The American Athletic Conference inherited the Big East’s AQ status for the final year of the BCS before joining “the group of 5” – aka, leagues with good teams that will probably be shut out of this championship system as well. Until the playoffs expand to eight or even 16 teams, the odds of a “Butler” happening in football seem woefully small. With just five teams from the Big East, and two of those exiting at the end of the year, its hard not to feel that this is the Zombie Big East. It is up and moving around, but not really alive. Still, there are some intriguing story lines and at least one really good team. Since there are no lines yet to differentiate them, Louisville holds the #1 spot while the other red dot is Rutgers. The Bearcats reside on the two-line, while Houston is currently 8th.
Hopefully this isn’t your first time checking out our stock report, but if it is, the above chart is the power rankings of the league. The buying/holding/selling stock in a team is relative to preseason expectations, making a better bowl, or surprising the league and competing for a division title. Just because I’m buying a lot of stock in a team doesn’t mean I think they are better than the first place team. Now that we are all in sync, let’s get after it!
Cincinnati – Dual threat quarterback Munchie Legaux is back, as well as the more controlled passer Brendon Kay, and all five linemen in front of them. The defense is also one of the most experienced in the league and now a proven coach in Tommy Tuberville is leading them. With Louisville and SMU coming to Nippert Stadium and dodging UCF all together, the Bearcats have a pretty manageable schedule.
Louisville – Teddy Bridgewater. Oh, I need to say more. Okay, he’s the best QB in the league and among the best in the nation. Charlie Strong has also proven himself to be the best coach in the league, as well as one of the better minds in the nation. In addition to Bridgewater, 15 other starters return from a BCS winning team of a year ago. Big time buy on this squad. An outside contender for a national title berth if they can get some help from the teams on their schedule. Did I mention that former stud running back Michael Dyer is now on the Cardinals as well?
SMU – Garrett Gilbert is coming off an impressive year under June Jones’ quarterback tutelage. The Mustangs won seven games, including a bowl. They beat Houston and Memphis pretty convincingly in 2012, two teams they face again in the new league. They also get winnable league games at home against Rutgers, Temple and Connecticut. Even the road trip to USF doesn’t look too bad. That is six great cracks at league wins. They also get Texas Tech and UCF at home to start and end the season with an FCS school mixed in. A split of those two games plus the FCS cupcake has eight wins in play for SMU. Pull off an upset against Cinci and who knows. As you read with great delight in my Bold Predictions, you know I think this SMU team has the horses (oh man that was bad) to crack the top 25 in the final poll after a solid season and a bowl win.
UCF – One of the best things to come from this league is that Blake Bortles will get more national exposure. The kid sliced up C-USA a year ago and with his top four targets all back, this team will score a lot in 2013. That’s a good thing too as the defense graduated a lot of talent. The schedule sets up nicely as four of the final six are all at home and the two road trips are even winnable. If they can survive road trips to Penn State and Louisville, as well as South Carolina in the non-conference, this ball club could sweep the other eight and get to a decent bowl. Not too shabby.
Houston – The team does return eight starters on offense, but the Cougars are still very young at the skill positions, including QB. The defense also had a fair amount of turnover, but considering how bad they were last year, that might not be a bad thing. As a result, expectations are very low. The opening five games are winnable, then it is BYU, at Rutgers and USF– those aren’t exactly world beaters. There could be enough wins in their first eight games, as well as getting SMU in the finale, for UH to slip into a bowl game. That’s why I’ll hold for now.
Rutgers – Kyle Flood proved himself up to the task a season ago, but boy did this club take a hit in the offseason. Seven NFL picks are gone. The majrotiy of the defense is gone and QB Gary Nova is very up and down. He’ll need more ups than downs though if the Scarlet Knights want to remain in the upper half of the league. The defense was fourth in the nation in points allowed per game, while the offense scored at a rate that was an ugly 98th in the nation.
Connecticut – First, I think Paul Pasqualoni was a subpar hire. He was alright at Syracuse, but some guys are meant to be solid assistants, like Pasqualoni was…in the NFL. Worse, their defense lost a ton of talent in the offseason. Lastly, the Huskies host Michigan, travel to Cincy, UCF and SMU, as well as draw Louisville and Rutgers. They could easily drop all six games, meaning their odds of making a bowl are very slim.
Memphis – The Tigers showed a few signs of life last year after starting 1-8 (1-4) to finish 4-8 and hit .500 in the league. But that was C-USA. They don’t have Rice, Tulane, UAB or a winless Southern Miss team to bail them out this season. Worse, they face the same four non-con teams they played a year ago. These four schools all beat Memphis in 2012 and one of them was FCS Tennessee Martin. They get UCF and SMU again, as they all moved to the AAC, and those clubs also beat the Tigers last year. Adding insult to injury, they travel to Louisville and host Cincy. Their bye in the league this year is, drum roll please, Rutgers. The league could have thrown their most fragile member in terms of rebuilding a bone and spared them the Cardinals, but nope.
South Florida – They have a pretty good defense returning on paper, but the offense is a bare cupboard. The schedule is a backbreaker as well. Even a deeper, more rounded roster would have had trouble with this. Non-con dates include Michigan State and Miami. Their league bye is Temple. At least they get Cincy and Louisville at home, maybe the city of Tampa will rally behind them…I can’t even write that with a straight face.
Temple – A new coach, a defense with not much returning talent and possibly the greenest backfield in the league. They do have three very manageable games on the non-conference schedule (FCS Fordham, at Idaho, Army), so sweeping those three could put them in contention for a bowl berth. It’ll take a lot of luck and even more work for that to happen though.