College football’s opening weekend keeps getting closer, and for some can’t get here soon enough. With spring games completed and the offseason upon us, it’s time to review the AAC by position. The team will be organized into four groups: Elite, Second Tier, Middle of the Road, Run Wildcat Instead.
1. USF: Quinton Flowers is the best quarterback in the conference, and is the reigning conference offensive player of the year after being one of two quarterbacks in the nation to rush for 1,500 yards. Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who came with head coach Charlie Strong from Texas, should be just what Flowers needs in order to make a run at the Heisman. His health should be a priority, as Brett Kean is the only other returner with experience, and that was mostly in fourth quarter of blowouts.
2. Memphis: Riley Ferguson picked up where Paxton Lynch left off by throwing for 3,698 yards and a school record 32 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. With the departure of former offensive coordinator Chip Long to Notre Dame, Darrell Dickey will now take the reigns and work with Ferguson. Behind him, Brady Davis and David Moore return and will compete with incoming freshman Connor Adair and La’Andre Thomas for the backup spot.
3. SMU: Ben Hicks figured to learn the ropes from Matt Davis last season, but a season ending injury for Davis led Hicks to start earlier than expected. It was a rough start for Hicks as he threw just four touchdowns and nine interceptions in the first five games, but finished the season with 15 touchdowns and just six picks in the final seven. Now that Davis decided to turn pro, the job is Hicks to lose.
4. Houston: All signs point towards Kyle Allen winning the starting position, but injuries prevented any competition to challenge him in the spring. Mason McClendon was the backup in the spring game, but Kyle Postma and D’Eriq King should overtake him in the fall and compete with Allen for the starting position. Allen is a former #1 quarterback recruit, Postma saw action in 20 games in the past, and King can be utilized as a receiver as well.
5. UCF: When a freshman is forced into the starting role, some growing pains are to be expected. McKenzie Milton took over just two games into the season, and accumulated 2,141 yards and 13 touchdowns. Behind Milton is where things get interesting, as there have been multiple departures. Pete DiNovo ran the second string team in the spring game, but the Knights should be relying on Milton’s development in 2017.
“Middle of the Road”
6. Tulsa: A starter hasn’t been named yet, but the position battle is clearly between two candidates. Chad President and Luke Skipper appear to be in the running for the starting job. Head coach Philip Montgomery has brought Tulsa’s offense back to life, but has some work to do in 2017, starting with quarterback.
7. Cincinnati: Hayden Moore has been given plenty of opportunities to take the starting job, but inconsistencies and injuries have prevented him from keeping the spot. This year, he will have to fend of Ross Trail and Ohio State transfer Torrance Gibson. If Moore can stay healthy, he should be able to find a rhythm which could mean more consistency in the passing game.
8. Navy: Zach Abey received valuable experience heading into the end of 2016, and that should help him immensely when fall camp opens. Utility player Malcom Perry could compete with Abey, but Abey should have the advantage. No matter who wins the job, the quarterback will need to master the triple option first, and learn how to pass second.
9. ECU: Phillip Nelson and Garnder Minshew split time last season, and both struggled to branch out to multiple receivers not named Zay Jones. Jones and Nelson are gone, meaning Minshew will be the incumbent starter. He will need to find a new favorite target or two, but he should be the starter against James Madison.
“Run the Wildcat Instead”
10. UConn: Things can only get better for the Huskies offensively. Bryant Shirreffs’ produced 2,436 yards but only nine total touchdowns. This year’s race figures to be wide open between Shirreffs and four other candidates, but whoever wins the job will get to work with new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. Lashlee left Auburn for the Huskies, and could have a tremendous impact on the starter.
11. Temple: It’s really hard to replace a four year starter, and replacing one like Phillip Walker is even more difficult. Throw in a new coaching staff, and your team has a lot to figure out before the season begins. Frank Nutile and Logan Marchi competed in the spring, and will resume their battle in the fall. Whoever wins has big shoes to fill, and has to figure out what their role will be with the new regime.
12. Tulane: Averaging 113 passing yards a game doesn’t get fans excited regardless of who returns the next year. Five players should have opportunities to become the signal caller for the offense. Simply put, this position needs to vastly improve for the team to make a bowl game.