AAC Football Preview 2015
*All images are via theamerican.org
2015 AAC Football Predictions
Offense: The Bearcats will have a prolific offense this season. With Junior quarterback Gunner Kiel, back. Kiel threw for over 3,200 yards with 31 touchdowns. He has his top targets from last season back in Mekale McKay (725 REC YDS), Shaq Washington (761 REC YDS, Chris Moore (8 TDS), Max Morrison (458 REC YDS) and Johnny Holton (5 TDS). The run game will look to be more efficient this season with Mike Boone and Hosey Williams getting the bulk of the carries. The line will return three starters that includes Parker Ehinger who has first team all-AAC capabilities.
Defense: The Bearcats will need to improve in all facets on defense. They will be under new guidance with Steve Clinkscale taking the reigns as defense coordinator. With a lot of key players gone from last years team it will be important for others to fill those roles. The two stars on the Bearcat defense are DE Silverberyy Mouhon (4 Sacks, 46 tackles) and S Zach Edwards (121 tackles). The secondary will be the strength of the defense with four players returning that have had valuable experience. Getting more interceptions will be important for Cincinnati this season.
Special Teams: Last years 2nd team all-AAC kicker, Andrew Gantz, returns after missing just four kicks a year ago. Sophomore punter, Sam Geraci returns after a decent freshman year.
Forecast: Cincinnati will have an explosive offense. The defense will have to improve a bit to keep the Bearcats in the AAC title hunt. Big home games against Temple and Miami will be key in the newly renovated Nippert Stadium.
Offense: Quarterback P.J. Walker took a step back last season with too many interceptions (15). Walker is still looking for a go to guy at WR this season. Keith Kirkwood has big play abilities and could develop into that guy. Robbie Anderson is possibly returning and would be huge for the Owls. Anderson flunked out of school after posting big numbers in 2013. What was once a strong point to the Owls offensive attack is now a glaring hole at RB. A couple guys return from last years team but none of them had over 400 yards. Three new comers at RB make for some excitement with a four star back in T.J. Simons, Jager Gardner and Ryquell Armstead. If one of these guys makes a big impact watch out. The line should improve after a shaky 2014.
Defense: Why are we high on the Owls this season? They return the majority of the guys who contributed to their 2014 season where they gave up only 17.5 points. The defensive line is the best in the conference with Praise Martin-Oguike (7 sacks) and Matt Ioannidis (11 TFL). The linebacking core will be in good hands with Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich has had over 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons. Temple's pass defense went from one of the worst in 2013 (298 YPG) to one of the best in 2014 (186.9 YPG).
Special Teams: This is an area of concern for Temple as the Owls can not afford any digression after an OK year in punting and kicking.
Forecast: Temple could have a big year if things turn around on offense. The defense shapes up to be one the toughest in the country. It will be a good year to be a season holder with big games vs. Penn State, Notre Dame and Memphis.
Offense: The loss of Justin Hardy, Shane Carden and Cam Worthy will hurt, but to what extent is to be seen. Wide receiver will be in good hands with Isiah Jones. Look for freshman WR Deondre Farrier to make an impact. The big question is what will new QB Kurt Benkert bring to the table. Shane Carden never had more than 10 interceptions in each of his three seasons. If Benkert can repeat that, the Pirates will be in contention. The line returns four starters which should be beneficial to the running game that might see a little bit more action this season.
Defense: The defense is really strong in the middle with linebackers Zeek Bigger (140 tackles) and Montese Overton (11.5 TFL). Corner Josh Hawkins was great last season and is the teams returning leader in interceptions with five. If the defensive line can do enough upfront the Pirates will be tough again this season.
Special Teams: The Pirates should be fine in the kicking game with Davis Plowman after losing their leader Warren Harvey. One of the top punters in league resides in Greenville in Worth Gregory.
Forecast: The Pirates may not have the fire power they had last year but they will still put up good numbers. The defense will look to continue to eliminate the running game from opponents. ECU has two important home conference games vs. Cincinnati and Temple.
Offense: Justin Holman settled in his first season under center. Without his go to guy in Breshad Perriman and nearly every other key contributor from last years wide receiver core it may be tough to see his numbers increase significantly. The protection up front should be great with four of five offensive linemen returning. The running game will be very important with William Stanback leading the way. Stanback with a full season without injury should break the 1,000 yard mark.
Defense: The Knights defense has been special for many years in Orlando. This year they may take a slight step back after only allowing 19.2 PPG in 2014. The secondary has the most intrigue with no starters returning. Corners Shaquill Griffin and Chris Williams are destined for a starting job. What should help the secondary is the defensive line. Defensive end Thomas Niles was consistently in the backfield with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Niles, is the teams leading tackler from a year ago. Linebacker Chequan Burkett looks to have a breakout year as a sophomore.
Special Teams: Freshman kicker Matthew Wright will handle the kicking duties now that Shawn Moffitt is gone. Caleb Houston is back at punter and needs to improve on his 38.96 average that landed him at the bottom of the rankings 2014.
Forecast: If Justin Holman can take a big step forward and post numbers around 30 touchdowns and 3,200 yards the Knights will have a chance in the East. The defense will keep them in games if the secondary holds up. The Knights have a tough conference road schedule this season having to go to Cincinnati and Temple. They also draw Houston from the West.
#5 South Florida
Offense: Willie Taggart has struggled on offense from day one and he's now going to change things up with a spread offense. The key will be to find a quarterback who can run the offense. Quinton Flowers provides the most excitement with his dual threat capabilities which would pair great with returning freshman of the year running back, Marlon Mack. Mack posted over 1,000 yards rushing and added nine scores. The offensive line is a concern with only two guards returning. The line will have to adjust from a smash mouth blocking to the quick tempo of the spread.
Defense: Despite the numbers looking semi-bad last season the defense was respectable. Implementing the 4-2-5 defense should benefit the Bulls with their strength being at linebacker. The push from the font four has to be much improved with the line only returning a hand full of sacks. Jamie Byrd is the leader in the secondary. Byrd had a total of 95 stops last season.
Special Teams: South Florida is in good hands when they have to punt with senior, Mattias Ciabatti. The kicking game is a bit of an unknown at this point with Marvin Kloss gone.
Forecast: Willie Taggart's time in Tampa is running dangerously thin and it is hard to see him being around next season with the schedule they have. They draw both Memphis and Navy from the West. A bowl game would be huge for the program at his point.
Offense: Does offense exist in Storrs? The Huskies put up a whooping 15.5 PPG last season. Let's be honest here nothing else is going to make a major impact unless NCST transfer QB Bryant Shirreffs turns into a serviceable option. Shirreffs is a dual threat QB. If he is not the guy then UConn will be stuck at the bottom once again.
Defense: UConn was not horrible last season on defense but the offense continued to put them in bad spots. Seven starters return with the two returning linebackers being the stars of the team. Marquise Vann and Graham Stewart combined for 199 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss. The secondary will be impressive with Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams playing the safety spots. A key for the Huskies will be to create more turnovers this season after the turnover margin was ranked one of the worst in the country.
Special Teams: The Huskies return both guys from last season with kicker Booby Poyul only getting 14 attempts last season. Punter Justin Wain, however had 74 total punts.
Forecast: The defense will do their best to hold up their end of the bargain. The problem is the offense and if Shirreffs not the guy then expect Bob Diaco to be out of Storrs. I was high on UConn last season, but this season I have to take a step back after their horrendous 2014 season.
Offense: One of the top running threats at quarterback is Kennan Reynolds. The Navy QB is back for his senior season and ready to take on the American Conference. Reynolds will be handing off to senior fullback Chris Swain who averaged over 6.5 yards per carry. DeBrandon Sanders should have a big year in the backfield with his electric speed. They do not throw the ball much but when they do, Jamir Tillman, is a major threat at wide receiver. For Navy the offensive line coming together with three starters missing from last years squad is important. The Midshipmen do bring back senior left guard E.K. Binns who should be a first team AAC player at the end of the year.
Defense: Navy's 3-4 defense finds a new test with the AAC having a strong offensive attack. The line will set the tone for the Midshipmen. Seniors Bernard Sarra (DT) and Will Anthony (DE) will have AAC accolades after the season ends. The star at linebacker is Daniel Gonzalez who tallied up 86 tackles a year ago. The secondary provides plenty of experience with three of the top seven players in tackles being from the secondary.
Special Teams: Navy will see a new face at punter with Pablo Beltran graduating. Kicker should be in good shape with Austin Gerbe who was perfect when he got the starting job.
Forecast: The offense is in great hands with Keenan Reynolds under center. If the line can protect him the AAC should fear the Midshipmen. The defense is stout up front. If the linebacking core plays well Navy should be fine on defense. Navy being in a conference is a big change. They face East Carolina in the second game of the season to the set the tone in conference play.
Offense: Who ends up running Tom Herman's offense is the biggest question. Greg Ward Jr. seems to be the favorite but Utah Transfer Adam Schulz could make a run at the job. Running back has plenty of experience with Kenneth Farrow who rushed for just over 1,000 yards and 15 scores. Running back Ryan Jackson will provide a change of pace with his pure speed. The weak parts of the offense are on the line which returns two starters and at wide receiver. Who emerges at WR with the departure of Deontay Greenberry will be critical to the Cougars attack.
Defense: The Cougars continue to be great on the defensive side of the ball. Last season they only allowed an average of 20.6 PPG. All four starters are back in the secondary. The top safety duo in the conference is in Houston with Adrian McDonald (third in tackles '14) and Trevon Stewart (fifth in tackles '14). The only starter at linebacker, Steven Taylor had a big season in his sophomore campaign. Taylor is the team's leading returner in sacks and tackles. The defensive line will be something to keep an eye on with the change to a 3-4 defense and one starter returning.
Special Teams: Getting better field position from the return game will be something Tom Herman would like to see improve in year one. With both punt and kick return teams being at the very bottom in average in the country. Kyle Bullard made 16 field goals last season but missed six and five PATs. Logan Piper is the favorite for the punting job.
Forecast: The Cougars will contend for the American title this season. The defense should be solid again with a great secondary. The offense has question but Tom Herman should keep the Cougars firing. November is a big month for Houston with Navy, Memphis and Cincinnati coming in to TDECU Stadium.
Offense: Paxton Lynch proved that he is the real deal last season as he passed for over 3,000 yards and totaled 35 touchdowns. Lynch has a good chance to go down as the best QB in Tigers history after this year. The running attack will be very physical with running backs Jarvis Cooper and Doroland Dorceus. The line should be in good shape with the left side and center returning. Memphis has great depth at WR and one of the best tight ends in the league in Alan Cross.
Defense: One of the reasons we are down on the Tigers this season is because of the lack of returnees on the defensive side of the football. The Tigers return three guys none of whom tallied over 50 tackles. The line should be in good shape with Ernest Suttles back. Filling the holes at linebacker will be key to the Tigers success this season. Noah Robinson will be one to watch after getting some run in his freshman season. The Tigers were one of the top teams in turnover margin last season. For that to continue they will need some playmakers across the board. The secondary has no returnees with more than one interception.
Special Teams: Memphis has the best kicker in the league with Jake Elliot. Punting should be fine with Spencer Smith.
Overview: Offensively, the Tigers have what it takes to win the AAC. Defensively, however, they may not. If the Tigers can be middle of the pack on defense they should be in the hunt at least. Three big home games for Memphis this season Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Navy.
Offense: The young Green Wave offense looks to bounce back after a poor 2014 season. It all starts with sophomore QB Tanner Lee who needs to improve in all facets off the game. The offensive line will need to improve in pass and run blocking. If the run blocking improves you could see the tide turn for Tulane. With three capable running backs in Sherman Badie, Dontrell Hilliard and Lazedrick Thompson. Plenty of young wideouts are back this season with Teddy Veal being Lee's favorite target.
Defense: Plenty of excitement on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary returns star corner, Parry Nickerson who led the team in interceptions with six. Darion Moore is back at safety, he was third on the team in tackles last season with 73. The teams leading returning tackler is linebacker Nico Marley. Marley led the team in tackles for loss too with 13.5. The line has potential to be solid if they can get a rush off the edge.
Special Teams: All around, special teams was a massive issue for Tulane. From Missed field goals, poor punts and a horrible return game. Any improvement in special teams would be a huge positive.
Forecast: The offense is a big question mark. If Lee can be serviceable this season and the running game can take off they have a chance to break the top three. The defense will keep them in ball games. They have All-AAC talent from the line to safety. Going on the road to Navy, Temple and Memphis will be a challenge.
Offense: Well, last season's offense was horrendous. Matt Davis brought a glimpse of hope to the Mustangs but he will need to be much better for SMU to climb back to the top. Chad Morris takes over as head coach so expect the offense to improve just by having him on the sidelines. After Darius Joseph the wide receiver core is wide open. Look for plenty of faces to get a run at running back. Prescott Line likely ends up with the most carries. The line returns four starters and that really is not a great thing considering they gave up 47 sacks in 2014.
Defense: The SMU defense was just as bad as the offense giving up nearly 500 yards per game. They will implement a 4-2-5 defense this season in hopes of a better out come. The secondary is the biggest positive with juniors Horace Richardson (CB) and Darrion Richardson (S). Zach Wood returns as the teams leader in sacks.
Forecast: It could be a few years before Morris can get the program turned around. This season all SMU fans can ask for is promise. If the rankings on offense and defense can just get out of the 100's that would be a positive.
Offense: Phillip Montgomery comes in from Baylor to bring a once proud program back to its old self. Montgomery will have Dane Evans back at QB but will give incoming freshman Chad President a hard look this fall. Keevan Lucas is the top target for whomever plays QB. Lucas tallied over 100 catches, 1,219 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. Wide receiver Ketarris Garrett is a solid second option in his senior season. Running back has some solid depth with Zack Langer, D'angelo Brewer and James Flanders. The line should be better this season with four starters returning.
Defense: The defense was awful last season, but they have some solid pieces coming back. Derrick Alexander, is a stud on the defensive line, he tallied 7.5 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss. Derrick Luetjen has been a staple on the line for a few years now. Michael Mudoh led the team in tackles and interceptions last year. Linebackers Trent Martin and Craig Suits performed well last season. If the Tulsa defense can get some help from any newcomers they will be much better than last seasons 39.3 points per game.
Special Teams: Dalton Parks is one of the best punters in the league. Kicker is open for the taking with Preston Soper and Redford Jones competing for the job.
Forecast: Tulsa will have some struggles again this season. Unlucky for the Golden Hurricanes they have winnable games on the road, not at home. Montgomery will look to build off this season. If they can improve on defense and find the right quarterback, watch out in 2016.
AAC Offensive POY
Gunner Kiel, QB, Cincinnati
AAC Defensive POY
Zeek Bigger, ILB, East Carolina
AAC Coach of the Year
Matt Rhule, Temple