American Athletic Conference Football 2017 Predictions

Complete preview of the American Athletic Conference for 2017.

The American Athletic Conference leads the way among Group of 5 leagues, with USF entering 2017 as the clear favorite. The Bulls are the predicted champion by Athlon Sports, and coach Charlie Strong’s team has a good shot at an undefeated record. Defending AAC champion Temple and UCF are the top challengers to USF in the East Division. The race to win the West Division is crowded at the top. Houston, Navy and Memphis each have a strong argument for the No. 1 spot, while Tulsa and SMU aren’t far behind.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s American Athletic Conference predictions for 2017:

 

1. USF’s Run to an Undefeated Regular Season

Selecting USF as the American Athletic champion for 2017 was one of the easier picks during Athlon’s prediction meetings. The Bulls won 18 games over the last two seasons and returns much of that core this fall. Leading the way is senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, who should be a dark horse Heisman contender after accounting for 42 total scores in 2016. Flowers will have a new backfield mate after running back Marlon Mack left for the NFL, but the Bulls have a couple of talented options, including redshirt freshman Elijah Mack and senior D’Ernest Johnson. New coach Charlie Strong should help a defense that surrendered 31.6 points a game last fall. USF returns nine starters on this side of the ball, including standout tackles Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, along with linebacker Auggie Sanchez. The Bulls are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and could be favored in all 12 regular season games. Even if this team stumbles once in conference play, USF should be the top Group of 5 program in 2017.

 

Related: American Athletic 2017 All-Conference Team

 

2. Temple vs. UCF

Deciding between Temple and UCF for the No. 2 spot was the toughest prediction in Athlon’s AAC projections. The Owls are the defending back-to-back champs of the division, but this team has a new coach (Geoff Collins) and returns eight overall starters. Quarterback Philip Walker and defensive end Haason Reddick leave big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball. While the losses are heavy, Collins isn’t inheriting an empty cupboard. Running back Ryquell Armstead is a rising star, the receiving corps is one of the best in the conference, and the defense has plenty of young talent to prevent much of a drop in production. Behind first-year coach Scott Frost, UCF was one of the nation’s most-improved teams last fall. The Knights went from 0-12 in 2015 to 6-7 in 2016, and Frost should be able to build on his debut thanks to nine returning starters on offense. Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton needs to take the next step in his development, but UCF is loaded at the skill positions, and the line should improve with three returning starters. Just like Temple, UCF’s defense is also in rebuild mode. The Knights return only four starters – all in the front seven. Alabama transfer Shawn Burgess-Becker is a name to watch in the secondary. The winner of the Nov. 18 game between these two teams in Philadelphia is likely to decide second place in the division.

 

 

3. Analyzing the West Division Favorites

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It’s a three-team debate at the top of the West Division. Houston, Navy and Memphis each received consideration for the projected division champion in Athlon’s prediction meeting. The Tigers eventually emerged as the pick, but only one game separates the Midshipmen and Cougars in the projected standings. Memphis should be explosive on offense thanks to the return of quarterback Riley Ferguson and one of the league’s top receiving corps. The biggest concern for the Tigers is on defense, especially in a secondary that returns only one starter. Coach Mike Norvell’s team won’t have to play USF in crossover play but does have road trips to Tulsa and Houston. Navy’s 10 returning starters are the fewest of any team in the West Division. However, coach Ken Niumatalolo will ensure little drop off. Quarterback Zach Abey gained valuable experience late last season and now steps into the full-time role. Abey can lean on a strong backfield tandem of fullback Chris High and running back Darryl Bonner, along with one of the league’s top offensive lines. The Midshipmen do have a few holes to fill on defense with just five returning starters. Despite coach Tom Herman leaving for Texas, Houston is still equipped to win the league title. Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen is eligible at quarterback, and tackle Ed Oliver is among the nation’s best defensive players. Assuming new coach Major Applewhite has a smooth transition into the full-time job, a schedule that features home games against Memphis and Navy could be the difference in a tight division.    

 

4. Tulsa and SMU

The tough debates in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division extend outside of the top three. Tulsa checks in fourth in the projected standings, while SMU is one spot behind in fifth. If one of the top three teams stumbles more than expected, don’t be surprised if the Mustangs or Golden Hurricane jump into the mix. SMU is loaded with potential on offense in coach Chad Morris’ third year on campus. The Mustangs are led by All-America candidate Courtland Sutton at receiver, while 1,000-yard rusher Braeden West leads the way on the ground. In order for SMU to challenge the top teams in the West, improving the defense is a priority. The Mustangs gave up 36.3 points per game last fall. The schedule isn’t too daunting, as UConn, Cincinnati and UCF are the three crossover games with the East, and Tulsa visits Dallas in late October. The Golden Hurricane have thrived under coach Philip Montgomery, but this team has a few significant personnel concerns to address. Quarterback Dane Evans expired his eligibility, and redshirt freshman Luke Skipper and sophomore Chad President finished spring locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. Additionally, top receivers Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson must be replaced, and the defense suffered a few key losses in the front seven. SMU and Tulsa could be two of the league’s more entertaining teams to watch in 2017 – and both are potential sleepers to watch in the division title picture.

 

5. Cincinnati and Tulane

Looking for two teams that could exceed preseason expectations? Take a look at Tulane and Cincinnati. The Green Wave finished 4-8 in coach Willie Fritz’s debut last year but lost four games by 10 points or less. Tulane should feature one of the league’s top defenses, and the offense will take a step forward behind new quarterback Jonathan Banks. The former Kansas State signal-caller is a perfect fit for Fritz’s offense, and this unit will benefit from another offseason to work in this scheme. Cincinnati has missed out on a winning record just twice since 2006, with one of those coming last season (4-8). New coach Luke Fickell certainly knows the terrain thanks to extensive ties to the state of Ohio as an assistant with the Buckeyes. A fresh start under Fickell should provide a spark for this team, and Cincinnati still has a solid core of talent. With Ohio State transfer Torrance Gibson likely to redshirt, Hayden Moore and Ross Trail will battle for the starting quarterback job. In addition to finding a quarterback, the defense needs to take a step forward after giving up over 400 yards per game in 2016. Also in the East Division, East Carolina is relying on three graduate transfer – quarterback Thomas Sirk, running back Tyshon Dye and end Gaelin Elmore – for improvement after finishing 3-9 in coach Scottie Montgomery’s debut in 2016. UConn hired a familiar face (Randy Edsall) to lead the program after dismissing Bob Diaco last season. Edsall won 74 games from 1999-10 and inherits a program with 13 returning starters for 2017. The hire of Rhett Lashlee to call plays should provide some immediate help for an offense that averaged just 14.8 points per game in 2016. While the offense may struggle, the defense should be a strength.

 

AAC 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units
Best LB
Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

 

American Athletic Conference 2017 Football Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected AAC Record Projected Overall Record
1 USF 7-1 12-1
2 UCF 5-3 7-5
3 Temple 4-4 6-6
4 Cincinnati 2-6 4-8
5 UConn 2-6 3-9
6 East Carolina 2-6 3-9
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected AAC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Memphis 6-2 9-4
2 Navy 5-3 8-4
3 Houston 5-3 7-5
4 Tulsa 5-3 7-5
5 SMU 3-5 7-5
6 Tulane 2-6 4-8
         
American Athletic Conference Championship Game
USF over Memphis 

 

AAC 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Quinton Flowers

QB, USF

Quinton Flowers

QB, USF

Quinton Flowers

QB, USF

Defensive POY

Ed Oliver

DL, Houston

Ed Oliver

DL, Houston

Ed Oliver

DL, Houston

Coach of the Year

Mike Norvell

Memphis

Mike Norvell

Memphis

Charlie Strong

USF

Coach on Hot Seat None None None
Top Freshman

Luke Skipper

QB, Tulsa

Luke Skipper

QB, Tulsa

Leroy Henley

WR, ECU

Top Newcomer

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Sleeper Team SMU Tulane Tulsa

Key Position

to Watch

Memphis DB Houston OL USF RB
Best Coordinator Hire

Sterlin Gilbert

OC, USF

Rhett Lashlee

OC, UConn

Rhett Lashlee

OC, UConn

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Houston Houston Temple
Coach on the Rise

Mike Norvell

HC, Memphis

Mike Norvell

HC, Memphis

Mike Norvell

HC, Memphis

Must-See Game

Navy at

Memphis

Navy at 

Memphis

UCLA at

Memphis

Breakout Player

Jonathan Banks

QB, Tulane

Jonathan Banks

QB, Tulane

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Comeback Player

Mike Boone

RB, Cincinnati

Duke Catalon

RB, Houston

Mike Boone

RB, Cincinnati

 

Ranking the American Athletic Conference Coaches for 2017

 

1. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

2. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

3. Charlie Strong, USF

 

Click here to view the full 2017 American Athletic Conference Coach Rankings

 

Ranking the American Athletic Conference Quarterbacks for 2017

 

1. Quinton Flowers, USF

2. Riley Ferguson, Memphis

3. Kyle Allen, Houston

 

Click here to view the full 2017 American Athletic Conference QB Rankings

 

Grading the American Athletic Conference New Coach Hires for 2017

 

1. Randy Edsall, UConn (B)

2. Geoff Collins, Temple (B-)

3. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati (B-)

4. Major Applewhite, Houston (C+)

 

Click here to view the full 2017 New Coach Hire Grades and Ranks

Event Date: 
Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - 23:52

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