Spring practices are beginning, and the long wait for football to begin is temporarily over. The AAC has made a goal of becoming a “Power” conference, and will have opportunities to compete with Power 5 teams when the season begins. That being said, there are plenty of questions to address heading into spring practice. While these aren’t all of the questions, we take a look at five storylines that begin to unfold in the spring.
What coach will be poached next?
USF’s Willie Taggert and Houston’s Tom Herman were taken last season by Oregon and Texas, respectively. While teams expect success, they know if can come at a price. For the Bulls and Cougars, the price was their head coaches. Depending on their success in 2017, Memphis, Tulsa, SMU, and Navy could pay that price as well. Until then, these teams will focus on preparing their teams for 2017 before worrying about coaching changes.
Is Houston’s hype over?
With the exit of Herman to Texas, it appears that the hype surrounding the program is gone, but that could be exactly what the Cougars need. It’s hard for me to believe that a team with the returning talent they have can fall just by losing a coach. Sure, Tom Herman was a good coach, but Major Applewhite still has plenty of key pieces in place to make a run. People will still tune in to watch players like Ed Oliver play, but maybe having things quiet outside of campus will be a huge benefit. A quiet spring is exactly what Applewhite could use while he finds a quarterback and get his first spring practices under his belt.
Which first year coach will have the most success?
Applewhite, Geoff Collins (Temple), Charlie Strong (USF), and Luke Fickell (Cincinnati) all enter their first year at their respective schools. Strong and Applewhite should have strong teams and will compete for the conference title. Collins faces an uphill battle after losing multiple starters on both sides of the ball. Fickell could turn things around at Cincinnati, and started things right by bringing in the third best recruiting class in the conference. The Bearcats only return 10 starters, which will allow multiple players to compete for various positions in the spring. After finishing 4-8 last year, Fickell has an opportunity to help his team bounce back.
Will Quinton Flowers contend for the Heisman?
Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois was the last Group of 5 player to finish in the Top 3 in the Heisman voting. Flowers could be next. Heading into spring, however, he has plenty to figure out to ensure those dreams become a reality. Two glaring needs are who will replace RB Marlon Mack and WR Rodney Adams. Both played pivotal roles in Flowers’ success last season, and new weapons will have to step up. D’Ernest Johnson is a solid option in the backfield after backing up Mack last year and is the Bulls’ top returning pass catcher as well. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Tyre McCants return 47 catches, but other targets will need to emerge and play bigger roles as well. A Heisman run isn’t out of the question, but with teams keying on him, Flowers can’t do it all by himself.
Can the AAC sustain playoff aspirations?
In the three year history of the College Football Playoff, not a single G5 team made it into the top ten rankings set by the committee. Houston had high hopes last year after stunning Oklahoma in the first week, but those dreams quickly faded. Memphis was ranked 13th by the committee in 2015, but fell apart against Navy and lost the next two games as well. USF is considered the favorite from this conference, but there is plenty of competition standing in their way to get there. With other teams in the conference sharing those same goals, the Bulls will have to work hard just to win the conference title. If the AAC wants to prove it can be a “Power” conference, putting pressure on playoff teams would be a great start.
Spring practice could provide some answers to these questions. 2017 should be another exciting year for the AAC, and that success begins in spring practice. It may seem like forever before the season begins, but spring can provide a preview of what may come when fall comes around.