AAC Football Predictions 2014
By Tyler Smith
American Athletic Conference Predictions 2014
Offense: It all starts under center for the Bearcats. QB Gunner Kiel transferred in from Notre Dame and was a top QB coming out of high school. They also have former starting QB Munchie Legaux returning from a knee injury. The running game returns three key contributors Williams, Abernathy and Green. The three combined for 16 touchdowns a year ago. The go to guy for Kiel will be Washington (78 receptions in '13) and in the redzone he will look for Moore who had nine touchdowns in 2014. Three return upfront with Eric Lefeld being the star at LT.
Defense: The defense brings back several quality starters including DE Silverberry Mouhon. Last season Mouhon racked up 9.5 sacks. His brother, Kevin Mouhon, is one of the Bearcats top recruits. He will add depth to a solid LB core. The linebackers will be tough with Nick Temple and Jeff Luc back. Northwestern transfer, Eric Wilson will bring speed to the OLB spot. The secondary returns three starters. Mike Tyson should fill the SS spot, he had two interceptions as a freshman.
Special Teams: Tony Miliano struggled last season going 7/17 on FGs. The Bearcats will need him to improve. Special teams as a whole needs to make major improvements.
Overview: The Bearcats have the ability to make some noise this season. With plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, a win over Miami or Ohio State isn't too far fetched.
Offense: Since Blake Bortles is on to Jacksonville, the big question in Orlando is who replaces him at QB? Four QBs will battle it out for the job. Sophomore Justin Holman seems like a slight favorite to win the job, but keep an eye on Boise State transfer, Nick Patti. Another key to last years offense RB Storm Johnson, is gone. This replacement should be easier to find with sophomore William Stanback looking good as Johnson's back up. The receving corps is the strength of the offense. Hall, Worton and Perriman combined for 2,418 yards and 16 touchdowns. The line took a hit losing three starters. They do return long time starter Torrian Wilson.
Defense: The UCF defense made a stance last season and held eight teams under 20 points or less. The good news, eight of those players are back for the Knights. Two Knights had 100 or more tackles last season, SS Clayton Geathers (100) and LB Terrance Plummer (110). DE Thomas Niles looks to have a big season after an above average 2013 season. Sophomore corner Jacoby Glenn made a major impact last season earning him First Team All-AAC honors.
Special Teams: While UC has problems in special teams, UCF doesn't. Solid kicking game and return game. The Knights will have no problems here.
Overview: The offensive issues will need to be resolved quickly as the season starts with Penn State and Missouri. Two of the Knights toughest AAC games will be away from Bright House Networks Stadium, at Houston (Oct. 2) and at ECU (Dec. 4). With most of the defense back, UCF should be in the mix for the title again.
Offense: Sophomore QB John O'Korn put up big numbers in his first center under center, over 3,000 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. He will need to improve on his completion percentage (58.1) though. His go to guy is back, Deontay Greenberry. Greenberry has first round NFL talent. Last season he had 11 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards receiving. The running game just needs to hold teams honest, Farrow and Jackson can do just that. Losing Zach Johnson to injury hurts, two other starters are back to help mold the line.
Defense: Houston gave up a lot of yards last season but didn't allow teams to put up a bundle of points against them. Leading the nation in takeaways will do that. Derrick Matthews is the man in the middle at LB. Matthews has accumulated 342 tackles in his career at Houston, so far. He also, led the team in sacks with seven a year ago. Efrem Oliphant joins Matthews at LB, he amassed 134 tackles in 2013. The loss of two key corners will hurt, but they should be able to fill the voids.
Special Teams: Losing an All-American punter is tough to replace. Kyle Bullard should be fine at kicker.
Overview: If things don't go right in the secondary this team could be caught in more shootouts. Luckily they have the offensive fire power to compete in shootouts. The Cougars will break in their new stadium vs UTSA. (I'm hoping to review it this year)
#4 East Carolina
Overview: In their first season in the AAC the Pirates could make some noise. The passing attack the Pirates have is very dangerous with QB Shane Carden under center. Carden averaged 318 passing yards a game last season and he has his favorite targets back Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones. Jones burst onto the scene in game six of the season and never turned back. Hardy is bound for the NFL and has over 1,000 yards receiving the past two seasons. The running game will need to see either Breon Allen or Chris Hairston emerge as the guy. The main question on offesne is what will happen on the line. Three guys return from a O-line that gave up 30 sacks in 2013. The defense lost seven starters. The run defense was on point, but the pass defense had its problems. Look for LB Montese Overton to make his name known in AAC play. Last season he had 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. The defense suffered a big loss when DE Terrell Stanley suffered an injury in a car crash. As usual a tough non-conference schedule for the pirates. The season ending game vs. UCF should have Dowdy-Ficklen on another level.
Overview: I'm high on the Huskies again. Last season The Huskies could of went to RB Lyle McCombs more often like they had in the past. McCombs in 2011 and 2012 averaged over 20 carries a game, while last season he got 13 a contest (McCombs transferred out). The line will feature some youth, how the line gels will be telling of how this season goes. Bob Diaco will make decision on who plays under center for the Huskies this fall since the spring practice left the Huskies with the same questions. The defense is what makes this team dangerous. They bring back ten starters and have Florida State transfer, Graham Stewart to fill the lone empty spot. The line will need to apply more pressure, but the secondary and linebackers are solid and deep. UConn has a solid home AAC schedule with UC and UCF coming to town.
Overview: The Tigers haven't been bowling since 2008. This year the Tigers could make a run at six wins with their strong defense. Eight starters are back including star corner Bobby McCain and DE Martin Ifedi. McCain had six interceptions in nine games last season. Ifedi was a force in the trenches with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. The top four tacklers return for the Tigers. The offense will need to improve a lot. The running game is in good shape with Brandon Hayes. The passing game is where the Tigers need to improve the most. Paxton Lynch started all 12 games a freshman, the experience should help in year two after a sub-par season. Lynch spread the ball around with five guys having over 20 receptions. A wideout to watch this season is Sam Craft. One place the Tigers are certainly to fall back is at punter since they lost All-American Tom Hornsey.
Overview: The offense will be in the hands of QB Neal Burcham. Burcham played significant time in three games with up and down results. SMU can't afford for him to be inconsistent this season. the offense might be a little different with Burcham under center so the running game could play more of a factor. Three guys to watch for at running back Kevin Pope, Presscott Line and freshman Daniel Gresham. Wide reciver is the Mustangs best position with Darius Joseph, Der'rikk Thompson and speedster Cedric Lancaster. The defense gave up too many points and big plays. The secondary will get a new look with only one returning starter which is a good thing after surrendering over 271 yards a game through the air last season. Stephon Sanders is the top returning tackler with 86 tackles last season. A former walk-on DE Beau Barnes had a breakthrough season with five sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Overview: Coming off a year where the Owls just won two games, Temple fans are finding bits of hope for this season. P.J. Walker is one reason to be optimistic. As a freshman he threw for 20 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. His completion percentage was just over 60 percent as well. He's also dangerous in the running game. The running attack also includes running backs Kenneth Harper and Zaire Williams. The bad news is only one starter returns on the line. Walker, will still have some options left to throw to after losing his top two WR from a year ago. The linbacking core at Temple could be the best in the conference with OLB Tyler Matakevich being the best of bunch. The pass defense was one of the worst in the country last season ranking 119 in yards given up through the air. They also only had three interceptions The line will be filled with youth. Freshman Micheal Dogbe will find his way into the rotation on the line. After November first (game vs. ECU) we will know if Temple has what it takes to get in the top half of the AAC.
Overview: One of the worst offenses in the country will need to find answers. Getting the running game going will be important and with four returners on the line they should improve on their 88.7 rushing yards per game from 2013. Who ends up getting the bulk of the carries is to be seen. Mike White seems to have the edge at QB. White struggled last season and unless he has improved a lot, other quarterbacks will getting looks as well. The bright spot for the Bulls offense lies at TE with Sean Price and Mike McFarland back. The defense lost a lot from last years team. The line lost its top four players in sacks. Nate Goodwin is the lone returnee in the secondary after a good freshman season. Fellow sophomore Johnny Ward should have a big season at corner. Line backer Reshard Cliett is the top returning tackler. Don't expect the Bulls to go to a bowl this season.
Overview: It's hard to see the Green Wave take a step forward with the losses of Ryan Grant and Orleans Darkwa. Even with those two players Tulane struggled last season on offense. The struggle was so bad they didn't score over 30 points one time in 2013. Tanner Lee looks to be the favorite under center. Lee may look to his former high school teammate TE Charles Jones who is only a freshman. Justyn Shackleford is the leading returnee in receptions. The line should improve a bit, but will need to protect their young QB for success. The secondary is the the strongest unit on the team. Led by corner Lorenzo Doss. Doss had seven interceptions and turned two of those into touchdowns. Two of the top tacklers are also in the secondary Darion Monroe (90) and Sam Scofield (104). Something that likely won't happen this season is the 33 turnovers the defense forced a year ago. While this season may not be a winning onw in terms of games won and lost, the Green Wave got a new stadium and that's a big win for the program.
Overview: The offense has fallen on hard times. No starters return at QB, WR or RB. The QB battle will likely go through the season until someone grabs the spot and runs with it. Running back is open for the taking, look for a newcomer or James Flanders to be a part of two back system. Keevan Lucas looks like the next Golden Hurricane star at WR. On defense Tulsa will have a strong secondary and a lot of new faces at linebacker. A big blow to the defense is losing C-USA Defensive Player of the Year LB Shawn Jackson. The secondary will feature Demarco Nelson who's back after an academic issue. Safety Micheal Mudoh led the team in tackles with 133. Will Barrow made a big impact as a freshman with two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two touchdowns. Derrick Alexander led the team in sacks with 6.5. This is a rebuilding year in Tulsa. They have a lot of youth on the team and if they can show some promise next season could be much better. It's too bad that this isn't a loaded Tulsa team like we have seen in the past since they have a home game vs. Oklahoma.
AAC Offensive Player of the Year