2013 AAC Preview - Team Breakdown & Picks
Houston RB Charles Sims
Preview 2013 - CFN AAC Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish
AAC Team By Team
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Note: Predictions based on team talent and
2013 CFN Prediction: 10-2
2013 AAC Prediction: 7-1
Offense: One of Tommy Tuberville's first hires in the Queen City was Eddie Gran, who has more than a quarter-century of coaching experience. His official title will be offensive coordinator, but he'll also be a central figure in the recruitment of new talent, especially in Florida. Gran has minimal experience running an offense, and would be wise not to tinker too much with a system that was very successful under prior regimes. He has a few things on the agenda, headed by choosing between Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux at quarterback. Legaux was the starter at the beginning of 2012, but Kay came on late to provide an infusion of stability. Whoever gets the ball will be well-protected by the American Athletic Conference's premier offensive line. But who will be on the receiving end of throws and handoffs? The Bearcats lost last year's top rusher, George Winn, and their two best pass-catchers, WR Kenbrell Thompkins and TE Travis Kelce, to graduation. While RB Ralph David Abernathy IV and WR Anthony McClung are slick playmakers, both are going to need help from their skill position teammates.
Defense: Under recent coordinators, Bob Diaco and John Jancek, Cincinnati had a habit of making the most of the talent on hand. The Bearcats excelled at signing snubbed recruits and transforming them into all-stars with NFL potential. First-year coordinator Art Kaufman, who was on Tommy Tuberville's Texas Tech staff last year, will attempt to emulate a similar model. Cincy welcomes back a handful of starters from another overachieving unit, but only one, sixth-year LB Greg Blair, who earned All-Big East honors in 2012. The line doesn't look special, and other than CB Deven Drane, the secondary is pretty commonplace as well. The Bearcats are holding out hope that a spate of transfers, such as LB Jeff Luc from Florida State, DT Marques Aiken from Marshall and JUCO imports, can help fill in the gaps where they currently exist. Cincinnati has beaten the odds before, but the new staff still has some heavy lifting to do.
2013 CFN Prediction: 9-3
2013 AAC Prediction: 7-1
Offense: Rutgers remains in a rut. The Scarlet Knights have ranked no higher than 97th nationally in total offense over the last four seasons, slipping to 104th a year ago. New coordinator Ron Prince will need to dig deep into his coaching bag of tricks in 2013. Most of Prince's attention will justifiably go in the direction of the backfield, which houses a confidence-deprived quarterback and a running back hoping to fulfill lofty expectations. QB Gary Nova was up-and-down throughout his sophomore year, finishing it with a thud. He's the starter, though, and someone Prince feels is capable of far more consistency. RB Savon Huggins gets his best chance to start since becoming one of the highest-rated recruits in school history two years ago. He has to be up to the challenge since Rutgers puts such a heavy emphasis on the ground game. Rangy WR Brandon Coleman should again be the star of the offense, while the line is the offensive strength. However, there could be some shuffling up front before the staff finds the right combination in the trenches.
Defense: The Scarlet Knights are on their third defensive coordinator, Dave Cohen, in the last three years, but for all of the good reasons. Assistants are not getting canned, rather promoted for the work that's perennially being done with the Rutgers D. Year-in and year-out, the Knights are producing NFL talent, while residing among the nation's stingiest units. In 2012, for instance, they ranked No. 4 nationally in points allowed. RU performs like an old-school, blue-collar Big Ten defense, though that reputation is going to be tested in 2013. Only four starters are back On the Banks, and last season's four First Team All-Big East performers have graduated. The Knights are going to lean heavily on the Merrell twins, DE Jamil and LB Jamal, and the coaching staff for guidance and leadership. Rutgers has recruited well over the years, but now it's up to Cohen and his assistants to make sure all of that young talent is ready for action once the season begins at the end of August.
2013 CFN Prediction: 10-2
2013 AAC Prediction: 6-2
Offense: As long as Teddy Bridgewater is healthy and calling out signals, Louisville's offense will be in very capable hands. The junior is one of the nation's premier quarterbacks, a steady-handed winner who has yet to even approach his full potential. Helping him get there in 2013 will be a deep and athletic collection of receivers that goes three-deep with weapons. Not only do three of last year's top four pass-catchers return, led by playmaker extraordinaire DeVante Parker, but Tennessee transfer Matt Milton, Florida transfers Gerald Christian and Robert Clark and five-star recruit James Quick are competing for reps as well. Always aiming for balance, the staff hopes to have leading rusher Senorise Perry back from an ACL injury in time for the opener. No matter when he returns, bruising 226-pound Dominique Brown is going to be a key part of the rotation. The weakest link of the attack will again be the O-line. The unit isn't bad, but it isn't special either, and will play this year with a new center and left tackle.
Defense: Louisville should have been better on defense in 2012. And head coach Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford know it. The Cards weren't horrible, but they did drop from 17th nationally in scoring D to 36th a year ago. Plus, there were a few too many breakdowns, such as in the 45-26 loss to Syracuse. Little what this group did last year was satisfactory to a taskmaster, such as Strong, from finishing last in Big East sacks to picking off only 11 balls. The encouraging news is that just about everyone is back, and they're all eager to write a new chapter in 2013. The Cardinals will be led by a veteran D-line, LB Preston Brown and the dynamite safety tandem of Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith. After playing it a little safe a year ago, Bedford might want to take a few more chances with his linebackers and his safeties. The program has enough athletes, and has recruited well enough to be a risk-taker from time to time.
2013 CFN Prediction: 7-5
2013 AAC Prediction: 5-3
Offense: The UConn offense needs a miracle worker. It'll settle for a new coordinator, T.J. Weist. Weist brings from Cincinnati a fast-paced offense that wants to dictate the tempo of a game. Sounds encouraging, does he have the right personnel to carry out his plans? The Huskies have had one of the country's most vanilla offenses for years, averaging less than 18 points a game in 2012. While just about everyone is back, it remains to be seen if that's good news or a harbinger of business as usual in East Hartford. RB Lyle McCombs is the unit's most dependable performer, though his ceiling gets capped by a poor supporting cast. QB Chandler Whitmer threw nearly twice as many picks as touchdowns last year, and the O-line is among the league's worst. Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips are underrated starting wide receivers, but they'll only go as far as Whitmer's right arm and questionable decision-making will allow them. Like his predecessors, Weist is taking a bike into drag race this fall.
Defense: New coordinator, same mandate to get after the other guys in an attacking style. Hank Hughes replaces Don Brown, and inherits a depleted D that lost four of last season's five All-Big East performers to graduation. The lone returner, LB Yawin Smallwood, is an elite talent, but his supporting cast certainly isn't what it was a year ago. The Huskies are in the market for new playmakers, guys who can create turnovers, while helping offset the loss of sacks left by the departures of DE Trevardo Williams and LB Sio Moore. Looking to provide a lift up front is DE Jesse Joseph, who missed most of last season to an Achilles injury. Productive former S Byron Jones has moved to cornerback to bolster a position that's going to miss Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz. Otherwise, Hughes is in charge of plenty of youth and try-hard types looking to carve out their own niche within the perennially underrated UConn defense.
2013 CFN Prediction: 5-7
2013 AAC Prediction: 4-4
Offense: What is wrong with the Run N' Shoot? By now, shouldn't head coach June Jones have the Mustangs among the nation's most prolific offenses? He hasn't. In fact, SMU has been ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense just once in the last five years, and was an unacceptable No. 90 in 2012. In an effort to find answers, Jones hired pioneering "Air Raid" mastermind Hal Mumme as an assistant coach. The Mustangs had occasional outbursts in 2012, such as the 72-42 rout of Houston, but they were largely inconsistent. The cover boy of that inconsistency was Texas transfer QB Garrett Gilbert, who was a flop in his Dallas debut. He threw as many picks as touchdowns, stalled in the red zone and didn't click with an up-and-down corps of receivers. Yet another former Longhorn has entered the discussion on the Hilltop. RB Traylon Shead has shown the power and the quickness to not just start, but also ably replace departed star back Zach Line.
Defense: Tom Mason's defense was improbably solid a year ago, flying all over the field to rank third nationally in takeaways, pitch two shutouts and tie an NCAA single-season mark with eight pick-sixes. But, can the Mustangs even approach their 2012 revelry without four of last season's top five defenders? SMU has taken a particularly forceful hit to the front seven, where linemen Margus Hunt and Torlan Pittman and linebackers Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed have graduated. The line was obliterated, leaving behind three new starters who'll labor to pressure the pocket in a new league. The linebackers, led by Randall Joyner, will continue to cover plenty of ground, and Kenneth Acker is one of the nation's best cornerbacks that few people are talking about. However, all roads lead back to the play of that D-line. If SMU is pushed back on its heels against AAC opponents, it could be a very long year for Mason's kids.
2013 CFN Prediction: 6-6
2013 AAC Prediction: 4-4
Offense: UCF is entering a tougher defensive league armed with what might be its best offense in school history. The Knights are loaded just a year after finishing 25th nationally at more than 35 points per game. Everything begins with junior QB Blake Bortles, who's about to build on a breakthrough debut as the starter. He'll be surrounded by an assortment of playmakers, like budding feature back Storm Johnson and a stacked corps of athletic receivers comprised of Breshad Perriman, J.J. Worton and Ranell Hall. Bortles' backside will be ably protected by LT Torrian Wilson, a Second Team All-Conference USA pick in 2012. The rest of the O-line, though, is pedestrian, especially unproven C Joey Grant, the lone potential chink in the Knights' armor. If this group can hold up against American Athletic Conference competition, the attack will hum for coordinator Charlie Taaffe.
Defense: For many years now, the Knights have signed quality athletes, and methodically transformed them into the cornerstones of one Conference USA's nastiest defenses. They'll attempt to now take that formula for sustained success to the American Athletic Conference. UCF is busy trying to rebuild a D that lost six starters to graduation, including its three best players. The program will again rely on speed, especially in the back seven, swarm tackling and closing quickly on the man with the ball. The new figureheads in Orlando will be LB Terrance Plummer and S Clayton Geathers, both of whom should be good for more than 100 tackles in 2013. The two-deep will have no choice but to be young, meaning the fate of the defense in 2013 will rest heavily on a handful of untested underclassmen.
2013 CFN Prediction: 6-6
2013 AAC Prediction: 4-4
Offense: New head coach Willie Taggart plans to operate a version of the San Francisco 49ers' pro-style offense, the same one he learned from Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. The Bulls are going to be a power running team that makes use of the fullback and the tight ends. In the early going, the quarterbacks won't be asked to carry the team, a good thing since USF has a gaping hole behind center. Senior Bobby Eveld and sophomore Matt Floyd battled to a dead heat in the spring, with Penn State import Steven Bench joining the competition in the summer. The program will need a feature back to carry out the wishes of the coaching staff; Marcus Shaw is first in line for the job, though former JUCO transfer Michael Pierre is not far behind. The star of the offense is big-play WR Andre Davis, but his talents and production could be stunted by the situation behind center. At times, the quarterbacks will be more comfortable dumping the ball off to the backs or locating one of two quality tight ends, Sean Price or Mike McFarland.
Defense: The South Florida defense has lost its swagger. Longtime NFL coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has been hired by Willie Taggart to help restore it. The Bulls weren't just bad a season ago—they were feeble, causing just nine turnovers in 12 games. What happened to the electric, attacking unit that had become a trademark of the program back when Jim Leavitt was turning USF into a nationally-known commodity? The Bulls still attract speed and tenacity to Tampa, though there are going to be glaring holes in the back seven. DeDe Lattimore is the only sure-thing at linebacker, and the pass defense needs a total overhaul. It's up front where the greatest hope exists. South Florida is loaded with depth and promising linemen, none with a greater upside than DE Aaron Lynch. The first-year transfer from Notre Dame is poised to explode out of the chute, taking NFL scouts on a wild ride that could wind up being his only year as a Bull.
2013 CFN Prediction: 4-8
2013 AAC Prediction: 2-6
Offense: Don't expect major changes in philosophy now that Doug Meacham has been lured away from Oklahoma State, where he was the passing game coordinator of one of college football's most potent aerial attacks. Meacham was brought aboard by head coach Tony Levine to tweak and fine-tune a system that has the parts for success, but just lacks the execution. A year ago, for instance, Houston was 15th nationally in total offense, yet only 38th in total scoring. The problems? The Cougars turned the ball over way too much, and persistently stalled in the red zone. The fulcrum for the system will be junior QB David Piland, whose No. 88 pass efficiency rating will get him benched if he doesn't improve this fall. The supporting cast will not be a problem. Houston harbors terrific skill players, such as RB Charles Sims and WR Deontay Greenberry, and a stout O-line losing just one starter. The Cougs are close to being really, really explosive again, but first need to start paying better attention to detail.
Defense: After a stint with the Houston Texans, David Gibbs is heading back to college in an effort to fix the Cougars defense. Houston has athletes. Plenty of them. What it lacks is the toughness and the size to contain quality offenses. A year ago, the program ranked 115th nationally in total D and 107th in points allowed, creating a need for a veteran like Gibbs. The coordinator plans to simplify the schemes, putting the defenders in a position to think less and react more. The 2013 edition will be breaking in a bunch of new starters, needing to replace three defensive linemen and all-star LB Phillip Steward and CB D.J. Hayden. While the Cougars rely on their playmakers, such as LB Derrick Mathews, CB Zach McMillian and FS Trevon Stewart, they'll remain vulnerable to physical American Athletic Conference teams running right at them. There are high hopes this fall for LB Trevon Randle, who began his career at LSU as a four-star recruit.
2013 CFN Prediction: 4-8
2013 AAC Prediction: 1-7
Offense: The offense, led by head coach Justin Fuente and coordinator Darrell Dickey, made modest strides in 2012. The goal is to further that trend this fall. Many of last season's starters return, including QB Jacob Karam who was a steadying influence in his first year removed from Texas Tech. The focal point, though, figures to be senior RB Brandon Hayes, the second-year JUCO transfer who wrapped up his debut with back-to-back 100-yard games. After lacking pop and the ability to stretch the field last fall, the Tigers are counting on fleet-footed receivers Keiwone Malone and Joe Craig of Alabama and Clemson, respectively, to provide occasional flashes of electricity. The program's biggest concern involves a mediocre O-line that's long on youth and short on anchors. The developing unit, more than any other, will get a crash course on life in a tougher league.
Defense: Coordinator Barry Odom was a sound hire by the coaching staff. And the numbers are there to back it up. In 2011, the year before the new staff took over, Memphis yielded 491 yards and 35 points per game. Last year? The numbers dipped to 383 yards and 30 points a week. It's not Alabama, but it certainly is progress. The improvement was fueled by an underrated front seven that returns virtually intact. The front three is Big East-ready, with DE Martin Ifedi pacing a group that's both deep and talented. The linebackers are blue-collar types who've played a lot of football, both in Conference USA and at the junior-college level. The Tigers are built right for a league that leans heavily on ground games. But that doesn't mean the secondary gets a free pass. The unit needs to create more big plays after giving up 25 touchdown passes, while picking off just eight.
2013 CFN Prediction: 3-9
2013 AAC Prediction: 0-8
Offense: Temple's leading returning rusher and passer, Chris Coyer, is now lining up at H-back. And the guy who caught the most touchdown passes in 2012, Cody Booth, is taking a swing at left tackle. Yeah, it's going to be a major transition year in Philadelphia. The Owls, under head coach Matt Rhule, are moving from Steve Addazio's ground-based spread to a more passer-friendly pro-style system. As such, Coyer's dual-threat persona is now persona non grata, soon to be replaced by either Connor Reilly or Clinton Granger. Reilly was the story of the spring, going from a holder on special teams to the top of the depth chart. His favorite target, assuming he remains in the pole position, will be Jalen Fitzpatrick, a dynamic playmaker underutilized by the previous regime. Temple will run it less in 2013, which is a good thing since a since a feature back might not emerge until the rookies arrive in the summer. The remaking of the Owls offense is going to take time and a much better fit of personnel than what currently exists on the roster.
Defense: You are not in the MAC any longer, Temple. The Owls were a dominant D back in their old stomping ground, but last season served as a rude awakening. The program pulled up the rear in the Big East in many major statistical categories, yielding at least 32 points in each of their final six games. New coordinator Phil Snow faces an uphill climb in 2013 and beyond. His inherited talent is decent, but will need to be coached up, much the way it was when Al Golden was piloting the program a few years back. The upcoming edition is no more talented than the last one. There are holes in run and pass defense, and depth will be an ongoing worry. Two of the Owls' better players are young linebackers, Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith, who ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in tackles last fall. Pro scouts will have an eye on NT Levi Brown, an underachiever in 2012 looking to make a salary run in 2013.