What does UCF have in mind for an encore after going undefeated last season?
The American Athletic Conference will have a lot more eyes on it after UCF's success last season. The challenge for the Knights will be to continue some semblance of that after going undefeated all year. They were winless two years ago, completing one of the best turnaround stories in the country.
UCF will be chased by Temple and South Florida while the West Division features Memphis, Houston and Navy. It should be a fun year in the conference. With that, let's take a look at the win totals provided by the South Point sportsbook and analyze the value (if any) when it comes to the over/under for each AAC team.
AAC East Division
Over 5 wins -110...Under 5 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: at UCLA, Miami (Ohio), Alabama A&M, Ohio
Luke Fickell's first year didn't see much progress achieved by this team. The Bearcats barely increased their offensive scoring output (+1.6 ppg compared to 2016) while the defense saw its increase by nearly five points per contest. There are 11 starters back with five of those on offense. Hayden Moore, Desmond Ridder and Ben Bryant are the potential options at quarterback and whoever gets the nod will work behind a suspect offensive line. On defense, things figure to be a lot better. Cortez Broughton is a load to block up front along with Marquise Copeland. Cincinnati gets Navy and USF at home in AAC play.
Verdict: Five is a solid number.
Over 3 wins -130...Under 3 wins +110
Non-Conference Games: at Boise State, Rhode Island, at Syracuse, UMass
The hire of Randy Edsall originally was a bit of a headscratcher considering he wasn't the sexiest of choices. In his first year, the Huskies went 3-9 with the team losing seven times by double digits. The offense returns five starters and had one of its best showings since 2011 as the unit averaged 23.6 points per contest. The defense has just two starters back after giving up nearly 38 points per game. Opening up with UCF at home on a Thursday night followed by a road trip to Boise State likely means another rough start for UConn.
Verdict: The money move is probably right, but as I've said in other articles, I'm not paying that price.
Over 3 wins -110...Under 3 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: North Carolina A&T, North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, Old Dominion
Scottie Montgomery has shown nothing in a pair of 3-9 seasons for the Pirates. The Pirates got blasted by James Madison at home to open the 2017 campaign and Vegas had them as seven-point home underdogs to the FCS squad. Trevon Brown is a pretty solid wide receiver, but much like other teams in the AAC, there's a question mark when it comes to quarterback. The defense has much room for improvement after finishing dead last in the FCS at 45 points per game allowed last year. ECU gets seven home games with North Carolina, Old Dominion, Houston, UCF and Memphis all coming to Greenville.
Verdict: Two wins is a very distinct possibility. Small lean to the under.
Over 6.5 wins -105...Under 6.5 wins -115
Non-Conference Games: Villanova, Buffalo, at Maryland, at Boston College
The Owls have some very tough road games on the schedule with trips to Maryland, Boston College, Navy, UCF and Houston on tap. Geoff Collins has 10 starters back, including quarterback Frank Nutile, who took over the job halfway through the season and didn't look back. The offense could surprise if Nutile continues to develop and the playmakers around him do their part. Defensively, this team has been consistently good over the past four seasons. This year it's DT Michael Dogbe, LB Shaun Bradley and S Delvon Randall who lead the way in each level of the D. It's amazing how far the program has come from its dark days many years ago.
Verdict: There are a lot of toss-up games on the schedule. Because of that it makes it hard to make a play. Small lean to the over, but I don't love it.
Over 9 wins -135...Under 9 wins +115
Non-Conference Games: South Carolina State, at North Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Pittsburgh
The bullseye is squarely on this program after all the extra attention the Knights brought upon themselves. Josh Heupel is charged with keeping the team humble and moving in the right direction. He's got McKenzie Milton back at quarterback. The signal-caller accounted for 45 touchdowns in 2017. The wide receiving corps will need to improve although this team could run the ball a lot with their top four rushers back. The defense is without five of its top nine tacklers. The schedule features two three-game home stands. The toughest road games will be at Memphis and USF.
Verdict: Nine is a good number as I have UCF losing three games.
Over 8.5 wins -105...Under 8.5 wins -115
Non-Conference Games: Elon, Georgia Tech, vs. Illinois, at UMass
Quinton Flowers is gone so the Bulls are looking for a new quarterback. There's also uncertainty when it comes to the running game. The offensive line is going to be pretty strong while the wide receivers will have plenty of experience. The question marks also carry over to the defensive side of the ball where just five starters return. The defensive line will have to find new defensive tackles meaning it could be easier to run on this group. It's an interesting mix of non-conference games as UMass could be a tricky road trip while prepping for Georgia Tech's triple option will stress this young team.
Verdict: The under could be my favorite play in this conference.
AAC West Division
Over 8 wins -110...Under 8 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: at Rice, Arizona, at Texas Tech, Texas Southern
Major Applewhite's Cougars won seven games in 2017, the program's fewest since joining the AAC in 2013. D'Eriq King has to hold off Tennessee graduate transfer Quinten Dormady for the starting quarterback job, but either should succeed in new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles' system. The former Baylor assistant is back in Texas after working under Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic last season. Ed Oliver is all you really need to know about the defense. The defensive tackle could very well be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Cougars travel to Navy and Memphis in conference play.
Verdict: Eight is a really strong number.
Over 8.5 wins -110...Under 8.5 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: Mercer, Georgia State, South Alabama, at Missouri
Memphis has gone the route of the SEC with the extremely easy non-conference schedule for the most part. The Tigers have five of their first seven games at home which will help a team that has to replace some key pieces. Brady White and David Moore will be trying to replace Riley Ferguson, who was at the helm of the nation's second-ranked scoring offense in 2017. Also departing is No. 1 wide receiver Anthony Miller, who tied for the FBS lead with 18 touchdown catches. Head coach Mike Norvell needs some improvement from his defense that gave up nearly 33 points per game. Linebacker Jackson Dillon is applying for a sixth season of eligibility after missing most of the last two because of injuries. His return would be a boost for the defense.
Verdict: The under is worth a look although 8-9 wins is what I come up with.
Over 7 wins -125...Under 7 wins +105
Non-Conference Games: at Hawaii, Lehigh, at Air Force, vs. Notre Dame, vs. Army
The Midshipmen need to do a lot of rebuilding all over the roster with just eight starters back. Malcolm Perry will run the offense after he got his feet wet last year. Perry had 11 rushing touchdowns on 138 carries. Zach Abey is actually moving over to wide receiver so they can get his athleticism on the field. Navy lost five of its top seven running backs options so there are some question marks there. The defense also needs some work although the unit shaved nearly five points per game allowed compared to 2016. Navy has just five true home games this season as the Midshipmen will end up playing on both coasts as well as open their season in Hawaii.
Verdict: With the extra game (Navy plays 13 this year), I think this one goes over the total so I agree with the money move.
Over 5.5 wins -120...Under 5.5 wins EVEN
Non-Conference Games: at North Texas, TCU, at Michigan, Houston Baptist
The Mustangs did themselves no favors with this non-conference schedule as they pretty much set themselves up for three losses to open the season. They do have a nice closing stretch with three of their final five at home. The offense will greatly miss wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn, who are now in the NFL. Still, QB Ben Hicks has got the arm and the talent to make things work. Maybe the team runs the ball more with Xavier Jones and Ke'Mon Freeman. SMU is going to have to score more with a defense that has struggled the past five seasons. The fewest points the Mustangs have allowed during that span was 33.3 per game back in 2013.
Verdict: I could probably make a case for the under at that price. SMU's tougher conference games are mostly at home with Houston and Memphis coming to Dallas.
Over 5.5 wins +105...Under 5.5 wins -125
Non-Conference Games: Wake Forest, Nicholls State, at UAB, at Ohio State
Willie Fritz has yet to have the breakout season that people expect from him as head coach. Last year's Green Wave managed just five wins. A lot is expected of Jonathan Banks in his senior season under center. He had 19 total touchdowns but the hope is he can build on a strong finish. Most of his wide receivers are back, including Terren Encalade (39 catches for 730 yards), Darnell Mooney (34) and Notre Dame transfer Freddy Canteen. The offensive line has 91 career starts collectively so that won't be an issue. Defensively, there should be a bit of a step back with just three starters back. Road trips to Ohio State, South Florida and Houston won't help the record.
Verdict: I like the under here so I agree with the line movement.
Over 4 wins -130...Under 4 wins +110
Non-Conference Games: Central Arkansas, at Texas, Arkansas State, at Arkansas
Tulsa's offense back in 2016 featured a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers and two 1,000-yard receivers. Last year the Golden Hurricane saw their scoring output drop by more than 13 points per game as many of those playmakers departed. Joining this group is running back De'Angelo Brewer, who ran for nearly 3,000 yards the past two seasons. It's now up to Shamari Brooks to lead the way on the ground along with wide receivers Keenen Johnson and Justin Hobbs. We'll see if quarterbacks Luke Skipper or Chad President can improve after Tulsa finished 110th nationally in passing offense in 2017. Defensively, 15 of the top 20 tacklers return. But keep in mind this unit gave up 529 yards and 38 points per game last year.
Verdict: I came up with four wins so no play.
-- Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of @UCF_Football)