College Football Previews
|College Football Preview Podcast||Independents|
|Big 12||PAC 12|
|Big Ten||Sun Belt|
The American Conference might be the best of the mid major conferences. One could argue that they deserve to be a part of the group of five. Houston has destroyed teams like Vanderbilt, Louisville, Florida State & Oklahoma of recent. Memphis has had wins against Ole Miss, and Kansas and almost knocked off UCLA in Pasadena a few years back.
East Carolina had six straight wins against ACC teams before losing at Virginia Tech last season. Cincinnati was a BCS team not that long ago and Navy is constantly overachieving nearly every single season. So there’s plenty of reason to tune in to the American Conference and this year should be no different.
1. South Florida Bulls – Charlie Strong was never a good fit with the Texas Longhorns. Regardless of what people say, he was never a good fit there. Strong has always had ties to the Florida area so let’s just call this a perfect storm. Strong landed at South Florida and with quite some luck. Many experts have the Bulls winning the American and potentially being a player for a new years six bowl. The high expectations are mainly there because Strong inherits a veteran program with a star quarterback in Quinton Flowers.
Flowers may be a dark horse to potentially win the heisman trophy if he can continue to improve from his 2016 campaign. Not only is the return of Flowers a plus but they also return senior running back D’Ernest Johnson who put up even better numbers than counterpart and now Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack. South Florida is loaded that many people think Strong inherited a more talented roster than the one he left in Austin. The out of conference schedule has games @ San Jose State, vs Stony Brook, vs Illinois & vs Umass.
They should win all four of those by double digits. In conference the Bulls road games are at Uconn, East Carolina, Tulane and Central Florida. They’ll be favored in all four of those but they need to not overlook the ECU and Central Florida games. At home the Bulls host Temple, Cincinnati, Houston, & Tulsa. Circle that Houston game if you are a Bulls fan because that could be the best team they play all year. All together I have a great first season for Charlie Strong and company but I think they stumble to either ECU, Houston or Central Florida.
2. Central Florida Golden Knights – Scott Frost had a great first year as head coach of the Knights, yeah i know he had a losing season at 6-7 but they were 0-12 the year before. Frost did so well that people in Lincoln, Nebraska at his alma mater are already calling for him to be their next head coach. Another thing to consider when you look at how well Frost did last season, is that he did all of that with a true freshman quarterback in McKenzie Milton.
Milton got better and better as the season progressed so expect that to continue in Orlando. The out of conference schedule has matchups vs Florida International, vs Georgia Tech, @Maryland and vs Maine. Most people would think 2-2 in those matchups but I think the Knights can beat Maryland and maybe even give Georgia Tech a game since the games in Orlando. The in conference road games are against Cincinnati, Navy, SMU & Temple. All four of those games should be a dogfight and weather could play its part but I’m thinking 3-1 but they can’t afford to be worse than 2-2 there. At home the Knights have matchups against Memphis, East Carolina, Uconn & South Florida. 2-2 is likely but 3-1 is possible. All together I’m thinking they finish 2nd in the east at about 7-5.
3. East Carolina Pirates – First year coach Scottie Montgomery had things going well when the Pirates upset in state rival NC State to make them 2-0 but then came the storm that left ECU 1-9 for the rest of the season. As a avid ECU fan myself, I’m going to give Montgomery a mulligan since depth and injuries were a big part of the problem last year. Now comes year two and perhaps Montgomery’s savior in new/old QB Christian Sirk who transferred in from Duke and used to be Montgomery’s QB when they were both in Durham for three seasons.
Montgomery also returns both running backs from last year but they’ll struggle to find carries now that Clemson grad transfer Tyson Dye and Tennessee transfer Derrell Scott is there. Being four deep at running back is a much needed upgrade. Wide receiver wise Zay Jones is now a Buffalo Bill but I don’t expect much of a drop off since ECU brings back the other two starters (Jimmy Williams & Quay Johnson) along with Davon Grayson & Trevon Brown who were academically ineligible but have proven to be great players in years past.
Defensively they were terrible and inexperienced last year but on the Defensive Line they bring in Minnesota grad transfer in Gaelin Elmore who was a starter for them. In the secondary they bring in some former starters at Auburn and Clemson in Tim Irvin and Korrin Wiggins so the defense should be much improved. Schedule wise the out of conference slate is brutal. They start off with former 1AA national champs in James Madison, then have games @West Virginia, vs Virginia Tech & vs BYU. 2-2 is the best you should hope for if you’re a Pirate fan. In conference road games are against Central Florida, Houston, Uconn, & Memphis. 1-3 would be what most think but I’m thinking 2-2. At home in Greenville they get South Florida, Temple, Tulane & Cincinnati. For the season to be a real success they must be at least 3-1 in that stretch. All together I got the Pirates bowling at 6-6 but if they can get the defense to come around they could be real contenders.
4. Temple Owls – Head coach Matt Rhule is gone and so is quarterback Philip Walker so expectations are down. In comes former florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins in his first head coaching run. I got to be honest here, Temple is one of the teams I’m not really sure what to make of. They have big holes to fill but they have some real nice talent on the defense and a nice running back in Ryquell Armstead.
The out of conference schedule has games @Notre Dame, vs Villanova, vs Umass & @ Army. For this season to be a success I think Collins needs to go 3-1 in those games. In conference away games are against South Florida, East Carolina, Cincinnati & Tulsa. I got them going 1-3 in those but maybe they can slip past Tulsa or ECU. At home in Philadelphia they get Houston, Uconn, Navy & Central Florida. That’s a tough slate of games I’m thinking 2-2 is what they’re looking at there. If they do that they’ll be 6-6 and headed to yet another bowl game.
5. Cincinnati Bearcats – Luke Fickell is now the new head coach in town after a terrible run with Tommy Tubervile. Cincinnati had a 4-8 season last year but perhaps were better than their actual record and that could pay off if Fickell can get the ball rolling early. Hayden Moore is back and he’s an experienced quarterback that could prove to be one of the best in the American. Fickell was a big name hire for people in Ohio, since Fickell was the interim head coach at Ohio State when Jim Tressel was fired.
Fickell succeeded then but now the talents a bit different. The out of conference schedule has games vs Austin Peay, @Michigan, @Miami (OH), and vs Marshall. 2-2 is what most are thinking but I see a great chance to be 3-1 here if they can upset Miami (OH). The out of conference away games are against Navy, South Florida, Tulane, & East Carolina. I’m thinking this is where Fickell will struggle most. 1-3 is what I see and potentially 0-4 with the crazy option that Tulane runs. At home in conference the Bearcats get Central Florida, SMU, Temple & Uconn. 3-1 is possible but I’m thinking 2-2. I see the Bearcats going 6-6 if they can get past Miami (OH) and handle the rest of their business.
6. UCONN Huskies – Bob Diaco era is now officially over and while the defense was consistently good the offense was terrible. Now if only the Huskies could bring back the coach that actually had them a good team. Oh wait, they did exactly that and rehired Randy Edsall. Edsall inherits a veteran defensive team that’s really good and a veteran quarterback in Bryant Sheriffs but if only they could get a little of offensive production they could be sleepers in the American.
The out of conference schedule has games vs Holy Cross, @ Virginia, vs Missouri & a neutral site game vs Boston College. That’s a pretty brutal out of conference schedule but none of those teams should be that good. I think if they can steal one of those and go 2-2 in those four then things will be looking great. In conference the away games are at SMU, Temple, Central Florida, & Cincinnati. If they can find a way to go 2-2 there I consider it a win but 1-3 is more likely.
1. Houston Cougars – I’m going out on a limb on this one. Almost every publication that I’ve read has Memphis or Navy winning the West and several have Tulsa ahead of Houston. I think they’re forgetting that Major Applewhite was the offensive coordinator last year and I think he’ll excel as the new head coach at Houston. Star QB Greg Ward is gone but in comes Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen who was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation at one time. Allen has plenty of targets as well since the Cougs are returning Steven Dunbar & Linell Bonner at wideout.
Duke Catalon is back at RB for the Cougars so everything depends upon Allen and how well he fits in and I’m betting he fits in just fine. On the defensive side of the ball Houston has one of the best players in the country in defensive tackle Ed Oliver and three senior linebackers to lead the front seven so i expect the Cougars to reload instead of rebuild. The out of conference schedule has games @UTSA, @Arizona, vs Rice and vs Texas Tech. These are all winnable games but I’m thinking maybe 3-1 after a fall against Arizona or Texas Tech but they very well could be 4-0. The in conference away games are against Temple, Tulsa, South Florida & Tulane. I’m thinking 3-1 here but once again they could very well be 4-0. At home in Houston they have matchups vs SMU, Memphis, East Carolina and Navy. That’s a tough home stretch but they should be able to go 3-1 or at least 2-2 in those matchups. All together I have the Cougars having another great year and finishing around 8-4.
2. Memphis Tigers – Mike Norvell’s first year in Memphis was successful going 8-5 but now is the chance to turn it on. Riley Ferguson is back at QB and I’m betting Vol fans wish Tennessee had found a way to keep him. Back with Ferguson is all conference wide receiver Anthony Miller so the offense should be quite loaded. It’s the defensive side of the ball that concerns me with Norvell but they return nine upperclassmen on that side of the ball so the experience is there.
The out of conference schedule has games against Louisiana Monroe, vs UCLA, vs Southern Illinois and @Georgia State so 3-1 is what every Tiger fan should demand and maybe just maybe they can sneak up on the Bruins. The in conference away games are against Central Florida, Uconn, Houston & Tulsa. 2-2 is realistic but if i were a Tiger fan I would think 3-1 is what we need to do on the road. At home in conference they have matchups vs Navy, Tulane, SMU & ECU. Those could be tricky since Tulane and Navy use a heavy dose of the option attack and there’s no week off to prepare for them but I’m optimistic so lets say 3-1 at home. That puts the Tigers at 8-4 and another bowl game for Norvell.
3. Navy Midshipmen – I must admit, I underrate this team every year. Ken Niumatalolo has to be one of the best coaches in the country with what he is doing in Annapolis. This year should be no different with junior Zach Abey behind center. Abey started the final two games of the season last year and played pretty well so one would think that things can only get better for the junior. The out of conference schedule lineup is this @Florida Atlantic, vs Air Force, @ Notre Dame and a neutral site game vs Army.
That’s not the easiest set of games but I’m thinking 2-2 here if not 3-1. The in conference road matchups are against Tulsa, Memphis, Temple & Houston. That’s tough, and mainly the reason why I have the Midshipmen third in the west. I’m thinking they go 1-3 in those or 2-2 at best. Home in Annapolis they get Tulane, Cincinnati, Central Florida & SMU. 3-1 is what is needed here but that Tulane game could be dangerous since the teams are so similar. All together I’m thinking 6-6 and a bowl for the Midshipmen but Niumatalolo has a way of making me look like a fool.
4. Tulsa Golden Hurricane – Philip Montgomery has done well in his two years in Tulsa, two bowl games and double digit wins last season but still there’s plenty of room to improve. The Hurricane have yet to really contend or even show up on the radar at the chances of making the American conference championship so maybe that’s next for Montgomery. I doubt it’s this year though as they break in a freshman quarterback, although the defense should be better there’s just too many questions in Tulsa.
The out of conference schedule has games @Oklahoma State, vs Louisiana, @Toledo & vs New Mexico. Fans should be happy if they’re 2-2 with those four matchups because Toledo is loaded. The road matchups in conference are against Tulane, Uconn, SMU & South Florida. Here’s where they can sneak in some nice wins and potentially go 3-1. At home in Tulsa they get Navy, Houston, Memphis & Temple. Brutal! Out of those four i’m thinking 1-3. If they can pull all those off they’ll be 6-6 and bowling yet again.
5. Tulane Green Wave – It’s now year two under head coach Willie Fritz, last year the Green Wave were 4-8 and struggled on both sides of the ball but trust me things are looking up. Jonathan Banks transferred in from Kansas State and although he hasn’t been labeled the starting quarterback yet I think he’ll be the man under center come late August. Banks is a run first QB that should do great in Fritz’s system. In fact the whole offense should be better just because they’ll be more familiar with the system, so expect improvement all around.
The out of conference schedule has matchups vs Grambling State, @Oklahoma, vs Army, & @Florida International. 3-1 is what they could be although the game vs Army should be a dog fight so who knows? On road in conference they have games against Navy, Memphis, East Carolina & SMU. 1-3 is what I’m thinking but i really think the Navy game could be very winnable considering both teams are very similar. At home in New Orleans the Wave get matchups vs Tulsa, South Florida, Cincinnati, & Houston. If they want to go bowling they need to find a way to win two of those. I see them getting only one and ending the year 5-7.
6. SMU Mustangs – Temple was my big question mark for American East and in the West its SMU. SMU showed us flashes of being really good last year (like when they upset Houston or were down by 3 to TCU at half). I really don’t know which team to expect. One thing I can tell you is that last year at some point freshman QB Ben Hicks started to really impress and if he can continue that they will be much better than 6th in the west. Courtland Sutton is one of the best receivers in the country so teams won’t want to see this offense if things get hot. It’s the defense that has me wondering.
They only have four upperclassmen penciled in as starters so that’s a bit scary when you’re in the same division as Navy, Houston, Tulsa and Memphis. The Mustangs out of conference schedule has games vs Stephen F. Austin, vs North Texas, @TCU, & vs Arkansas State. 2-2 is most likely here since Arkansa State appears to be a player in the Sun Belt. The road games in conference are against Houston, Cincinnati, Navy & Memphis. They’ll be lucky to get one of those (Cincinnati) but i have them losing all four. At home in Dallas they get Uconn, Tulsa, Central Florida & Tulane. I’m thinking maybe 1-3 there if they can get past Uconn. All together 3-9 or 4-8 for the Stangs.