The conference formerly known as the Big East is still one in transition for the 2013 season.
There’s a new name and logo for 2013, along with more changes in the lineup of teams. Pittsburgh and Syracuse departed for the ACC, but the American Athletic Conference welcomes UCF, Houston, SMU and Memphis into the league for 2013. Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will leave after this year, but the conference has already secured Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane to join the league for 2014.
While the transition has cast a large shadow on this league, the American Athletic Conference does have a legitimate national title contender for 2013 – Louisville. The Cardinals return 14 starters, including Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Louisville needs to fill a couple of key voids on the offensive line, but Bridgewater and a solid defense should carry the Cardinals to the league championship.
Louisville’s biggest challenger appears to be Cincinnati. The Bearcats have a new coach (Tommy Tuberville), but the pieces are in place to push for 10 victories. Brendon Kay stabilized the quarterback spot in the second half of last season, and the defense should have the best linebacking corps in the conference for 2013. Cincinnati also hosts Louisville in the regular season finale, which could be a huge opportunity for the program to knock the Cardinals out of the national title picture.
Rutgers and UCF round out the top four in Athlon’s projected American Athletic Conference standings for 2013. The Scarlet Knights suffered some key personnel losses on defense, and need to get quarterback Gary Nova back on track after a disappointing finish to the season. The Knights could surprise this year, especially if the defense fills a few key voids in the front seven.
Behind new coach Willie Taggart, South Florida should be one of the most-improved teams in college football. The Bulls have an All-American caliber defensive end in Aaron Lynch, along with a transfer quarterback in Steven Bench to bolster the roster for 2013. The Bulls should benefit from a weak bottom of the league to get bowl eligible this year.
The final five spots in the conference are a tossup. Connecticut had one of the nation’s top-10 defenses last year, but the Huskies managed only 17.8 points a game. Coach Paul Pasqualoni hopes new coordinator T.J. Weist can push the right buttons on offense this year. If the Huskies are slightly better on offense in 2013, getting to a bowl game isn’t out of the question.
Houston and SMU could easily be switched in our projections, especially after the Cougars lost running back Charles Sims. Houston also needs to address a defense that ranked last in Conference USA in yards allowed last year. The Mustangs return quarterback Garrett Gilbert, but the defense must replace a couple of key performers, including end Margus Hunt.
Memphis and Temple round out the American projections for 2013. However, both teams appear to be on the right track. The Tigers showed big improvement under Justin Fuente last season, and Matt Rhule was a popular hire among the Temple fanbase.
2013 American Athletic Conference Team Previews
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