AAC Must Prove Its Initials Aren't a Typo
It's hard to recognize the American Athletic Conference these days, as the Big East is a distant memory.
The conference has some serious work to do to reclaim a status many think -- as far as football is concerned -- it never should have had in the first place.
Central Florida is the defending champion, but quarterback Blake Bortles has gone on to the NFL and the Knights suddenly look thin. The running back position, receivers, and defense are strong, but UCF will not return to a big bowl game unless a new quarterback steps up.
Cincinnati, 9-4 last year, gets East Carolina and Houston at home this season. The Pirates return Shane Carden at quarterback. He needs to find Justin Hardy downfield often. Very often. East Carolina was 10-3 last year, including a win over North Carolina.
Houston also returns its quarterback, John O'Korn, and he has a solid group of receivers returning. The Cougars lost four of their last five games last season, though, including their bowl game. So if anyone needed the 2013 campaign to conclude, they did.
The rest of the schools in this division are all fighting to place in the middle of the pack. Tulsa and South Florida could make a jump, with the Golden Hurricane poised to do it this season and South Florida in years to come. Tulsa needs to improve on defense, but they do return most of the group from last season. Willie Taggart is in his second year of rebuilding the Bulls in South Florida, and they should improve on last year's 2-10 performance.
Memphis was 3-9 with a string of tough losses. If Paxton Lynch can improve at quarterback, the Tigers could get to .500. Tulane went from 2-10 to 7-6, including a tough bowl loss. Without Nick Montana at the helm, It'll be hard for the Green Wave to duplicate last season's success. Connecticut has a new coach, Bob Diaco, who came over from Nôtre Dame. He must improve the Huskies' defense and would've leaned on running back Lyle McCombs if he didn't get booted from the squad. That makes the search for a quarterback who will step it up even more vital.
SMU was 4-4 in league play last year and will have Neal Burcham calling signals full time. The Mustangs are getting there under Coach June Jones, and with a few more recruting classes, they can be fighting for a league title soon. Temple, on the other hand, plays in an empty stadium week after week and will continue to struggle. PJ Walker is a good quarterback, but he needs help as the Owls continue to lose close games.
There is no championship game in this conference, so every regular season matchup means something. It could come down to Houston and Cincinnati on 6 December or Central Florida at East Carolina two days earlier. No matter what, this conference will come down to the final weeks to determine a champion.