The American Athletic Conference (AAC) is coming off a Peach Bowl appearance in which Cincinnati nearly knocked off Georgia. I'd say this conference has the respect of everyone across the country between the Bearcats, UCF, Houston, and Memphis. There's plenty of returning talent across the league, especially at quarterback with Desmond Ridder and Dillon Gabriel leading the way. We'll see if there's some value in any win totals in this conference just outside the Power 5.
Note: Win total numbers courtesy of DraftKings.
Cincinnati (Over 10 -113...Under 10 -113)
Non-Conference Games: Miami (Ohio), Murray State, at Indiana, at Notre Dame
Schedule Notes: We'll learn about this team early after a 2-0 start when they take two consecutive road trips to Indiana and Notre Dame. In conference play, they've got easy road trips and host UCF on Oct. 16.
QB: Desmond Ridder
Roster Notes: Ridder is the key here along with returning pass catchers Josh Whyle, Michael Young Jr., and Alec Pierce. Jerome Ford is set to take over as the feature back following the departure of Gerrid Doaks and he'll run behind a line that returns three starters but must replace both tackles. The defense has a new coordinator and six returning starters. The team's leading tackler is gone, but there's depth at linebacker and up front with Myjai Sanders returning.
Prediction: Ten is a good number.
East Carolina (Over 4.5 -143...Under 4.5 +113)
Non-Conference Games: Appalachian State (in Charlotte, N.C.), South Carolina, at Marshall, Charleston Southern
Schedule Notes: The conference slate features road games at Houston, UCF, and Memphis, which isn't great. They leave the state only once in the first five weeks of the season.
QB: Holton Ahlers
Roster Notes: Ahlers led an offense that averaged over 400 yards last year. He can throw it with success and has solid mobility as well. Almost all of the skill position guys are back outside of Blake Proehl. The offensive line is intact as well, with running back Rahjai Harris trying to build off a solid 2020 campaign. The defense has 10 starters back, but it's a group that gave up more than 35 points five times last year. The secondary has some talent, but they need more sacks because opposing QBs had all day last year.
Prediction: I come up with 4-5 wins, so probably no play. To me, there are five winnable games on this slate, but can they get them all?
Houston (Over 8 -134...Under 8 +105)
Non-Conference Games: Texas Tech (NRG Stadium), at Rice, Grambling State, at Connecticut
Schedule Notes: The non-conference slate gives the Cougars a chance to start fast, although the Red Raiders will be tough. The road trips are pretty manageable in AAC play, as well as a home slate that only really features Memphis and SMU.
QB: Clayton Tune
Roster Notes: Consistency was a massive issue for the offense that scored 56 points against USF in November and 37 in the other two games of the month. Clayton Tune replaced D'Eriq King nicely, although the interception number needs to come down. Three Power 5 transfers are coming to replenish the WR group after two others left. Texas Tech transfer Ta'Zhawn Henry will help out the backfield that now is led by Mulbah Car. The defense has 9 starters back, including a really good secondary that featured four of the team's top 5 tacklers.
Prediction: Love the over. Shop around for a better price, but this team could approach 10 wins if everything breaks right. I may even put a little money on them to win the conference.
Memphis (Over 8 -113...Under 8 -113)
Non-Conference Games: Nicholls, at Arkansas State, Mississippi State, UTSA
Schedule Notes: The conference schedule features road trips to UCF and Houston as well as some juicy home contests. The non-conference could be interesting with the road game at Arkansas State as well as the home tilt against Mississippi State.
QB Battle: Arizona transfer Grant Gunnell vs. Peter Parrish vs. Keilon Brown
Roster Notes: Replacing Brady White is a large task for this team, but Gunnell played well in his limited time at Arizona. Whoever wins the job will have Calvin Austin III, who had 11 touchdowns, and Sean Dykes back at the skill positions. It'll be interesting to see what they do with former Austin Peay signal-caller Jeremiah Oatsvall, whom they like at WR. The defense has nine starters back, but Joseph Dorceus went to Tulane. The strength is probably in the secondary with the weakest part being the linebackers.
Prediction: Eight is a good number for the Tigers.
Navy (Over 3.5 -113...Under 3.5 -113)
Non-Conference Games: Marshall, Air Force, at Notre Dame, Army (in East Rutherford, N.J.)
Schedule Notes: Navy has five of its first seven at home, which is good considering they'll have just one home contest the last five weeks of the season.
QB Battle: Xavier Arline vs. Tai Lavatai
Roster Notes: This offense really doesn't work very well when they don't have a good quarterback. Last year was one of their worst in a while, including five games where the Midshipmen scored seven or fewer points. It could be rough once again in 2021 with Navy relying so much on its rushing attack and few proven options returning. Navy had six sacks last year, but eight starters are back. We'll see what they can improve on with Diego Fagot back as the leading tackler (72) and sack artist (3.0) in 2020.
Prediction: Three or four wins are what I came up with, so no play here.
SMU (Over 6.5 -106...Under 6.5 -121)
Non-Conference Games: Abilene Christian, North Texas, at Louisiana Tech, at TCU
Schedule Notes: SMU's road AAC slate features road trips to Houston, Memphis, and Cincinnati all in just over a month. They also host UCF among all those road games as well, making the early part a lot more important.
QB Battle: Preston Stone vs. Derek Green vs. Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai
Roster Notes: Losing Shane Buechele is big, although eight starters are back, including their top three wide receivers and Oklahoma transfer tight end Grant Calcaterra. What makes this team tough to defend is that they've got a good run game with Ulysses Bentley IV, who had 913 yards in 2020. Jim Leavitt takes over the defense that has nine starters back and a loaded secondary.
Prediction: I come up with 6-7 wins, so no play here.
Temple (Over 2.5 -159...Under 2.5 +125)
Non-Conference Games: at Rutgers, at Akron, Boston College, Wagner
Schedule Notes: After two straight on the road, the Owls come home for three in a row. They follow that up with three of their next four on the road. Houston, Memphis, and UCF all come to Philadelphia.
QB: D'Wan Mathis
Roster Notes: If Mathis plays up to his potential, then this offense could be pretty good. The problem is that he couldn't keep his job down in Georgia. Jadan Blue and David Martin-Robinson headline a solid group of skill position guys with Ra'Von Bonner from Illinois and Iverson Clement from Florida competing for carries in the backfield. The defense churned its way through the transfer portal with guys leaving for Rutgers, Boston College, and Penn State, but players from North Carolina, Washington State, and Northwestern are coming in. William Kwenkeu leads the linebackers, while the secondary hopes its safeties can make up for some potential struggles at CB.
Prediction: Three wins seem about right, but certainly not at this price.
Tulane (Over 5 -134...Under 5 +105)
Non-Conference Games: Oklahoma, Morgan State, at Ole Miss, UAB
Schedule Notes: Getting Oklahoma at home in Week 1 is quite the way to start the year. Getting SMU, UCF, and Memphis on the road are other tough assignments. Tulane pretty much alternates road and home games in AAC play.
QB: Michael Pratt
Roster Notes: Pratt was a revelation last year with 20 passing touchdowns and eight rushing ones as well. His top six receivers return as well as Cameron Carroll at running back, who gets help from Utah transfer Devin Brumfield. Improvement is needed from the offensive line, which returns 4 of 5 starters. The defense could struggle a little early as they try to replace Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample, who combined for 15 sacks. The secondary could be a weak spot although three of the six returning starters are found here.
Prediction: Five is a good number in my book.
Tulsa (Over 6.5 EVEN...Under 6.5 -125)
Non-Conference Games: UC Davis, at Oklahoma State, at Ohio State, Arkansas State
Schedule Notes: UC Davis will not be an easy opener for Tulsa. Nor will the game against Arkansas State that's after two tough road trips and before two important conference games. The Golden Hurricane finish with three of their final four on the road.
QB Battle: Davis Brin vs. Seth Boomer
Roster Notes: Trying to replace Zach Smith will be tough for Tulsa because the options this coming season are nowhere near as good. The skill positions are stacked with Keylon Stokes, Josh Johnson, and JuanCarlos Santana back as well as Shamari Brooks, who suffered an early knee injury last year. Zaven Collins is gone from the defense, but eight starters do return. Jaxon Player was awesome up front as well.
Prediction: Six or seven wins are what I come up with. I also have them getting upset by Arkansas State.
UCF (Over 9.5 -113...Under 9.5 -113)
Non-Conference Games: Boise State, Bethune-Cookman, at Louisville, Connecticut
Schedule Notes: The Knights begin and end the season with a pair of home games back-to-back. They have to play at Cincinnati and SMU in-conference and get Memphis at home as well.
QB: Dillon Gabriel
Roster Notes: The offense should be a lot of fun, even with Josh Heupel departing. Gabriel threw for 32 touchdowns last year and had just four interceptions. Losing Marlon Williams would hurt at WR, but Jaylon Robinson can take over along with Colorado State transfer Nate Craig-Myers who followed Gus Malzahn from Auburn. The team's potent RB duo of Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson are gone, but there are several options to replace them.
Prediction: The over is the lean here, but it's by far not one of my favorite plays here.
USF (Over 3 +100...Under 3 -125)
Non-Conference Games: at NC State, Florida, Florida A&M, at BYU
Schedule Notes: It's a really tough start to the slate with three tough non-conference opponents, although it is nice to get the Gators at home. They host Houston and Cincinnati in AAC play, but it probably won't help.
QB Battle: Cade Fortin vs. Miami transfer Jarren Williams
Roster Notes: The offense was brutal last year, so we'll see if 10 starters coming back actually means anything. Included in that mix are four of the top five pass catchers and all five offensive linemen. Johnny Ford transferred to Florida Atlantic, so the backfield needs to be restructured. The defense was bad last year as well but also has a bunch of returnees. Improvement is expected, but how much?
Prediction: There are three winnable games, so no play here.