One week from today the American Athletic Conference will announce the 2019 preseason media poll, and I was lucky enough to have a vote this year. In the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to share who I picked, and some insight as to why.
East: Skyline Chili For Everyone
- Cincinnati: The Bearcats dethrone the Knights in the East this year. Luke Fickell’s recruited better than most in this conference, and those guys are now sophomores and juniors with plenty of experience. QB Desmond Ridder is the real deal, running back Michael Warren is solid, and although they retool on the offensive line and defensive line, they’ve got the talent to do well. They get UCF at home this year, but Houston, USF, and Memphis on the road could prove tricky.
- UCF: If Brandon Wimbush or Darriel Mack, Jr take control of the offense prove they can be consistent passers, then forgot this entire thing and the Knights will be running it back for the third straight year. They are loaded offensively with RBs Adrian Killins, Greg McCrae, and Otis Anderson all returning. But we saw without McKenzie Milton the hiccups not having “The Guy” at QB can cause. The defense has to replace a lot across the defensive line, linebacker, and safety, but defense is optional in AAC.
- USF: I cannot stress enough how much better the team is compared to right after the bowl game. The toxicity levels were at an all-time high (a coach tried to fight a player for crying out loud), and the reason(s) for the toxic program are gone and it showed during the spring. I tried to convince myself to put the Bulls second in the East because of that, but there are too many question marks for me to do that. Will Trevon Sands be a suitable backup to Jordan Cronkrite? How will Johnny Ford adapt to a new position? Will moving Billy Atterbury to left tackle provide more stability on the offensive line? Will the new #ShowAndGo offense iron out the glitches before conference play? Will #AllTheTransfers pan out on defense? Is Nico Sawtelle healthy enough to play 12 games? Do I trust five defensive backs on this roster right now? Too many questions, not enough answers right now. I believe this team will be good, but not conference champion good.
- Temple: Poor Owls. They had Manny Diaz. Then they didn’t, and had to settle for former NIU head coach Rod Carey. Can’t trust him, but the defense will still be good enough to cause headaches.
- ECU: They hired former James Madison head coach Mike Houston, who is a great coach. He had a 37-6 record, including the 2016 FCS National Championship. They’ll be bad this year, but should be good in a year or two.
- UConn: Duh.
West: (D’Eriq) King Me
- Houston: We all know and hate D’Eriq King, but the guy is a baller and under new head coach Dana Holgorsen, King should have another stellar season. Former USF QB Marquel Blackwell is the co-offensive coordinator with the Cougars, and knows a thing or two about being elite. The Cougars return their top four rushers, and five of their top six receivers, including 1,000 yard man Marquez Stevenson. 2019 Houston will be similar to 2016 USF. All offense, no defense. #AllGasNoBrakes.
- Memphis: How many times does Mike Norvell have to lemon booty his way through a big game before we realize he aint it, chief? No Darrell Henderson, no Tony Pollard, big, big problem. They may have the most talent in the conference but Norvell is gonna blow it again. Bank on it.
- Tulane: Fritzmas coming early. Head coach Willie Fritz hired Memphis TE coach Will Hall to be his new offensive coordinator, and while the team will still be run-heavy, they will pick up the tempo in 2019. QB Justin McMillian needs to provide more consistency at the position after completing just over 50% of his passes in 2018. The story of 2019 will be how menacing the defensive line is. The Green Wave have one of the best d-lines in the country and could help swing some games this year.
- Navy: The Midshipmen need to figure themselves out in quick order to regain any momentum they had prior to the 2018 season. Army is surpassed them, and without consistent play at quarterback, the triple option doesn’t work. Having Malcolm Perry back at QB full-time should benefit the team.
- SMU: The Mustangs landed former Texas QB Shane Buechele, who I kid you not, former USF offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said to me was one of the best QBs he’s had. SMU battled injuries and youth to the offensive line last season, so with health and experience may fight for bowl eligibility, and may leapfrog Navy for fourth in the West.
- Tulsa: I mean...why are they even in the AAC? Phillip Montgomery is diet lemon booty compared to Mike Norvell.