USF: South Florida is the highest preseason ranked team in the conference and only G5 in the top 25. Even more satisfying is the fact the Charlie Strong was never preseason ranked as HC of Texas and is currently ranked two spots above Herman’s Longhorns. It’s no surprise that the Bulls are ranked so highly while returning a stout offense with dangerous WRs, Tyre McCants and Marquez Valdes. The star of this highly ranked team however is returning senior QB, Quinton Flowers. With Ward’s departure from Houston as an undrafted WR to the Eagles, Flowers appears to be the new QB Heisman-longshot for the American. He was the 2016 AAC Offensive Player of the Year with 1,530 rushing yards, the fourth-highest total by an FBS quarterback ever. Where the Bulls succeed offensively however, they need to improve on their weak 2016 defense. This season will immediate spark the discussion, “is Strong actually a good coach again?”
UCF: Sure, the Knights only went 6-7 last year but to be fair, that was six more wins than in 2015. Taking a winless team to competing in a tough conference is no short feat for first-year HC, Scott Frost. He has also increased recruiting as a top contender in the AAC (which essentially means landing one four star or a shit load of three starts). The good news of rebuilding a winless team is, there’s only room to go forward, which means the Bulls are returning a fair amount of talent. Sophomore QB, McKenzie Milton, is presumed to start with team leading junior WR Tre’Quan Smith and supported by, what appears to be, a fairly strong offensive line. To be honest though, the AAC East seems like a rap for USF this year but nothing is impossible I guess. Realistically, I suspect UCF will pull off a winning season and compete in another bowl game which is a big step in the right direction for Scott Frost only two years out from a winless season.
Houston: Unless you follow college football as much as I follow the stock market, you probably know about the Cougar’s recent success. Everyone is now wondering how much of that success can be attributed to, now Texas coach, Tom Herman but the real question is, what can Applewhite do with this team? Although they lost their star QB, Greg Ward Jr., they are returning a lot of talent. Talent that includes true-sophomore defensive tackle, Ed Oliver, who gained national recognition as the first freshman to win the Bill Willis Trophy and Texas A&M QB transfer, Kyle Allen, who was the number one QB recruit in the nation for the 2013 class. Applewhite has some big shoes to fill though after the Coogs beat Florida State, Oklahoma, and Louisville’s Heisman QB Lamar Jackson, twice, over the past two years. The only concern they should have for 2017 however, is winning in their competitive conference. More specifically, beating the conference basketball schools like SMU and UConn, practically the only feat Herman couldn’t accomplish at Houston.
Memphis: The Tigers have had a winning record and three bowl appearances in the last three years, even with a coaching change, yet have managed to miss out on the conference championship since joining the AAC. Coach Norvell is returning a scary strong team that should serve as a serious threat to the rest of the American though. Senior QB, Riley Ferguson, is back from a 3,698 passing yards and 32 touchdown season along with WR stars Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue. Breakout RB, Doroland Dorceus, may just match DeAngelo Williams rushing yards as a school leading rusher if he can perform as well as he did last season. Although their offense ranked nationally as a top contender, the defense is a problem the team will have to fix. If history repeats itself, the Memphis game against Houston should be a nail bitter that will determine the division due to their nine-point total difference over the past three years.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricanes may be the most preseason under-ranked team in the conference. After a 10-3 record last year, losing only to Ohio State, Houston and Navy, Tulsa is looking very strong. The Hurricanes are playing their toughest division opponents, Navy, Houston and Memphis, all at home which should give them a slight edge. HC Philip Montgomery is looking to make an even bigger statement in his third season with a strong returning defense. Although they lost quite a bit of their 6th best overall FBS offense, Montgomery is an offensive Briles protégé who will surely utilize his explosive returning RB, D’Angelo Brewer. The American Conference appears to be, once again, the strongest G5 conference of 2017. Will Tulsa win? I don’t know because I can’t predict the future of course, but I do at least foresee in my crystal ball, Tulsa playing the role of a dark horse that will shake-up the rankings and hopeful New Year’s Bowl spot.