American Athletic Conference Football 2019 Predictions

Complete preview of the American Athletic Conference for 2019

The American Athletic Conference ranks as the best league in the Group of 5, and it’s no surprise a couple of familiar faces - UCF, Memphis, Cincinnati and Houston - lead the way in the 2019 predictions. The Knights are 25-1 over the last two seasons and are Athlon’s pick to win the AAC and finish this year ranked as the highest team among Group of 5 conference champions. UCF will be pushed by Cincinnati in the East Division. Memphis and Houston are projected to have a tight battle atop the West, with Tulane and SMU in the next tier.

 

More Question Marks than 2018, but UCF is the Pick

UCF enters the 2019 season with more question marks than it did last fall, but the Knights are still the pick to win the American Athletic Conference. Coach Josh Heupel guided this program to a 12-1 mark last fall and won the conference title with quarterback McKenzie Milton sidelined due to injury. Milton is expected to sit out 2019 as he recovers from the serious leg injury suffered against USF on Nov. 23, but Heupel has some intriguing options pushing for the starting job. Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush and sophomore Darriel Mack are locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart and will compete deep into the fall. Regardless of who wins the job, the supporting cast is loaded with talent. The Knights return running back Greg McCrae, receiver Gabriel Davis and a standout offensive line. While Mack and Wimbush are solid options under center, UCF’s offense may take a small step back on the stat sheet without Milton directing this attack. However, the biggest concern for Heupel comes on defense. The Knights struggled to stop the run last fall and enter the year with question marks in the trenches. The secondary brings back three starters and is the strength of this unit.

 

Cincinnati took a big step forward with an 11-2 mark in coach Luke Fickell’s second year at the helm last fall. The Bearcats are UCF’s biggest challenger in the division and host the Knights on Oct. 4. Provided the offensive line replaces three starters, Cincinnati’s offense should rank among the best in the conference. Quarterback Desmond Ridder returns after recording 25 overall touchdowns in his first year as the team’s starter, while the backfield is among the deepest in the conference, anchored by 1,000-yard rusher Michael Warren. Cincinnati’s defense is also retooled up front but should be solid in the back seven.

 

While the Oct. 4 showdown between UCF and Cincinnati is huge for the division title, the Knights have a schedule advantage over the Bearcats. UCF hosts Houston and does not play Memphis in crossover matchups. Cincinnati catches both on the road and also plays at USF.

 

Memphis vs. Houston for No. 1 in the AAC West

Similar to last season, Athlon Sports is projecting another close battle atop the AAC West between Houston and Memphis. Athlon’s projections have both teams finishing 6-2 in league play, with the Nov. 16 showdown in Houston likely to decide the division. There’s no doubt the Tigers will miss the big-play ability of running back Darrell Henderson, but senior Patrick Taylor should keep the ground game performing at a high level. Quarterback Brady White is back after throwing 26 touchdowns and 3,296 yards in his first year as the starter. Also, with eight starters back, Memphis should have one of the AAC’s top defenses. With Dana Holgorsen now in charge at Houston, this program certainly won’t lack for intrigue in 2019 and beyond. Holgorsen’s high-powered offense will be an excellent fit for dynamic quarterback D’Eriq King and one of the league’s top receiving corps. However, the Cougars have major question marks on a defense that surrendered 37.2 points a game last season.

 

Watch Out for Tulane in the AAC West

Houston and Memphis lead the way in Athlon’s AAC West predictions, but keep a close eye on Tulane if you are looking for a surprise division winner in 2019. The Green Wave might be a bit low in the projections at 6-6, but coach Willie Fritz’s team have a handful of tossups on their schedule. Tulane’s defensive line is the best in the league and anchors a defense that held teams to 27.5 points a game last fall. For the Green Wave to challenge Houston and Memphis atop the division, more is needed out of the offense. Fritz took steps to address this unit by hiring Will Hall to call plays and speed up the tempo on an offense that averaged just under 70 plays a game in 2018. A revamped offensive line is a question mark, but Tulane boasts one of the league’s top receiver tandems with Darnell Mooney and Jalen McCleskey to team with improving quarterback Justin McMillan. The backfield is deep thanks to the return of Darius Bradwell, Stephon Huderson, Corey Dauphine and Amare Jones. The Green Wave will be tested right away in the AAC opener with Houston visiting New Orleans on Sept. 19. Fritz’s team gets Memphis on Oct. 19 and UCF on Nov. 23.

 

 

USF vs. Temple for Third in the AAC East

The debate between USF and Temple generated the most discussion of the AAC East Division picks. The Bulls started 7-0 but finished 2018 on a six-game losing streak. The Owls were clearly better in conference record (7-1 to 3-5) but enter 2019 with a lot of change. New coach Rod Carey arrives in Philadelphia after a solid stint at Northern Illinois and inherits a core that features quarterback Anthony Russo and six starters from a defense that held teams to 27.1 points a game last fall. While a good foundation remains, Temple has to replace standout safety Delvon Randall, running back Ryquell Armstead, defensive lineman Michael Dogbe and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin. USF is counting on new play-caller Kerwin Bell to jumpstart an offense that averaged 28.5 points a game last fall. The Bulls have no shortage of talent in place, as quarterback Blake Barnett, running back Jordan Cronkrite, tight end Mitchell Wilcox and all-purpose threat Johnny Ford provide plenty of firepower. However, coach Charlie Strong’s defense gave up 32 points a game last fall and must show marked improvement after struggling down the stretch. It’s a close call, but with the matchup between these two teams in Tampa, Athlon will pick USF to finish third in the division.

 

Podcast: Complete Breakdown and Predictions for the AAC in 2019

 

Rounding Out the Rest of the League

East Carolina made one of the offseason’s top coaching moves by hiring Mike Houston away from James Madison. The Pirates have a promising quarterback in Holton Ahlers but have to improve a defense that allowed 37.3 points a game last season. Expect improvement, but East Carolina is likely a year away from bowl contention. UConn enters 2019 where it left off last season with significant concerns on both sides of the ball. The Huskies must replace quarterback David Pindell and generate improvement from a young defense that surrendered a whopping 50.4 points a game last fall.

 

SMU just missed a bowl game in coach Sonny Dykes’ first year but are projected to reach six wins in Athlon’s projections for 2019. The Mustangs should benefit from the addition of Texas transfer Shane Buechele at quarterback, and the defense should take a step forward with eight starters back. Navy is only 5-15 over its last 20 games and brings back just six starters for 2019. Coach Ken Niumatalolo revamped his staff after a disappointing 2018 season, and new defensive coordinator Brian Newberry is one of the top assistant hires in the conference. Additionally, building the offense to fit quarterback Malcolm Perry’s skill set should help the offense get back on track. Tulsa is just 5-19 over the last two years, but there’s some optimism for coach Philip Montgomery’s team. Baylor transfer Zach Smith should provide a spark under center, and the defense brings back seven starters from a group that showed marked improvement last fall.

 

AAC 2019 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. 
6.  6.  6.  6.  6.  6. 

 

American Athletic Conference 2019 Football Predictions
         
East Division
Rank Team  

Projected AAC

Record

Projected Overall

Record

1 UCF 6-2 10-3
2 Cincinnati 5-3 8-4
3 USF 5-3 6-6
4 Temple 4-4 7-5
5 East Carolina 1-7 4-8
6 UConn 0-8 2-10
         
West Division
Rank Team  

Projected AAC

Record

Projected Overall

Record

1 Memphis 6-2 9-4
2 Houston 6-2 8-4
3 Tulane 4-4 6-6
4 SMU 4-4 6-6
5 Navy 4-4 5-7
6 Tulsa 3-5 4-8
         
American Athletic Conference Championship Game
over    

 

AAC 2019 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven 

Lassan

Mitch

Light

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch
Offensive POY

D'Eriq King

QB, Houston

D'Eriq King

QB, Houston

Defensive POY

Patrick Johnson

DL, Tulane

Richie Grant

S, UCF

Coach of the Year

Josh Heupel

UCF

Josh Heupel

UCF

Coach on Hot Seat

Philip Montgomery

Tulsa

Philip Montgomery

Tulsa

Top Freshman

Cam Goode

DL, UCF

Arquon Bush

CB, Cincinnati

Top Newcomer

Shane Buechele

QB, SMU

Shane Buechele

QB, SMU

Sleeper Team Tulane Tulane

Key Position

to Watch

UCF DL UCF DL

Best Coordinator

Hire

Adam Fuller

DC, Memphis

Kerwin Bell

OC, USF

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

USF

Temple
Coach on the Rise

Luke Fickell

HC, Cincinnati

Mike Houston

HC, ECU

Must-See Game

UCF at

Cincinnati

UCF at 

Cincinnati

Breakout Player

Arquon Bush

CB, Cincinnati

Holton Ahlers

QB, ECU

Comeback Player

Perry Young

LB, Cincinnati

Isaiah Chambers

DL, Houston

 

WANT MORE? Listen to our podcast below.

 

Podcast: Explaining Athlon's Top 25 and Playoff Predictions

 

(Top photo courtesy of Houston Cougar Football Facebook page)

Include in Acu Data Feed: 
Exclude from Acu-data Feed

More Stories: