Here we go again everyone! Once again it’s time for another round of Dustin James’ 2013-14 NCAA football conference preview! This time around I’m previewing a brand new conference in college football, the American Athletic Conference. The AAC is a new conference comprised of teams from the Big East and Conference USA who have combined to put together a mediocre conference that will only get worse when Louisville leaves next year for the ACC. Even though the AAC will lose one of their top dogs next year, they will gain Tulsa, Tulane, East Carolina, and Navy in the upcoming seasons (oh joy). As for now though, let’s take a look at who I feel will win the inaugural season in the AAC….

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

 
1. Louisville Cardinals- 11-2 (7-1)

Last Year’s Record: 11-2

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Defeated Florida in the Sugar Bowl

Toughest Games: UCF, Houston, @ Cincinnati

Key Players: Teddy Bridgewater (QB), Dominique Brown (RB), DeVante Parker (WR), Damian Copeland (WR), Gerald Christian (TE), Jake Smith (OL), John Miller (OL), Jamon Brown (OL), Roy Philon (DL), Lorenzo Mauldin (DL), Jamiane Brooks (DL), Marcus Smith (DL), Preston Brown (LB), Keith Brown (LB), Terell Floyd (CB), Calvin Pryor (S), Hakeem Smith (S), John Wallace (K)

Bowl Prediction: Orange Bowl vs. Clemson (L)

Team Analysis: There isn’t a team in the Nation that has as much talent as Louisville does and plays an easier schedule. I have Louisville going 11-1 in the regular season, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they went 12-0 and were in the hunt for the BCS title. They have the best QB in college football (Teddy Bridgewater) and that alone puts them in the hunt for the championship. When you throw in the fact that they play in a shitty conference, you’d be crazy not to think the Cardinals and Charlie Strong are heavy favorites to finish the season undefeated with a legitimate argument at playing for a National Championship. However, I have them slipping up and losing a game because my good buddy Steve Cook is a Louisville fan and I don’t think it’s fair that his Cardinals already won an NCAA Men’s basketball title and now they actually field a team that has a great chance at going 12-0. Anyway you slice it, Bridgewater will be either the #1 or #2 pick in next year’s NFL draft. Get used to hearing his name.

2. Cincinnati Bearcats- 11-2 (7-1)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Belk Bowl against Duke

Toughest Games: Purdue, @ Rutgers, @ Houston, Louisville(

Key Players: Brendon Kay (QB), Anthony McClung (WR/PR), Austen Bujnoch (OL), Eric Lefeld (OL), Dan Sprague (C), Sam Longo (OL), Jordan Stepp (DL), Greg Blair (LB), Jeff Luc (LB), Nick Temple (LB), Deven Drane (CB), Tony Miliano (K), Ralph David Abernathy (KR)

Bowl Prediction: Russell Athletic Bowl vs. North Carolina (L)

Team Analysis: Tommy Tuberville has arrived at Cincinnati and he’s ready to bring some SEC-flavor to the Bearcats. Once Louisville heads off to the ACC, the Bearcats will likely be one of the favorites in the American Athletic Conference every season. This season is no different. Tuberville actually inherits a pretty talented team that went 10-3 last season and is led by senior QB Brendon Kay and a defense that only allowed 18.5 points per game last season. The schedule is also winnable as their toughest road games are against Rutgers and Houston, but they have a great chance at walking away the victors in both of those games. They draw Louisville at the end of the season in what will likely be for the conference title. It should be a nice easy transition for Tuberville as he settles in as the head man at Cincinnati and it could all start with a conference championship.

3. UCF Knights- 9-4 (7-1)

Last Year’s Record: 10-4

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Beef O’ Brady Bowl against Ball State

Toughest Games: @ Penn State, South Carolina, @ Louisville, Houston, @ SMU

Key Players: Blake Bortles (QB), Storm Johnson (RB), JJ Worton (WR/PR), Jeff Godfrey (WR), Torrian Wilson (OL), Jordan McCray (OL), Thomas Niles (DL), EJ Dunston (DL), Deion Green (DL), Terrance Plummer (LB), Brandon Alexander (CB), Clayton Geathers (S)

Bowl Prediction: Belk Bowl vs. Miami (L)

Team Analysis: UCF is a good little football team and they have been since George O’Leary took over 10 years ago. The Knights are coming off an impressive 10-4 season which included a demolishing of Ball State in the Beef O’ Brady’s bowl. I expect UCF to be just as good as they were last year. They are extremely young on defense, but the offense and QB Blake Bortles can put up points with any other squad in the AAC. They have a tough non-conference schedule with games against Penn State and South Carolina, but outside of an away game against Louisville, the conference schedule isn’t bad at all. The Knights are definitely a dark horse team to win the AAC and could be there to capitalize if Louisville slips up along the way.

4. Houston Cougars- 8-5 (5-3)

Last Year’s Record: 5-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: BYU, @ Rutgers, @ UCF, @ Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU

Key Players: Charles Sims (RB), Deontay Greenberry (WR), Daniel Spencer (WR), Dewayne Peace (WR), Ty Cloud (OL), Rowdy Harper (OL), Derrick Mathews (LB), Trevon Randle (LB), Zach McMillian (CB), Trevon Stewart (S), Richie Leone (P), Ty Cummings (K)

Bowl Prediction: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Texas Tech (L)

Team Analysis: Last year was a down year for the Cougars, a team that has grown accustomed to making a bowl game every year. The team finished 5-7 and had some unexplained losses such as the one they suffered opening week against Texas State. They should be better this year though, especially offensively. They return 10 starters on the offense which includes stud RB Charles Sims. However, the Cougars only welcome back 5 starters on a defense that was atrocious last season. They allowed 36.0 points per game last year and teams will likely put up just as many points this year. It’s a good thing that this offense is going to be able to score points, because I predict some shootouts going down in Houston.

5. SMU Mustangs- 7-6 (5-3)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Won the Hawaii Bowl against Fresno State

Toughest Games: Texas Tech, @ Texas A&M, @ TCU, @ Cincinnati, @ Houston, UCF

Key Players: Garrett Gilbert (QB), Traylon Shead (RB), Jeremy Johnson (WR), Taylor Lasecki (C), Randall Joyner (LB), Kenneth Acker (CB/PR), Chris Parks (CB), Jay Scott (S), Mike Loftus (P), Der’rikk Thompson (KR)

Bowl Prediction: BBVA Compass Bowl vs. Air Force (W)

Team Analysis: I have the SMU Mustangs finishing 7-6 this year, but there’s a good chance this team finishes better than that. The Mustangs are coming off a huge win over Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl where they absolutely slaughtered the Bulldogs. Senior QB Garrett Gilbert is back to lead the offense and something tells me him and head coach June Jones could put together something magical in Dallas this year. The non-conference schedule is tough as they play both Texas A&M and TCU in back-to-back weeks in away games, but the schedule lightens up after that. Somehow the Mustangs avoid playing Louisville this year in conference play, which gives them a chance to be better than I expect them to be. I seriously may have underestimated these guys.

6. Connecticut Huskies- 5-7 (4-4)

Last Year’s Record: 5-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: Maryland, Michigan, @ Cincinnati, @ UCF, Louisville, @ SMU

Key Players: Lyle McCombs (RB), Shakim Phillips (WR), Jimmy Bennett (OL), Steve Green (OL), Yawin Smallwood (LB), Graham Stewart (LB), Byron Jones (CB), Chad Christen (K), Cole Wagner (P)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: I don’t know what to make of UConn really. The program was hot back in 2010 when they made the Fiesta Bowl and lost to Oklahoma, but things haven’t been the same since as the Huskies have failed to reach a bowl game since then. They were close last year when they went 5-7, but close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. I expect more of the same this year.

7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights- 5-7 (3-5)

Last Year’s Record: 9-4

Last Year’s Bowl Game: Lost the Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech

Toughest Games: @ Fresno State, Arkansas, @ SMU, @ Louisville, Houston, Cincinnati, @ UCF, @ Connecticut

Key Players: Savon Huggins (RB), Brandon Coleman (WR), Paul Carrezola (TE), Betim Bujari (C), Antwan Lowery (OL), Kaleb Johnson (OL), Andre Civil (OL), Darius Hamilton (DL), Jamil Merrell (DL), Jamal Merrell (LB), Kevin Snyder (LB), Lorenzo Waters (S), Jeremy Deering (KR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Rutgers had a good year last year when they went 9-4 and almost beat Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Scarlet Knights lost a lot of talent from that 9-4 team though, especially on the defensive side of the ball where they only return 4 starters from that tough defense that only allowed 14.2 points per game. The schedule is also a little bit tough as they open the year up with an away game at Fresno State and also welcome Arkansas to New Brunswick on September 21. The conference schedule isn’t easier either as they draw SMU, Louisville, and UCF all away from home. I have Rutgers going 5-7 on the year, but there is a chance they can sneak into a bowl game with a few unexpected wins. As you know, anything can happen in college football.

8. Memphis Tigers- 4-8 (1-7)

Last Year’s Record: 4-8

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: Duke, UCF, @ Houston, SMU, Cincinnati, @ Louisville, @ Connecticut

Key Players: Brandon Hayes (RB), Alan Cross (TE), Antonio Foster (C), Johnnie Farms (DL), Martin Ifedi (DL), Anthony Brown (LB), Lonnie Ballentine (S), Tom Hornsey (P), Bobby McCain (KR), Keiwone Malone (PR)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: It’s been a rough last couple of years for the Memphis Tigers. Memphis hasn’t made a bowl game since 2008 and they haven’t won a bowl game since 2005 when they beat Akron in the Motor City Bowl. Unfortunately for Tigers fans, this year shouldn’t be any better. Even though the schedule isn’t exactly the toughest, the Tigers lack the talent to be able to make any noise in the AAC. When Louisville leaves the conference things will get a little easier for everyone, especially teams like Memphis.

9. USF Bulls- 3-9 (1-7)

Last Year’s Record: 3-9

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Michigan State, Miami, Cincinnati, @ Connecticut, Louisville, @ Houston, SMU, @ UCF, @ Rutgers

Key Players: Marcus Shaw (RB), Andre Davis (WR), Sean Price (TE), Quinterrius Eatmon (OL), Ryne Giddins (DL), Aaron Lynch (DL), Luke Sager (DL), Todd Chandler (DL), DeDe Lattimore (DL), Mark Joyce (S)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Fool me once, shame on me. However, USF…you will not fool me twice. Last year I whiffed on the USF Bulls pretty bad. I actually picked them to win the Big East conference and instead they went on to have a miserable season and finished 3-9. Well, you know what? That’s not happening again. I’m not letting these guys trick me into thinking they are actually going to field a decent football team this year. I expect them to go 3-9 and have yet another miserable season as punishment for tricking me last year. Now let’s all sit back and watch as the Bulls shock the world en route to winning the inaugural American Athletic Conference title.

10. Temple Owls- 3-9 (0-8)

Last Year’s Record: 4-7

Last Year’s Bowl Game: No bowl game

Toughest Games: @ Notre Dame, Houston, Louisville, @ Cincinnati, @ SMU, @ Rutgers, UCF

Key Players: Tyler Matakevich (LB), Anthony Robey (CB)

Bowl Prediction: No bowl game

Team Analysis: Are you a fan of Temple football? If so, I’m sorry. It’s going to be a long season for the Owls, but what do you expect when you don’t have much talent to work with and you have to face the likes of Notre Dame, Louisville, Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, and others. I’d like to say there’s always next year, but it’s freaking Temple football!

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