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AAC X-Factors

They may not be the best players, but these individuals/positions are vital to each AAC team’s success in 2017.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Houston Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, there is at least one player or position on each team that is a determining factor for the success of the team. They may not necessarily be the best player on the team, but their production makes more of an impact than any other member. Now that media days are over and fall camp approaches, we take a look at each team’s X-Factor.

AAC- West

Houston- Duke Catalon: The former four star recruit has the talent to be the best back in the conference, but injuries have slowed his progress. He’s easily the most talented back on the team running the ball, but the run game for the Cougars was below average last season. After finishing 99th, in the nation in rushing yards per game, the offense will need that facet to improve, and Catalon will play a big role in that improvement.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Memphis
If the offensive line can improve, Memphis’ offense will be even more difficult to stop
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis- Offensive line: The defense needs to improve, but it’s the offensive line that will make a bigger impact. Memphis allowed 35 sacks last year, and that simply cannot happen again. Quarterback Riley Ferguson needs time to throw, and the Tigers will need to keep him upright and healthy in order to make a run at a conference title.

Tulsa- Quarterback: Dane Evans was a great quarterback, but he exhausted his eligibility. Whoever wins the starting job has a solid offensive line and a talent at the skill positions, but needs to hold their own. Handing the ball off to D’Angelo Brewer will only work for so long.

Navy- Zach Abey: Abey follow two greats at the position, but the question is if he has the ability to make big plays. The quarterback position in the triple option is vital and, while Abey should be the starter, he has big shoes to fill. Support is plenty at the other offensive positions, but he will determine how far this team goes.

SMU- Defensive front seven: Having defensive issues? Start the fix up front. SMU has their sights on at least a bowl game this year, but they need to play defense better than last year. Frankly, the Mustangs success hinges on the defense’s improvement because the offense can’t keep scoring like it’s a basketball game every week. Someone besides Justin Lawler needs to step up, and giving up 36 points per game can’t happen again.

Tulane- Jonathan Banks: If Banks can find a way to move the ball through the air, Tulane could go bowling. Any dual threat in the Green Wave’s offense will result in an upgrade at quarterback, and Banks figures to be the guy. Tualne’s defense should be solid once again, but they will need the offense to score more (six games last year in which they failed to surpass the 20 point mark).

AAC- East

Temple- Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall: With so much turnover on defense, look no further than the two Owls’ safeties for success. Geoff Collins takes over a team that is coming off back-to-back 10 win seasons, and it will be the defense that gets them there again. Chandler and Randall lead a group that should make life difficult through the air for opponents, giving the rest of the defense (and offense for that matter) time to catch up.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati
Boone appeared to be ready for a big year, but it didn’t go as planned in 2016.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati- Mike Boone: Sure, Luke Fickell has a quarterback dilemma on his hands, but a good running game will spare him some time to figure it out. Boone was supposed to have a breakout junior year, but struggled and eventually lost his job to Tion Green. If Boone can find the magic he had his first two years on campus, the Bearcats may just be able to get the quarterback in rhythm. Should that happen, Cincinnati could be the surprise of the conference.

UConn- Wide Receiver: With Noel Thomas gone, the Huskies need an answer desperately. UConn’s offense finished last in the conference in total offense, but the passing game is what takes a big hit with the loss of their star. There are some players who can step up, but replacing Thomas won’t be done by just one person.

ECU- Defensive Line: East Carolina wasn’t bad against the pass last year, but that was thanks to the secondary. The line finished last in the country in sacks, which puts more pressure on those defensive backs. ECU also finished 110th in the country in rushing defense, and improvement in that area also starts up front.

USF- Offensive playmakers not named Quinton Flowers: D’Ernest Johnson should be solid in taking over for Marlon Mack, and there are multiple options to replace Rodney Adams. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Tyre McCants, and Mitchell Wilcox should see increased targets this season, and their production will help determine the hype of their quarterback. Flowers is a dark-horse Heisman candidate and, if he receives support, could have to Bulls pushing for a New Year’s bowl game.

UCF- Defensive backs: All four defensive backs need to be replaced from last year. The Knights finished 30th in passing defense last season, but a drop off in production is expected with this much turnover. They won’t have a lot of time to test the waters, as Memphis awaits in Week 2.