Cincinnati, Houston Favored To Win Their Divisions

The American Athletic Conference has expanded to 12 teams this year with the addition of Navy. That allows for two divisions and a conference championship game at the end of the season. Normally…with a two-division conference…we split our preview up into two days. But, there are enough BAD teams in the mix here that we decided to just cram it all into one day.

There are definitely a few GOOD teams worth paying attention to. Let's jump right in and see what we learn, starting with the East Division.

American East

Cincinnati
2014 Record: 9-4
2014 Rankings: 27 on offense, 96 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Notebook: Cincinnati finished in a three-way tie for first last year with a 7-1 league record. They disappointed dramatically though in a 33-17 bowl loss to Virginia Tech. Looks like the East is going to be the stronger of the two divisions…and that Cincinnati has the most going for them out of the gate. Key will be the health of quarterback Gunner Kiel, who played hurt much of last season. Huge league game with Temple falls in Week Three (just second game because Cincy gets a late start). Non-conference matchups with Miami and BYU…which could impact Cincy's chances to be in the national rankings….come up in October. Defense is a glaring weakness in terms of having a really big season.

Temple
2014 Record: 6-6
2014 Rankings: 117 on offense, 24 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 10 on defense
Head Coach: Matt Rhule
Notebook: The Owls are a popular darkhorse pick because they return so many starters from a team that was surprisingly competitive last year. The problem is…the offense is so HORRIBLE that you can't pencil in improvement until the team starts moving the ball! Tough opener vs. Penn State will tell us a lot. Then, what some thing will be the game of the year in the East comes right after that at Cincinnati. Maybe some upset potential at home vs. Notre Dame in late October if the Irish get complacent. Possibly a very interesting story. But, the offense must get better.

Central Florida
2014 Record: 9-4
2014 Rankings: 99 on offense, 5 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: George O'Leary
Notebook: Another team that went 7-1 last year, but had a disappointing bowl result vs. an ACC team. The Knights lost to NC State 34-27. The defense was stout in league play….but got hurt by graduation. The offense returns quarterback Justin Holman…but that isn't saying much given the poor national ranking in yards gained. Coach George O'Leary is most dangerous when expectations are low. Tough road tests in October at Stanford and at South Carolina will get this group battle tested in a hurry.

East Carolina
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 5 on offense, 37 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Ruffin McNeil
Notebook: Most are assuming a drop-off this year because that great offense lost its coordinator and quarterback. You can still expect wide-open play….but probably with a lot more turnovers. A quick rematch with Florida (off a bowl loss to the Gators) comes up in Game Two. Volatile situation here because results could fly all over the place given the team's high energy style. Fade them vs. smart opponents who don't make mistakes.

South Florida
2014 Record: 4-8
2014 Rankings: 118 on offense, 69 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Willie Taggart
Notebook: The Bulls were a lot worse than 4-8 makes it sound. One of the wins was over Western Carolina. Another was by just one point over helpless SMU. And, now, you can see that graduation hit the program hard. Bad sign for the division that somebody projects to be even worse! Early road games at Florida State and Maryland could get ugly. Assume the worst unless there are decent results in the first half of the season.

Connecticut
2014 Record: 2-10
2014 Rankings: 123 on offense, 49 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Bob Diaco
Notebook: One of the two wins was by a field goal over Stony Brook. How did these guys beat Central Florida?! Miracles can happen when decent teams get lackadaisical. The defense has a chance to keep the team semi-competitive because seven starters return to a decent unit. The offense will likely be helpless.

American West

Houston
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 55 on offense, 20 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Tom Herman (first year)
Notebook: A bunch of new faces all over the coaching staff…and at key positions on offense. It's an indictment of the West that the Cougars were picked by Athlon's respected preseason publication to win the division! Watch Game Two at Louisville very closely to get a read on how the rest of the season should play out. Potential here for some fireworks…but transitions can be awkward. The good news for UH fans is that the toughest league opponents don't come until the second half of the season.

Navy
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 50 on offense, 70 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
Notebook: Navy has joined a conference! That guarantees a certain number of victories because Navy is better than the doormats. But, we can't imagine home ticket sales are going through the roof in such a mediocre league. The offense has to rebuild behind experienced quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Good early test vs. East Carolina in September. Early October games vs. Air Force and Notre Dame will be the season highlights for the players.

Memphis
2014 Record: 10-3
2014 Rankings: 46 on offense, 27 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Justin Fuente
Notebook: Memphis made an almost unfathomable step forward last year all the way to 10 victories. They also won their bowl game in overtime vs. BYU in a 55-48 thriller. This year's team was hit hard by graduation on defense though. Quarterback Paxton Lynch will have to carry a big load. We like what we've seen here…and we wouldn't be surprised if Memphis chases down Houston in early expectations. Memphis won't have to play Navy or Houston until November.

SMU
2014 Record: 1-11
2014 Rankings: 124 on offense, 119 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Chad Morris (first year)
Notebook: Wow…SMU was impossibly bad last year…yet is still picked to finish fourth in the division. Only half the starters are back. There's a new quarterback and a new coach. Only place to go is up! Well…maybe not right away with Baylor and TCU on the September schedule!

Tulane
2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 107 on offense, 55 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Curtis Johnson
Notebook: A few AAC teams would be 1-11 doormats if they played in other conferences. Because somebody has to win when they play each other, they can get to 2-3-4 wins in this league. Quarterback Tanner Lee is back…but the offense was dreadful. Tougher openers with Duke and Georgia Tech.

Tulsa
2014 Record: 2-10
2014 Rankings: 56 on offense, 114 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Philip Montgomery (first year)
Notebook: This program has fallen so far in such a short amount of time. Another new coach (half of this division!) has his work cut out for him. The offense should be able to put points on the board. But, the defense is a disaster. These guys ranked #114 on defense while facing a lot of bad offenses!

That wraps up the American Athletic Conference. Conference previews continue through the weekend. And, big baseball winners continue daily with JIM HURLEY! You can purchase BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155.

Are you printing all of these previews out?! Please check the archives for what's already been covered…and make plans to be with us the next several days for all of these reports…

Friday: College Football Preview…the Independents
Saturday: College Football Preview…ACC Atlantic
Sunday: College Football Preview…ACC Coastal
Monday: MLB Series Preview…Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Kansas City at Detroit
Wednesday: College Football Preview…Pac 12 North
Thursday: College Football Preview…Pac 12 South
Friday August 7: College Football Preview…Big 12
Saturday August 8: NFC North Preview to get you ready for the Hall of Fame Game (Vikings vs. Steelers)

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