American Athletic Conference college football preview, Part 1

The American Athletic Conference has gone through a meteoric rise in recent history. From the haphazardness of its birth to its final years with 11 teams, this conference is always game for another round. The AAC will be looking back on some good times as it looks forward and into the future.

The “american conference football” is a college football conference that was created in 2013. The American Athletic Conference has had some success, with their most recent championship coming from the 2015 season. In this article, we will be taking a look at each team in the conference and what to expect from them.

For a variety of reasons, the American Athletic Conference has been the best of the Group of 5 leagues on average. Of course, it boasts the greatest teams: six of the group’s eight New Year’s Eve teams. Since the College Football Playoff and the NY6 format were formed, the AAC winners have received six bowl berths.

In addition, it has the least amount of dead weight. Over the last eight seasons, every current conference member has finished 43rd or above in SP+ at least once, and current members have only finished lower than 110th four times in the last six years.

When conference realignment affects the structure of G5 conferences in the future seasons, we’ll see how things play out, but the present AAC is stronger than most at both the top and bottom. The former will be discussed next week, whereas the latter will be discussed today. Tulane, East Carolina University, Tulsa, Florida’s south coast, Navy, and Temple are the lowest six teams based on current SP+ estimates in part one of this offseason’s AAC preview.

Bill Connelly will preview a different division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 every week for ESPN+ during the offseason, eventually covering all 131 FBS clubs. For each squad, there will be 2021 analyses, 2022 previews, and hot questions.

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Recap of the year 2021

East Carolina University’s breakout and Tulane’s fall were maybe the greatest tales among these six clubs last season. ECU won three games in a run early in the season and four games in a row late in the season to finish 7-5. Mike Houston’s Pirates were unable to celebrate with a bowl game because their date with Boston College in the 2021 Military Bowl was canceled due to COVID-19, but big plays on offense, success on blitz downs on defense, and some lucky bounces in close games (they were 4-2 in one-score finishes) resurrected hope at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Tulane’s defense disintegrated after winning three straight bowl games for the first time in school history, as the Green Wave went 0-5 in one-score finishes on their route to a 2-10 record. Willie Fritz is still the head coach, and there are many of evidence that this was a one-off season, but Tulane has a lot to show in 2022. Navy, USF, and Temple, all of whom went 9-27, agree. With a 3-6 start, Tulsa seemed to be headed for the 2021 Stumble Club, but the Golden Hurricane won their last four games to finish 7-6.


Estimates for 2022

The top five American clubs will be added to this table next week, but for now, here are the SP+ estimates for these six teams:

TEAM SP+ RK OFF. RK DEF. AVG. W CONF. W BOWL ODDS
Tulane 71 42 98 6.1 3.2 65%
East Carolina University 81 76 79 5.4 3.5 48%
Tulsa 82 83 75 5.6 3.5 53%
Florida’s south coast 94 71 110 3.9 2.5 12%
Navy 116 125 95 2.8 1.4 2%
Temple 119 127 105 3.8 1.5 10%

USF and Navy both have top-50 schedules, with USF facing seven projected top-40 teams (three top-30s in September alone) and Navy facing five top-40 teams plus Army in its last seven games, while Temple begins a new era under Stan Drayton following a startling and rapid fall. SP+ isn’t optimistic about these clubs’ prospects.

Close matchups will determine the season for the other three clubs in this group. Tulsa and ECU each have three probable wins, five likely losses, and four relative toss-ups on their schedules, according to SP+ (which I define as games projected within 7.5 points, or approximately one score). Between Oct. 8 and Nov. 17, Tulane is looking at three sure victories, three likely losses, and an extraordinary six-game run of near toss-ups. The Green Wave might be the squad that turns things around in 2022, or they could be in for another season of close defeats and misery.


Questions that need to be answered

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Tulane’s C Sincere Haynesworth Haynesworth, a 6-1, 305-pound road grader, is one of three Tulane lineman to win honorable mention all-AAC accolades in the last two years.

Layton, DE Temple in Jordan. Jordan concluded the season with eight tackles for loss, eight run stuffs, and a 13 percent pressure rate in only 19 plays per game. This season, he has a chance to shine as a starter.

NG Navy’s Clay Cromwell. Despite the loss of Diego Fagot, the Navy run defense might remain effective, and the 292-pound Cromwell’s exploits up front (eight TFLs, eight run stuffs) could be a big reason for that.

USF’s Antonio Grier is a linebacker. Grier has three sacks and 14 pressures in only 67 pass rush attempts last season. Grier might wind up with all-conference stats if USF can produce more blitzing chances in 2022.

CB Temple’s Cameron Ruiz. Last season, as the main coverage guy, Ruiz had an 8.1 QBR and four pass breakups. Temple may become a star if he could truly compel opponents to pass more.

CB Tulsa’s Tyon Davis. The senior from Oklahoma City was a willing run defender who also had 10 pass breakups in his debut season as a starter. The Golden Hurricane’s secondary is prone to turnover, but he’s a dependable player.


Anniversaries

Tulsa had its first 10-win season in 40 years in 1982, when they finished 10-1. John Cooper’s Golden Hurricane won Oklahoma State and Kansas, lost only to No. 13 Arkansas, and stormed through the Missouri Valley thanks to a dominant rushing game led by Ken Lacy and Michael Gunter, who combined for 2,561 yards and 23 touchdowns. Cooper was hired by Arizona State in 1985 as a result of their success, and he helped to establish the school’s FBS (formerly 1-A) status. Tulsa persevered and, after a decade as an independent, joined the WAC in the late 1990s after the MVC stopped sponsoring football and its other former members dropped to 1-AA (or, in the case of Wichita State, dropped football entirely), but the MVC stopped sponsoring football and its other former members dropped to 1-AA (or, in the case of Wichita State, dropped football entirely).

Tommy Bowden became Tulane’s head coach 25 years ago, in 1997. The Green Wave hadn’t had a winning season in 16 years, but quarterback Shaun King provided a perfect muse for coordinator Rich Rodriguez’s new spread scheme. Tulane was 7-4 in 1997, averaging 34 points per game, before going 12-0 in 1998, averaging 45 points per game and placing eighth in the AP poll. It was their first top-10 result since 1939, and just their second overall.

Paul Johnson took over as Navy’s head coach 20 years ago, in 2002. The Midshipmen had gone 1-20 in each of the previous two seasons, and Johnson’s first year would see them fall 2-10. His triple-option concepts, on the other hand, immediately gained traction. Under Johnson and subsequently Ken Niumatalolo, Navy would win at least eight games in 13 of the following 14 seasons.

USF climbed to No. 2 in 2007, 15 years ago. During a 6-0 start for Jim Leavitt’s Bulls, who were in their ninth season in the FBS and third in the Big East, they beat No. 17 Auburn and No. 5 West Virginia, but 2007 was the worst year ever for a team ranked second: the No. 2 team lost seven times in the remaining nine weeks of the season. USF lost 30-27 against Rutgers before losing close games to UConn and Cincinnati on their route to a strong but disappointing 9-4 record.

Chris Johnson made a name for himself in 2007. Johnson erupted for 1,951 running and receiving yards and 23 touchdowns as the Pirates overcame a 1-3 start to finish 8-5. Johnson was a role player for much of his three seasons at ECU. In the Hawai’i Bowl, he rushed for 255 yards and two touchdowns as ECU defeated No. 24 Boise State 41-38.

Temple also joined the MAC in 2007. It was the first phase in the program’s long-term recovery strategy. After being kicked out of the Big East for poor performance (just 1.9 FBS wins per season in 14 years), the Owls went 1-22 in their first two years of independence, but eventually improved in the MAC under Al Golden. From 2009 to 2011, they won 26 games before rejoining the Big East before it became the AAC. In 2015-16, they finished 20-8 under Matt Rhule, and they were rated for portion of both seasons. They went from being maybe the worst FBS program to a truly good and intriguing mid-major. Let’s see whether they can go back to it in the years to come.

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