Tag Archives: Memphis Tigers

2017 Key Games For Week Seven In College Football

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Will Quarterback Baker Mayfield be able to help the Oklahoma Sooners get back on tract versus the Texas Longhorns?

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2017 Key Games For Week Five In College Football

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Are we set up for another classic between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers?

 

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2017 American Athletic Conference Football Projections

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East

Y-South Florida Bulls 12-1 (8-1)

In four years as the head football coach of the South Florida Bulls, Willie Taggart took the program to heights that it had previously never been to. In just four years Taggart was able to transform South Florida from a 2-10 squad to a 10-2 team. Taggart’s success led to him becoming the head football coach of the Oregon Ducks. And for anyone who thinks that South Florida is ready to take a step back now that Taggart has moved on, think again.

Charlie Strong is set to replace Taggart as South Florida’s head football coach. Prior to taking over at South Florida, Strong was the head football coach of the Louisville Cardinals and Texas Longhorns as he had a combined record of 53-36. Strong enjoyed tremendous success at Louisville as in four years there he compiled a record of 37-15 which included winning the final Big East Conference Championship in 2012. However Strong’s tenure at Texas would not be as memorable as in three years there his record was only 16-21. Strong never had a winning season at Texas which led to the school dismissing him last year. There are those who felt that the big stage at Texas may have been too big for Strong, while he also never received the full support from everyone who is affiliated with the Longhorns program. But Strong has been welcomed with open arms at South Florida, and that along with the fact that he knows how to successfully recruit within the State of Florida from his time as the defensive coordinator of the Florida Gators as well as his tenure at Louisville, the Bulls could be ready to win many games with him leading the way.

Taggart left Strong a good team to work with which includes senior quarterback Quinton Flowers. Flowers enters this college football season as the reigning American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year as he is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. Last year Flowers accounted for 4,342 total yards along with 42 touchdowns and he should get some consideration for the Heisman Trophy this year as well.

D’Ernest Johnson

Running back D’Ernest Johnson has spent the last few years as the backup to Marlon Mack. But with Mack now pursuing a career in the National Football League, Johnson will be the featured back for South Florida. Strong is a coach that loves to run the football which means that you can expect Johnson to tote the rock anywhere between 200-250 times this season.

Defensive football is supposed to be the best asset that Strong can bring to a football team. But last year under Strong, the Longhorns were 94th in the nation in total defense. South Florida was even worse as they were 120th which included giving up at least 40 points three times. However one key contributor to look at on the defensive side of the football for the Bulls is senior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez. Sanchez was second-team All-Defense in the American Athletic Conference last year as he led the Bulls in tackles with 117. Sanchez has solid range which will be need to be put to the test if the Bulls are going to win the AAC.

Everything is set up for 2017 to be another strong campaign on the gridiron for South Florida; it is simply just a matter of them living up to the expectations.

X-Central Florida Knights 7-5 (5-3)

When Scott Frost became the head football coach of the Central Florida Knights, the sky was the limit for him. Frost inherited a Central Florida team that went  0-12 in 2015, but in his first season in Orlando he was able to get them to a bowl game. The Knights were able to sneak up on some opponents in 2016, but how will 2017 fare for them?

There is not anything flashy about Central Florida, but they have embodied the mindset of their head coach which means that they fight, scrap, and claw on each play. Senior outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin enters the upcoming season as the reigning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Last season Griffen registered 92 tackles along with 11.5 sacks, and he’ll once again be a force this season.

After Central Florida ended 2016 on a three-game losing streak, I expect Frost to use this as additional motivation for his team heading into the new season.

X-Cincinnati Bearcats 6-6 (4-4)

The start of the 2017 college football season brings with it a new era for the Cincinnati Bearcats. After four years at the helm at Cincinnati, Tommy Tuberville was relieved of his duties last December as the Barcats head football coach and he would be replaced by Luke Fickell. Fickell spent parts of the last 15 years as an assistant coach with the Ohio State Buckeyes which included him being the interim head coach at the school for 2011. Fickell is a native of Columbus, while he also played his collegiately at Ohio State. And now Fickell gets the opportunity to lead his own program on a full-time basis in the Buckeye State.

For the Bearcats to become players in the American Athletic Conference, they will need to become more efficient on offense. Last year Cincy was only 99th in the nation in total offense. And this was highlighted by the fact that the Bearcats were only able to convert 38% of their third down conversions.

A couple of bright spots on offense for Cincinnati will be senior wide receiver Devin Gray and their experienced offensive line. Gray has the speed to separate and become one of the best pass catchers in the American Athletic Conference, while led by center David Niehaus, Cincinnati’s offensive line will feature four seniors in the starting lineup.

Defensively the Bearcats lost a wealth of talent from last year’s team which means that Fickell is going to have his work cut out for him in order to maintain this unit that carried the team at times last season.

Fickell inherits a team that will hover around .500 all year, but if he finds a way to motivate the Bearcats enough, this team could be headed to its sixth bowl appearance in the last seven years.

X-Temple Owls 6-6 (4-4)

2017 will be bittersweet for the Temple Owls as they will be starting over. After four years as the head football coach at Temple and compiling a record of 28-23, Matt Rhule left Philadelphia for a bigger payday as he became the head football coach of the Baylor Bears in the Big 12 Conference. Rhule has been replaced at Temple by Geoff Collins.

This will the first time around the floor as a head coach for Collins. Collins is known for his work on the defensive side of the football which included him being the defensive coordinator of the Florida Gators for the last two years. At Florida, Collins oversaw one of the top defenses in the nation which helped the Gators reach the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in both of his years in Gainesville. Now Collins will be tasked with attempting to build off of what Rhule was able to establish at Temple, while not allowing the program to take a step backwards.

Collins won’t have the same talent to work with that Rhule had last year, but he does inherit an experienced offensive line with three senior starters which includes left tackle Cole Boozer. Senior running back Ryquell Armstead has the potential to be one of the better ball carriers in the American Athletic Conference, while senior wide receiver Keith Kirkwood could be a sleeper as far as being one of the better pass catchers in the conference.

Collins does inherit a defense which was third in the nation last year in total defense, however most of the key players from that unit are no longer with the team. But one defensive player to keep an eye on will be junior strong safety Delvon Randall who has solid range, along with a nose for the football which will keep quarterbacks thinking twice in regards to testing him.

2017 will be a year of transition for Temple, and although that it will be a long shot for them to repeat as American Athletic Conference Champions, they should be able to reach a bowl game for the third consecutive year.

Connecticut Huskies 4-8 (3-5)

In a shocking move last December, the Connecticut Huskies decided to part ways with Bob Diaco as their head football coach. In three years with UConn, Diaco complied a record of 11-26 which included reaching a bowl game in 2015. However when the Huskies went 3-9 last season which included losing their last six games, school officials in Storrs decided to move on from him. Connecticut would find solace by bringing back a familiar face in Randy Edsall to lead their football program.

Randy Edsall

From 1999-2010, Edsall was Connecticut’s head football coach which included guiding the Huskies from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. And from 2007-2010, Edsall led UConn to four consecutive bowl appearances which included making the Fiesta Bowl during the 2010 college football season.

But when the Maryland Terrapins offered Edsall more money, he could not refuse. From 2011-2015, Edsall was the head football coach at Maryland. During Edsall’s time in College Park, he oversaw the Terrapins transition from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten. Over time Edsall’s Maryland program improved which included making consecutive bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014, However with unrealistic expectations that were thrust on Edsall by alumni and boosters, he was fired in 2015 as his record there was 22-34. And now Edsall’s career has a chance to come full circle at Connecticut as he returns to a program that he understands and he can once again make them respectable.

The Huskies will need to find an identity on offense as they were 122nd in the nation last season in total offense which included being held to 20 points or less eight times. But led by a pair of seniors in inside linebacker Junior Joseph and outside linebacker Vontae Diggs, there is some potential for Connecticut to be solid on defense, however I do not see it being enough to get them to a bowl game.

The folks in Storrs are happy to have Edsall back, and even though that the results might not be there for UConn in 2017, they’ll be patient with him as he looks to rebuild.

East Carolina Pirates 2-10 (1-7)

The Scottie Montgomery era as the head football coach of the East Carolina Pirates began on a strong note as the Pirates won their first two games in 2016, but it quickly turned sour. East Carolina would only win one more game on the season for their second consecutive losing season. And of those nine losses, only two were by less than 16 points as the Pirates failed to compete. The American Athletic Conference is a league that teams can get lost in the shuffle very quickly, and as a new season is set to begin, the Pirates must find a way to toughen up against their competition.

Quarterback Thomas Sirk began his collegiate career for the Duke Blue Devils, and in 2015, he helped them reach their fourth consecutive bowl game. But whereas Sirk appeared ready to build off of that in 2016, he decided to transfer. And after sitting out last year per NCAA transfer rules, Sirk is ready to finish his collegiate career at East Carolina. At 6’4″, 216 lbs., Sirk provides the Pirates with good size at the quarterback position along with his leadership as a senior which should come in handy as East Carolina looks to turn things around.

Last year the Pirates were 100th in the nation in total defense as they surrendered 30 points or more nine times which cannot be repeated in 2017 if they want to turn things around. But with a lack of play makers on defense, East Carolina will have their hands full in regards to getting things turned around in 2017.

Even with a veteran signal caller in Sirk added to the mix, it is going to be very tough for East Carolina to turn it around as the talent is simply not there to compete in the American Athletic Conference.

West

X-Memphis Tigers 9-4 (5-4)

From 2014-2015, Justin Fuente led the Memphis Tigers to 19 victories. And in the process Fuente’s success would lead to him becoming the head football coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies last year. And although that Fuente was no longer at Memphis, the Tigers didn’t slow down. Memphis went 8-5 last season under head football coach Mike Norvell which was good enough for a third place finish in the Western Division of the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers should once again be a viable team, but will they have enough to win the AAC for first time in school history?

Riley Ferguson

Senior quarterback Riley Ferguson has the potential to be the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Last year Ferguson threw 32 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. And at 6’4″, Ferguson has the ability to scan the field which compliments his ability to spread the football around.

Aside from being one of the best pass catchers in the American Athletic Conference, senior wide receiver Anthony Miller should get some recognition in regards to winning the Belitnikoff Award as the nations top wide receiver. Miller torched defenses last year in the AAC last year to the tune of 95 receptions for 1,434 and 14 receiving touchdowns. And as Memphis has one of the best passing offenses in the nation, Miller will once again be tough to defend with his speed along with ability to move the chains on third down.

The Tigers won’t be recognized in regards to having the best defensive unit in the American Athletic Conference, but one player to keep an eye on will be senior outside linebacker Genard Avery. Avery is a versatile linebacker that can be effective in both run and pass coverage which will be important if Memphis wants to be a title contender in the AAC.

Within the American Athletic Conference, the Tigers have a very manageable schedule, while a home game versus the UCLA Bruins of the Pac-12 Conference on September 16 could do wonders to raise the profile of the conference. And when it is all said and done the Tigers could be in line to win their first conference title at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

X-Houston Cougars 8-4 (5-3)

The last two years were the best in the history of the Houston Cougars. The Cougars won a combined 22 games and they became the team to beat in the American Athletic Conference. This success of Houston led to their head football coach Tom Herman becoming the head football coach of the Texas Longhorns which left the Cougars with another void to fill. Houston would promote offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to become their seventh head football coach since 2007. Applewhite is very familiar with the football scene in the State of Texas from his time as a quarterback for the Longhorns and now he will look to add to what Herman had already established in regards to making the Cougars one of the top teams in the AAC.

Quarterback Kyle Allen began his collegiate career with the Texas A&M Aggies where he won six games as a starter in 2015. But that season also saw A&M go through multiple quarterbacks, and Allen sought out a fresh start with Houston. The presence of senior wide receiver Linell Bonner will make the transition easier for Allen as he is one of better pass catchers in the American Athletic Conference. Bonner snagged 98 receptions last year and although that he’ll see his fair share of double coverage, he will have a big impact for this offense.

From 2011-2015, Mark D’Onofrio was the defensive coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes and now he is joining Houston in the same capacity. D’Onofrio inherits a defense that features the likes of senior inside linebacker Matthew Adams and sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver. As a true freshman last year Oliver was able to wreak havoc on the Cougars defensive as he managed to record 5 quarterback sacks. Oliver should be able build off of that as he will be a problem for opposing offensive lines. Adams is a solid player and as a senior, he gives Houston a leader on that side of the football.

The fact that Applewhite has been with Houston for the last two years will cushion the loss of Herman, while the Cougars will be in the mix to reach the American Athletic Conference Championship Game for the third time in the last four years. However three of the Cougars last five games will see them face the Memphis Tigers, South Florida Bulls, and Navy Midshipmen in contest that will go a long way in determining if they’ll win the AAC West.

X-Navy Midshipmen 7-5 (5-3)

Ken Niumatalolo

For Navy Midshipmen head football coach Ken Niumatalolo, he has built one of the most respected college football programs in the nation. Since Niumatalolo has been running the ship at Navy, the Midshipmen have only had one losing season. And Niumatalolo has done this in spite of the fact the he is coaching at a service academy where players must give at least two years to the United States Navy upon graduating. 2016 also marked Navy’s first year in the American Athletic Conference and they held their own as they won the Western Division. But even though that Navy ended the year on a three-game losing streak which included losing to the Army Black Knights for the first time since 2001, they should once again be a force to be reckoned heading into the new college football season in the AAC.

This marks the third consecutive year that Navy will have a different starting quarterback. Junior Zach Abey will be the Midshipmen’s starting quarterback as he will look to excel in Niumatalolo’s triple-option attack. Navy’s triple-option begins and ends with the quarterback as he goes, so does the rest of the offense.

The Midshipmen did struggle on defense in 2016 as they were 84th in the nation in total defense. But the return of key players such as senior linebackers Micah Thomas and D.J. Palmore who are each solid players in the front seven should allow Navy to improve on that side of the football.

In 2016, the Midshipmen benefited from having the top teams in the American Athletic Conference make the trek to Annapolis. However this season Navy will be on the road for key games versus the Memphis Tigers, Temple Owls, and Houston Cougars as it will be very difficult for the Midshipmen to get back to the conference title game.

X-Southern Methodist Mustangs 7-5 (4-4)

In 2015, Chad Morris was given a tough task as the new head football coach of the Southern Methodist Mustangs. SMU was coming off of only winning one game in 2014, while their facilities didn’t make the program a hotbed for the top recruits. The Mustangs went 2-10 under Morris in his first season, but by 2016 they were able to win five games. Last year SMU only needed to win one of their final two games in order to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2012, but they fell short. However SMU could use their improvement in 2016 as a springboard for better things this season.

Ben Hicks

Last year as a redshirt freshman, Ben Hicks took his lumps as the starting quarterback for the Mustangs. Morris was only able to complete 55% of his passes while he also threw an interception in seven of Southern Methodist’s twelve games. But Hicks does have a big arm, along with some upside, and the fact that he hung in there as a freshman showed his toughness as he showed that he could be ready to take his game to the next level this year.

The Mustangs do have one of the best ball carriers in the American Athletic Conference in the form of junior running back Brandon West. Last year West was able to exceed 200 carries, and even for a smaller running back that is still a lot. West is a dependable ball carrier who is always just a step away from breaking off a big run, while he provides the perfect compliment to Hicks and SMU’s passing game.

Junior wide receiver Courtland Sutton will be in the mix to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. Last season Sutton tallied 76 receptions for 1,246 and 10 receiving touchdowns. At 6’4″, 218 lbs., Sutton is a matchup nightmare, and if he is able to put up similar numbers as compared to what he did last season, he could be one of the first wide receivers selected in next year’s National Football League Draft. But if SMU opponents want to focus on stopping Sutton, junior wide receiver James Proche could burn them as it is a classic case of pick your poison.

Led by center Evan Brown, the Mustangs have three seniors on their offensive line which will give them an advantage in the American Athletic Conference as this experienced unit can anchor an offense that is possessed with potential.

However the SMU offense will have to make up for a defensive unit that was 103rd in the nation in total defense last season. As a unit the Mustangs were not sharp, but one player to keep an eye on will be junior cornerback Jordan Wyatt who has a nose for the football.

Morris is building something at SMU, and a bowl berth this season would be a huge shot in the arm for both he and his program.

X-Tulsa Golden Hurricane 6-6 (4-4)

2016 was one of the strongest campaigns in the history of Tulsa Golden Hurricanes football. Tulsa won 10 games for the first time since 2012 and two road losses by a combined 9 points prevented them from playing for the American Athletic Conference Title. But for Tulsa head football coach Philip Montgomery, he lost an immense amount of talent from that team as he’ll have his work cut out for him in order for the Golden Hurricane to make a bowl game in the third consecutive year.

Quarterback Dane Evans and running back James Flanders, along with wide receivers Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson have all graduated and with them they took a combined 50 touchdowns which must now be replaced.

Last year quarterback Luke Skipper redshirted as he sat out what would have been his freshman campaign. But now Skipper will get his first crack to be the guy for Tulsa. Last year running back D’Angelo Brewer gained 1,425 yards on the ground in spite of the fact that he split carries with in the Golden Hurricane’s backfield with Flanders. But now it will be Brewer who’ll get the bulk of the carries this year. In 2016, wide receiver Justin Hobbs took a backseat to Lucas and Atkinson, but now he’ll be looked at to be the go-to-guy in Tulsa’s passing game. And at 6’4″, 218 lbs., Hobbs definitely has the physical presence to be a problem for opposing defenses.

Without any play makers on the defensive side of the football, it will be up to the offense to carry Tulsa in 2017. And as this season will be a rebuilding campaign for the Golden Hurricane, there will be plenty of ups and downs this year.

Tulane Green Wave 1-11 (0-8)

Since the American American Conference went to a two-division format in 2015, the Tulane Green Wave has finished in the basement of the AAC West in both seasons. In three years in the AAC, the Green Wave have only managed to win four conference games as the parade of success has passed them by. Willie Fritz is set to begin his second season as Tulane’s head football coach and as the deck is stacked against him, will he be able to make the Green Wave into a contender?

If Tulane is going to make a splash this year in the American Athletic Conference, senior running back Dontrell Hilliard will need to have a big season. Hilliard has never gained 1,000 yards rushing during his collegiate career, but this could be the year that it finally happens. Aside from Hilliard, another impact player for the Green Wave could be senior cornerback Parry Nickerson who has some of the best coverage skills in the conference.

But being that Tulane is fighting an uphill battle and Fritz is still attempting to chance the culture around his program, don’t expect any miracles for the Green Wave this season.

American Athletic Conference Championship Game: Memphis vs. South Florida

Conference Champion: South Florida

X-Bowl Eligible

Y-Conference Champion

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

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Time To Make Some Noise

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For months there has been speculation about the Big 12 Conference in regards to expansion. In regards to the Power Five Conferences, the Big 12 is the only one that doesn’t have a conference title game as they only have 10 members, whereas the Pac-12, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, and Big Ten Conferences all have at least 12 members which grants them access to a conference title game.

Once upon a time the Big 12 did have 12 members, but in 2011, the Colorado Buffaloes left for the Pac-12 and the Nebraska Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. 2012 would see the Missouri Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies join the Southeastern Conference which left the Big 12 on life support with just eight schools. The Big 12 was then able to lure the West Virginia Mountaineers and TCU Horned Frogs to leave the Big East Conference, but they were still fighting an uphill battle to the other Power Five Conferences; especially since they’ve been unable to get out of their own way.

In 2014, both the Baylor Bears and TCU went 11-1 in the regular season, with identical 8-1 conference records. In head-to-head competition, Baylor would get the best of TCU, but Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby instead opted to not name a conference champion in favor of allowing the College Football Playoff Committee to select its team from the conference for the field of four. However the committee would bypass both Big 12 teams in favor of the Ohio State Buckeyes out of the Big Ten who would win their conference title game. This would infuriate the Big 12 as they soon believed that a conference title game would enhance their chances of placing a team into the College Football Playoff.

For nearly a year the Big 12 has looked into expansion as they were courting numerous schools for either two or four spots. And if the Big 12 decided to expand, the American Athletic Conference was set to take the biggest hit.

The American Athletic Conference was formed in 2013 as they were formed of some schools that had migrated to the conference from Conference USA, along with some of the leftovers from the Big East. The AAC is comprised of 12 members that understand that they aren’t among the elite of college football, but it hasn’t prevented them from putting a quality product on the field.

Some American Athletic schools have quality wins on their resume. In 2013, the Central Florida Knights went 12-1 en route to upsetting Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2015, the Memphis Tigers scored a 37-24 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels of the Southeastern Conference en route to a 9-4 campaign. The Houston Cougars would go 13-1 last season, and they served notice when they upset the Florida State Seminoles of the Atlantic Coast Conference in the Peach Bowl. And now as the Big 12 has balked at conference expansion, the AAC could really benefit.

Houston appeared to be a logical fit for the Big 12 with their close proximity to the Southwest region that comprises most of the conference’s schools. And an invitation to the Big 12 for Houston would have meant renewing rivalries with former Southwest Conference members such as the Texas Longhorns. Houston also went as far as making upgrades to their football facilities. However some Big 12 schools outside of the State of Texas were opposed to the Cougars joining the conference due to the fact that it would have meant having another school from the Lone State State to compete with as far as recruiting goes in the college football hotbed.

Memphis doesn’t have a long and storied college football history, but they do have deep pockets. FedEx is based in Memphis, Tennessee and their CEO Frederick Smith was willing to provide the Big 12 with sponsorship for a conference title game which was ultimately shot down. But like Houston, Memphis can now focus on building their brand in the American Athletic Conference.

After consecutive upset victories over Houston and Memphis, the Navy Midshipmen are the only American Athletic Conference team that is ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. Navy is in their second season in the AAC as the conference reached out to them several years ago to be a football-only member which would give them the ability to have a conference title game. In nearly two seasons in the AAC, Navy is 16-3 and there is a strong possibility that they could win the conference crown. Unlike some of the schools in the AAC, Navy has a football history which gives the conference credibility. And once you factor in the resurgence of Central Florida under first-year head football coach Scott Frost, along with the emergence of the Temple Owls, and the consistency of the Cincinnati Bearcats, the AAC could be ready to make an impact on the college football scene.

In order for a conference to work, all members within the conference must be on the same page. The inability to function as a unit has seen the demise of conferences such as the Big East and Southwest, which could be the fate that the Big 12 might have sealed due to their inability to expand and protect their brand; in spite of the fact that the NCAA will allow them to have a conference title game in spite of not having 12 members. But as the Big 12 could be in trouble, the American Athletic Conference could be ready to shine if everyone is on the same page.

The American Athletic Conference provides its fans with some excitement on the gridiron and if they can continue to pull of upsets over Power Five schools, along with the ability to maintain their head coaches such as Houston’s Tom Herman, UCF’s Frost and Ken Niumatalolo of Navy, the conference could begin to chip away and although that it’s a long shot, possibly create for themselves a seat as far as being a player in the College Football Playoff.

People laughed when Michael Aresco became the American Athletic Conference’s first commissioner when the conference was formed in 2013. Aresco had a past history as a television executive which has helped the AAC in negotiations for television deals which was can help all of the members going forward. Aresco’s ability to negotiate has given the AAC stability as all of its members appear to be happy. And in this era of college football, that is what it’s all about which gives the AAC more than just a fighting chance to survive.

 

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2016 Key Games For Week 8 in College Football

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There’s always plenty on the line when the Texas A&M Aggies clash with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

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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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Time To Make It Happen

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A few years ago the Big 12 Conference found itself on life support as the conference appeared ready to implode. After being disgusted at how the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners were going to get a bigger piece of the pie from the conference’s television revenue for football, the Nebraska Cornhuskers decided to leave for the Big Ten Conference, the Colorado Buffaloes in favor of the Pac-12 Conference, and the Missouri Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies left for the Southeastern Conference. This left the Big 12 with just eight members and in order for them to stay afloat, they convinced the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs and West Virginia Mountaineers to shun their commitments to the Big East Conference which ultimately ended that conference’s football operations. So as of 2012, the Big 12 was a 10-member conference, and all of its members appeared happy as they had lucrative television deals with FOX Sports and ESPN to televise their football games. And with a nine-game conference schedule for football, each school would play one another which should have been able to properly eliminate the debate about an undisputed conference champion.

But in 2014, the Big 12 allowed themselves to receive a Texas-sized headache when TCU and the Baylor Bears finished with indentical records of 11-1, while each team also went 8-1 within the conference. However Baylor defeated TCU in their head-to-head meeting which should have trumped the records. Instead Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby didn’t want to declare an outright champion which left Baylor and TCU as co-champions. And to make matters worse, neither team made the College Football Playoff as they were passed over by teams that were their conference’s outright champion.

By having a 10-team football conference as opposed to have a 12-member conference has prevented the Big 12 from having a conference title game which puts them at a disadvantage whereas other conferences that have a conference title game see their schools having another opportunity to pad their resume for the all important four-team field for the College Football Playoff. Even without a conference title game last year, the Big 12 did get a representative in the College Football Playoff as Oklahoma made the Orange Bowl. But with the Big 12 having to compete with the Pac-12, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, and Southeastern Conferences who all have conference title tilts which enhances their chances for a spot in the field of four, the small debate that began a few years ago which could have been contained to a small section in a boardroom, is now more like the elephant in the room as the Big 12 “must” find themselves two more dance partners that would legitimize their chances of making the College Football Playoff.

The Houston Cougars have recently reached out to the Big 12 Conference, and for all parties involved it would be a marriage made in heaven between school and conference. The Cougars were a member of the old Southwest Conference. But when the conference folded in 1996, Houston was left in football limbo when Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and the Texas Tech Red Raiders joined the members of the Big 8 Conference to form the Big 12. Since then Houston has found itself in Conference USA and the American Athletic Conference as they’ve become an afterthought. However since 2009, the Cougars have won 62 games which included going 13-1 last season en route to winning the AAC, while also defeating the Florida State Seminoles in the Peach Bowl as that has put them back on the national stage for the first time in nearly 25 years. Houston is ready to upgrade their athletic facilities to meet the Big 12’s standards. And a membership in the Big 12 would give the Cougars an opportunity to re-ignite a rivalry with Texas that has been dormant since 1995.

In the past the Big 12 Conference has reached out to the Brigham Young Cougars to gauge their interest in joining them. But after leaving the Mountain West Conference in 2010, BYU has been a football independent, and they currently find themselves in the midst of having a television agreement with ESPN. At the present time BYU appears to be rather content with being a football independent as they don’t have to answer to anyone as far as sharing football revenue while they’re also enjoying life nestled in Provo, Utah.

The Central Florida Knights, Memphis Tigers, and Colorado State Rams have each reached out to the Big 12 with Memphis possibly emerging as a front runner to join. Memphis has emerged as a candidate due to the school’s proximity to the majority of the Big 12 Conference members, while the chairman of FedEx, Fred Smith has promised to provide sponsorship for a potential Big 12 Title Game that could sway the conference open its doors to the Tigers. And we all know that the ultimate equalizer in collegiate athletics is the almighty dollar as conferences and schools alike will never turn down a buck which means that Memphis has more than a puncher’s chance.

But everyone for now isn’t on the same page as far as Big 12 expansion goes as Max Weitzenhoffer who is the chairman of Oklahoma’s board of regents isn’t a fan of adding two more schools; especially since he saw his school win the conference title in football last year, while the men’s basketball team reached the Final Four last month for the first time since 2002. However the ship hasn’t left port of the matter of expansion in the Big 12, but the engine is beginning to churn which means that anyone who isn’t on board with it will either be quieted or they won’t have position of authority for that much longer.

It isn’t a matter of if, but more a matter of when the Big 12 decides to extend two more invitations to schools as this proud conference doesn’t want to get lost in the shuffle of the college football bonanza. And just like the Big East was raided once upon a time, this time around it could be the American Athletic Conference that will suffer the biggest hit.

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