Wed. May 22nd, 2019

AAC Preview

By Sam Draut

Cincinnati

The Bearcats return 13 starters from a 10-3 team that started 5-0 and reached the Top 25 in 2012.

Tommy Tuberville was hired as head coach in the off season after Butch Jones left for Tennessee.

Cincinnati returns both quarterbacks who started last season, seniors Munchie Legaux and Brendan Kay.

Kay appears to be the starter after going 4-1 last year, but Legaux will split time initially. The defense

returns five starters from a unit that ranked in the top 15 nationally in defensive scoring average.

Cincinnati has been as consistent as anyone in the Big East, winning four conference championships in

the past five years, the transfer to the AAC should not alter their winning ways.

UConn

Paul Pasqualoni enters into his third year at UConn with a noticeably warm seat after two consecutive

5-7 seasons. The Huskies offensive returns eight starters from a unit ranking 110

offense a year ago. Junior running back Lyle McCombs battled injuries last season after rushing for

over 1,500 yards his freshman year. On the other side of the ball, the top 25 defense in 2012 returns 5

starters. The Huskies saving grace last year was their defense, this year; more questions open up about

their defense paired with an offensive that struggled a year ago.

Houston

The Cougars offense brought them into the national spotlight, including a 13-1 campaign in 2011. Head

coach Kevin Sumlin left for Texas A&M and Tony Levine was brought in. Houston continued to move

the ball in Levine’s first season, ranking in the top 15 in total offense, but the defense struggled, and

struggled mightily. The Cougars return 14 starters from a 5-7 team a year ago, 10 of those returnees are

on the offensive side of the ball, continuing to leave question marks on defense. Houston plays a soft

non-conference schedule, so returning to a bowl game should seem realistic.

Memphis

Memphis returns 17 starters from a team went 4-8 in 2012, but ended the season on a positive note at

3-0. Second year head coach Justin Fuente has shot some life into a struggling program, though picked

to finish last this season, Memphis plays seven of their first eight games in the state of Tennessee.

Senior quarterback Jacob Karam returns for his senior season, while a commitment to running game will

remain intact with the return of running back Brandon Hayes and five offensive linemen with starting

experience. Seven starters return on defense led by junior middle linebacker Charles Davis. The soft

schedule and momentum could allow the Tigers to surprise some teams.

Temple

The transition to the Big East did not go as smoothly as Temple had planned a year ago. Finishing 4-7

added with the loss of head coach Steve Addazio left the Owls searching for answers. Matt Rhule takes

over a team that returns 15 starters, but plans to switch to the spread offense, a contrasting style from

Addazio’s run oriented offense. The defense returns Tyler Matakevich, the Big East Defensive Rookie

of the Year in 2012. Once again, the Owls will be transitioning, but with games against Notre Dame,

Louisville, and Cincinnati early on, the season could take a rough turn early.

SMU

SMU enters into its inaugural year in the American Conference with early tests and questions

offensively, while trying to rebuild the front four. The Mustangs play Texas Tech, TCU, and Texas A&M

in their non-conference schedule, but do not play AAC league favorite Louisville. A team that finished 7-

6 a year ago returns starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert and four starters in the secondary. The early

schedule is loaded, so for Mustangs to reach their fifth consecutive bowl appearance, they must win

games in conference.

Rutgers

Rutgers started last year 9-1 and was in the driver’s seat for the Big East conference championship

and BCS berth, but the final weeks ended in disasters for first year head coach Kyle Flood. The Scarlet

Knights returns 14 starters from a 9-4 team in 2012, but must replace 11 players drafted or signed by

NFL teams. Quarterback Gary Nova returns, but the stout defense from a year ago returns just four

players. Rutgers was picked to finished third in the AAC this season, but Kyle Flood will begin to define

his program as players from the Greg Schiano era sift out.

USF

Willie Taggart was hired after a disappointing 3-9 campaign led by head coach Skip Holtz in 2012. The

Bulls return 11 starters, but is the only team in the AAC to not return a starting quarterback. Four

players have competed for the starting job at quarterback, senior Bobby Eveld, sophomore Matt Floyd

and Steven Bench, or freshman Mike White. The defense has a core group of returning, including a pair

of talent defensive ends in Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch. The Bulls were picked to finish 5

but Taggart will face an uphill battle with games against Michigan State, Miami, and Louisville.

UCF

The Knights finished 10-4 last season and return 11 starters from a year ago. George O’Leary enters

his ninth season at the helm of UCF, the longest tenured head coach in the AAC. The team will be

tested early with matchups against Penn State and South Carolina. The offense returns 6 starters, but

the defense will be missing seven of the top ten tackles from last season. The Knights were picked

to finished fourth in the AAC, and can potentially benefit with the early tests before they enter into

conference play.

The AAC has seven bowl tie ins for the 2013 season.

The league champion has a guaranteed berth in a BCS Bowl. The Russell Athletic Bowl versus an ACC

opponent, the Belk Bowl versus an ACC opponent, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl versus a Big 12 opponent,

the BBVA Compass Bowl versus an SEC team, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl versus a Conference USA or SEC

team, and the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl versus a Conference USA opponent.

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