougars don’t have too many layups in their schedule as it will be tough for them to win the Western Division of the AAC and get to the conference title game.

Memphis Tigers 7-5 (4-4)

The Memphis Tigers saw a huge improvement in 2014 as they saw their win total increase by seven games from the previous year and they also finished ranked in the top 25 poll of the Associated Press for the first time in school history. Now Memphis head football coach Justin Fuente is looking to lead the Tigers to consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2005.

The Tigers emergence can be attributed to the improved play of quarterback Paxton Lynch. And now as a junior, Lynch is ready to once again lead Memphis in 2015.

The Tigers find themselves with a relatively easy non-conference schedule, but their first conference game will find them hosting the Cincinnati Bearcats which could give them the confidence to contend for the Western Division Title in the American Athletic Conference.

SMU Mustangs 2-10 (1-7)

After a brief glimpse of success, the losing has once again set in around the football program of the Southern Methodist University Mustangs. The Mustangs have only won six games in the last two years and they are hopeful that new head football coach Chad Morris will be able to get things turned around as he is going to have to build this program from the ground up. But luckily for Morris and SMU, the school is in Dallas and the State of Texas is loaded with high school football talent as he looks to build a contender. As Morris attempts to turn SMU into a contender, he can only hope that his squad will be competitive in 2015.

Tulane Green Wave 4-8 (1-7)

The Tulane Green Wave’s football program has been around for 111 years, but they have failed to maintain any consistent success since their days in the Southern Conference and then in the Southeastern Conference as Tulane hasn’t has consecutive winning seasons since 1998. Curtis Johnson is set to begin his fourth season as the head football coach of the Green Wave and he’ll need his team to compete more in 2015 as they lost six games last season by at least 17 points. But Johnson and Tulane will once again be fighting an uphill battle in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.

AAC Title Game: Cincinnati vs. Navy

Conference Champion: Navy

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