Leading up to the kickoff of the 2018 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. Starting today, with the American Athletic Conference, we’ll offer league predictions and look at the top performers while also highlighting key games from each league.
Here we go.
Josh Heupel is the new boss but has plenty of talent leftover. Quarterback McKenzie Milton is the best player in the American Athletic Conference, therefore the Knights could run the table again.
2. South Florida
Replacing quarterback Quinton Flowers won’t be easy, however, the Bulls’ defense should remain stellar. Three secondary members return from a unit that recorded 20 interceptions in 2017.
A 7-6 record and bowl victory made Geoff Collins’ first year as coach a decent one. Quarterback Frank Nutile leads a talented group of playmakers.
The Bearcats must avoid three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1983-92. Hayden Moore started every game at quarterback in 2017, therefore an offense that averaged 20.9 points should improve.
Randy Edsall’s return to UConn didn’t go well. The Huskies were young last season, so lessons were learned. A defense that yielded 37 or more points eight times must improve.
6. East Carolina
Scottie Montgomery has little room for error due to back-to-back 3-9 seasons. The quarterback position is uncertain and better play is needed on defense because they allowed 45 points per game.
Replacing Riley Ferguson at quarterback is a challenge, but the Tigers have plenty of experience back from last season’s 10-3 squad. Memphis is still the class of the American Athletic West division.
Ken Niumatalolo always seems to get the best out of his players. The Midshipmen earned a 7-6 finish because of a Military Bowl rout of Virginia last season. So, this has the making of another winning campaign in Annapolis.
The Cougars have a new offensive coordinator in Kendal Briles. They also have some decent talent back, but will it be enough to top Memphis and Navy in the American Athletic West?
Sonny Dykes takes over for the Mustangs, who ended a string of four consecutive losing campaigns by going 7-6 in 2017. However, non-conference games against TCU and Michigan in the first month will be daunting.
After four consecutive losing seasons, Tulane is poised to end that drought. The Green Wave finished 5-7 last year, but also lost three games by three or fewer points.
The Golden Hurricane’s lone American Athletic victory in ’17 came against Houston, which was impressive for a 2-10 team. Shamari Brooks will step in for D’Angelo Brewer, the school’s all-time leading rusher.
Players to watch
McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF: As a sophomore, Milton ranked among the national leaders with 4,037 passing yards and 37 touchdowns while posting a passer rating of 179.3. The Knights star, who’s thrown 16 interceptions in two years, can become a serious Heisman contender, especially if UCF goes undefeated again.
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: The first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy, Oliver recorded 5 1/2 sacks while posting 16 1/2 tackles for loss – which were down from his freshman campaign. While everybody in the American Athletic Conference knows Oliver is coming, they still can’t stop him.
Sept. 8: Memphis at Navy. The second game of the season for both teams. The stakes don’t get much higher in the American Athletic West.
Sept. 21: Florida Atlantic at UCF. This has the makings for a fun Group of 5 matchup. FAU went 11-3 under Lane Kiffin last season.
Nov. 23: UCF at South Florida. Last year’s affair was a wild one with the Knights winning 49-42. Hopefully, this year’s matchup will be as entertaining.