The American Athletic Conference had itself a fantastic 2021 college football season with Cincinnati making the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats didn't beat Alabama, but they held their own, which is more than other Group of 5 teams can say. Houston also saw its plan come to fruition, going 12-2 overall and undefeated in AAC play during the regular season.
Related: AAC Football 2022 Predictions
It's the last year for several squads (Cincinnati, Houston, UCF) before they leave for the Big 12, so the AAC hopes those teams will put together strong closing statements. With that, let's take a look at the win totals for the AAC and see if there's any value.
(Win totals provided by Draftkings)
Cincinnati (Over 9 -130...Under 9 +110)
Non-Conference Games: at Arkansas, Kennesaw State, vs. Miami (Ohio) (in Cincinnati), Indiana
Schedule Notes: The Bearcats jump right into the season traveling to SEC country in Week 1. They have a couple of tough road trips to SMU and UCF in late October but finish out with three of four at home against some of the lesser AAC competition.
QB Battle: Evan Prater vs. Eastern Michigan transfer Ben Bryant
Roster Notes: There are plenty of losses on both sides of the ball, but they have some pieces to make things interesting. The defense will be without four starters in their stout secondary, including shutdown cornerbacks Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant. The defensive line should be solid, though. The other side of the ball features an intact offensive line but unproven weapons and big shoes to fill at quarterback.
Prediction: Lean to the over here, as I think nine wins is Cincy's floor this year.
East Carolina (Over 6.5 +120...Under 6.5 -140)
Non-Conference Games: NC State, Old Dominion, Campbell, at BYU
Schedule Notes: The Pirates' season starts with a bang when NC State comes to Greenville. It's the first of four straight home games. They also get UCF and Houston early before facing BYU and Cincinnati on the road late.
QB: Holton Ahlers
Roster Notes: Ahlers was solid last year with 18 passing touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. Wide receiver Tyler Snead is gone, but C.J. Johnson is more than capable of leading the way. Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris form a very good RB duo with an experienced O-line to block for them. Improvements will be needed on defense, but eight starters are back so the next step should be taken by the Pirates.
Prediction: Six or seven wins seem about right. A lot hinges on how you think Week 1 will go for the Pirates.
Houston (Over 9 -120...Under 9 EVEN)
Non-Conference Games: at UTSA, at Texas Tech, Kansas, Rice
Schedule Notes: The season starts with two interesting road trips in the Lone Star State to face UTSA and Texas Tech. After that, it's three winnable home games. Houston misses UCF and Cincinnati in AAC play and has a home-friendly slate as well.
QB: Clayton Tune
Roster Notes: The loss of running back Alton McCaskill (tore his ACL in the spring) spring would normally be a large one, but Ta'Zhawn Henry and Brandon Campbell should fill in nicely. The wide receiver corps is awesome, though, with KeSean Carter and Tank Dell back along with transfers from USC, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Six defensive starters are back, with the focus being on the pass rush that is led by Derek Parish and D'Anthony Jones. We'll see how well the Cougars replace Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams in the secondary.
Prediction: Solid number here.
Memphis (Over 7.5 +120...Under 7.5 -140)
Non-Conference Games: at Mississippi State, Arkansas State, North Texas, North Alabama
Schedule Notes: Two straight road games for Memphis means an 0-2 start isn't out of the question. But that's followed by four in a row at home. The Tigers close out their slate with three of four at home including Homecoming against UCF on Nov. 5 after a bye week.
QB: Seth Henigan
Roster Notes: Henigan was pretty good as a freshman although, Calvin Austin III and Sean Dykes are gone. Javon Ivory is the top returning wideout, and he'll be joined by Iowa State transfer Joe Scates. The running back group will be strong with Northern Illinois transfer (and MAC Freshman of the Year) Jevyon Ducker added to Brandon Thomas and Rodrigues Clark. The defense is a massive question mark after ranking as one of the worst in the country across the board last.
Prediction: Slight lean to the under, but I'm not taking it at -140.
Navy (Over 4.5 +105...Under 4.5 -125)
Non-Conference Games: Delaware, at Air Force, vs. Notre Dame (Baltimore), vs. Army (Philadelphia)
Schedule Notes: Navy has just five true home games thanks to two neutral-site contests. Cincinnati and UCF represent two tough AAC road trips, but the Midshipmen get Houston at home.
QB: Tai Lavatai
Roster Notes: Lavatai ran the offense pretty well, and Navy won three of five games to end 2021. He can actually throw the ball a little, which always surprises defenses. Four of the top five rushers are gone, but the offensive line is pretty experienced and should be able to open some holes. The defense has only six starters back, with five of the top seven tacklers departing.
Prediction: Lean to the over here, especially at +105.
SMU (Over 7 -105...Under 7 -115)
Non-Conference Games: at North Texas, Lamar, at Maryland, TCU
Schedule Notes: The Mustangs get Houston and Cincinnati at home but have to travel to UCF after the Battle for the Iron Skillet. There are some interesting road trips the first few weeks to Denton to play UNT and College Park to take on the Terrapins.
QB: Tanner Mordecai
Roster Notes: Rhett Lashlee takes over as head coach for his first shot in the big char. He previously was SMU's offensive coordinator from 2018-19. The offense figures to throw it a ton with Mordecai under center. He will miss throwing to Danny Gray, Reggie Roberson Jr., and Grant Calcaterra, but Rashee Rice is back as well as transfers from Rice, North Carolina, and Texas. The defense has seven starters back, but it wasn't great last season, especially against the pass. There are some transfers coming in so the hope is that this side of the ball will improve.
Prediction: SMU's under is my favorite play in the conference.
Temple (Over 2.5 -140...Under 2.5 +120)
Non-Conference Games: at Duke, Lafayette, Rutgers, UMass
Schedule Notes: If the team can figure out the offense, there are some wins to be had early on the slate. The opener against the Blue Devils will be interesting, with both teams breaking in new coaching staffs. The Owls have to travel to UCF and Houston while hosting Cincinnati in late November.
QB Battle: D'Wan Mathis vs. North Dakota State transfer Quincy Patterson
Roster Notes: The Owls were 126th nationally scoring offense and 125th in total offense last year, making them a frequent target for team total unders. Adding Patterson in the summer may help a little bit, especially if former Georgia transfer Mathis struggles at all. The running back group may surprise after adding transfers from Texas A&M and Illinois. The wide receiver group also features a key transfer from Michigan State. Seven defensive starters return, and the team once again added Power 5 transfers. The secondary could be pretty solid, but head coach Stan Drayton has a lot of work ahead of him.
Prediction: I like the over, but not enough to pay -140. Shop around to find something cheaper juice-wise.
Tulane (Over 6 +110...Under 6 -130)
Non-Conference Games: UMass, Alcorn State, at Kansas State, Southern Miss
Schedule Notes: There's an opportunity to start fast with two home victories and potentially three of the first four before conference play. Road trips to Cincinnati and Houston won't help, but the Green Wave get UCF at home.
QB: Michael Pratt
Roster Notes: Pratt was beat up last year with an arm injury and a concussion. He was productive when he played, posting 21 touchdown passes with just eight interceptions. The skill positions are pretty solid, but the offensive line has some question marks. Defensively, Tulane was pretty bad over the first half of 2021 but improved tremendously in November. The hope is that this will carry over.
Prediction: Very solid number, as I came up with six wins.
Tulsa (Over 6 EVEN...Under 6 -120)
Non-Conference Games: at Wyoming, Northern Illinois, Jacksonville State, at Ole Miss
Schedule Notes: Tulsa's non-conference slate is pretty difficult, including the home date with a Jacksonville State program that will make the jump from FCS to FBS in 2023. The Golden Hurricane draw Cincinnati at home and finish their slate on the road against Houston.
QB: Davis Brin
Roster Notes: Brin has to cut down on the turnovers after tossing 16 interceptions last season. But he's lost three of his top four receivers, his leading rusher, and four offensive linemen. Still, Keylon Stokes and JuanCarlos Santana form a pretty strong wide receiver duo, and Deneric Prince is a really solid running back. The defense lost Jaxon Player to Baylor, but there are some transfers that will try to replace him.
Prediction: Under here. I'm not as high on the Golden Hurricane. My ceiling is six wins with everything breaking right.
UCF (Over 8.5 -125...Under +105)
Non-Conference Games: South Carolina State, Louisville, at Florida Atlantic, Georgia Tech
Schedule Notes: The team leaves the Sunshine State just once during the first two months of the season, a stretch that includes a Sept. 17 road trip to face FAU. UCF gets Cincinnati at home but has interesting road trips to Memphis and East Carolina.
QB Battle: Mikey Keene vs. Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee
Roster Notes: Plumlee presents some intriguing opportunities and a lot more mobility than Keene, who didn't add much with his legs. The run game is in excellent shape with Isaiah Bowser and Johnny Richardson returning. For the second straight year, head coach Gus Malzahn added a pair of SEC transfers at the skill positions, but it'll be wide receiver Ryan O'Keefe who leads the way once again. The defense brings back nine of the top 12 tacklers and a secondary that helped limit teams to just 12 touchdown passes in 2021 remains pretty much intact.
Prediction: I see nine-ish wins here, so I lean to the over.
USF (Over 4.5 EVEN...Under 4.5 -120)
Non-Conference Games: BYU, Howard, at Florida, at Louisville
Schedule Notes: If the Bulls can survive a really tough start, they may be able to pick up some situational victories at home. USF has to travel to Cincinnati and Houston, but gets UCF for the rivalry game.
QB: Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon
Roster Notes: Jeff Scott's seat is really hot after going 3-18 in his first two seasons at USF. Bohanon's arrival should help an offense that needs some better QB play. The Bulls produced twice as many interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (six) in 2021. The offensive line added a few key transfers and should hold its own. Veteran defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has been tasked with turning around a unit that ranked 113th or worse nationally in the four major categories last season. He'll be counting on a mix of transfers and experienced holdovers.
Prediction: Four or five wins are what I came up with, so no play here.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.