East Carolina Leads Early AAC Rankings
As we enter the dark abyss in which we call May, here’s our post-spring power rankings for the American Athletic Conference:
1. East Carolina Pirates
Coming over from Conference USA (I prefer the "Old C-USA") after a 10-win season, stud quarterback Shane Carden and star wide receiver Justin Hardy return after powering an offense that ranked No. 9 in the nation (40.2 points per game). There isn’t a defensive unit in the American that can slow the Pirates down.
2. Cincinnati Bearcats
Former Notre Dame transfer and No. 1 quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel seems to have a firm grasp on coach Tommy Tuberville’s West Coast-styled offense, completing 17-of-22 attempts for 300 yards and a rushing touchdown in Cincinnati’s spring game. With health and experience, the Bearcats should be able to score, and have a nasty defensive line back, but could struggle to defend the pass with numerous departures throughout the back seven.
3. Central Florida Knights
Losing Blake Bortles is going to hurt UCF badly when it comes to playing quality opponents and veteran defenses. Either Justin Holmon or Boise State transfer Nick Patti – both whom have basically zero college experience – will have to deal with a revamped offensive line and a question mark in the backfield. However, they’ll have what will likely be the best defense in the conference.
4. Houston Cougars
Quarterback John O’Korn completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 3,117 yards, 28 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions in 446 total attempts as a freshman. He’s only going to get better, and it helps that former 5-star wide receiver Deontay Greenberry is back for his junior season after grabbing 82 receptions for 1,202 yards and 11 scores himself.
5. Tulane Green Wave
Coach Curtis Johnson enjoyed a highly successful (and widely unexpected) winning campaign in 2013, and although he has the program heading into the right direction, Tulane might have to take a step back in 2014. Johnson’s offense was mediocre at best last season, and now he’ll have to be forced to almost start from scratch with a very young roster. The defense progressed very nicely throughout the year and should again be the team’s strength.
6. Connecticut Huskies
Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is the right man for this job. Although it will take him more than one offseason, he’s going to reinvent a stout UConn defense – starting with the big boys with their hands in the dirt by turning them into valuable pass rushers.
7. SMU Mustangs
It won’t be to the same extent, but the way SMU performed in its final two games of the 2013 season is going to be similar to how it plays this upcoming fall. When quarterback Garrett Gilbert went down, so did the entire offensive game plan. June Jones isn’t ever going to have a terrible offense, but it’s not going to be nearly as good as it was when Gilbert was under center, and we can’t expect the defense to be much improved, either.
8. Memphis Tigers
Although the win column doesn’t reflect it, coach Justin Fuente has definitely done some good things since taking over Memphis in 2012. Four of the Tigers’ nine losses came by one score or less, with seven of them coming by two scores or less. A difficult schedule may hold them back from making progress with W’s, but there’s no doubt they’re improving.
9. Tulsa Golden Hurricane
While Tulsa’s defense was no where near where it needed to be, it’s the only thing that kept the Golden Hurricane competitive. That will be the case again in 2014, as the offense looks to have taken another step back during the spring game after scoring just 21.1 points per game last season. They’re a long ways away from the G.J. Kinne days.
10. Temple Owls
Believe it or not, but good things happened last season for Temple. Matt Rhule has a potential star in sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker, who did some really decent things down the stretch as a freshman. The Owls weren’t terrible from September on and can build off that, but it will likely take another year of development (and adding quality depth) for them to put together more than two or three wins.
11. South Florida Bulls
I’m going to be nice here by saying that South Florida wasn’t very good in 2013. The Bulls scored a 123rd-best 13.8 points per game, led by a quarterback crew that threw seven touchdowns all season and combined for a 91.1 passer rating (ouch). Staying competitive and motivated has to be the key for Willie Taggert and his team to get out of this year alive.
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