With the 2018 season coming to an end, it’s sad to see college football go. The AAC provided us with plenty of entertainment, and sparked a much needed discussion about the playoff. UCF capped off a great season with a win over Auburn, and the conference provided the country with multiple games that should be considered the top games from this season. It’s time to move forward, however, and the 2018 season is going to be upon us before we know it. We took a look at next year, and provided our Way Too Early 2018 AAC Power Rankings.
*multiple votes were used to determine the rankings
1. UCF: The defending conference champs return a plethora of talent, including quarterback McKenzie Milton. Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson return to run the ball, but Milton will have to find new favorite targets with the losses of Tre’Quan Smith and Jordan Akins. Dredrick Snelson should be one candidate to do so. Replacing multiple starters on defense will be tough. Shaquem Griffin was special, and might be the hardest to repalce.
2. Houston: D’Eriq King returns to lead the offense, but needs to find receivers with Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar exhausting their eligibility. King was the third leading receiver last year on the team, so new targets need to emerge. Running the ball should be a focus for Houston in the offseason, and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has produced some success in that area in the past. Defensively, Ed Oliver returns for one more year at defensive tackle, and should have players around him to help out this year. Garrett Davis returns in the secondary, and could get some immediate help if Deontay Anderson is granted eligibility for 2018.
3. Navy: Something clicked late last season for Malcolm Perry, because he didn’t win the quarterback job originally yet looked miles ahead of Zach Abey. We didn’t even need to see him throw that much, either. His explosiveness running the ball allowed him to reach gaps that Abey couldn’t, while Abey was used to bulldoze the ball in near the goal line. Both return next year, and you have to believe that Perry will be the starter. It all comes down to defense once again, and valuable contributors will be missing in 2018.
4. Memphis: Losing Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller will be tough, but there is still a lot of talent returning. Whoever wins the quarterback battle will have both Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. with them, and there are numerous receivers to find downfield. The defense left something to be desired last year, but the players returning should be more experienced. TJ Carter was a freshman star, and should be one of the leaders next year. Once again, the Tigers should be able to score, but can they stop anyone?
5. USF: Quinton Flowers is gone, which is saddening. Whoever replaces him will be in an unenviable position, and needs to find talent around them as well. The offensive line should be solid again, but running backs are needed. Mitchell Wilcox and Tyre McCants return to catch the ball, but they’re the only two reliable receivers returning. The defense also needs to replace a couple key players, but guys like cornerback Mazzi Wilkins will become the new leaders.
6. Temple: Apparently, a quarterback change was all the Owls needed. Frank Nutile took over the offense from Logan Marchi, and Temple never looked the same. Nutile’s top rushers, Ryquell Armstead and David Hood return, while Isaiah Wright returns as the top passing target. Losing Sean Chandler on defense will hurt, but Delvon Randall is still around. Up front, Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin stepped up this past year, and should lead the front seven in 2018.
7. Tulane: What a difference Jonathan Banks had on the offense, and it should be even more evident in 2018. The loss of Dontrell Hilliard will hurt, but Darius Bradwell returns with Texas Tech transfer Corey Dauphine contributing as well. There isn’t a big need on defense besides defensive back. Replacing Parry Nickerson won’t be easy, but there are a few returners in the back. Donnie Lewis had a great year in 2017, and could be the leader of the secondary.
8. SMU: The Sonny Dykes era begins for the Mustangs, and there’s plenty of work to do. Ben Hicks returns with Xavier Jones, Ke’Mon Freemand, and Braeden West beside him, but needs to find a new go-to receiver. James Proche appears to be the candidate to fill that role with Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn leaving. The biggest question remains the defense. Justin Lawler is gone, and there’s not much stability at any position.
9. Cincinnati: 2017 was filled with inconsistent play, and that won’t be helpful when the Bearcats face UCLA in Week 1 next year. Are we headed for another year of Hayden Moore at quarterback? He wasn’t awful this past year, but he was inconsistent. Top tackler Jaylyn Minor needs to be replaced on defense, but Luke Fickell should have that side of the ball ready for 2018.
10. Tulsa: We certainly didn’t see 2017’s collapse coming, so we probably won’t see a successful 2018 either. Philip Montgomery has A LOT of work to do, mainly on the defensive side of the ball. Luckily, Tulsa shouldn’t have to replace many positions, and their leading two tacklers return. Expect the quarterback uncertainty to continue with Luke Skipper and Chad President, and someone needs to replace D’Angelo Brewer at running back.
11. ECU: Gardner Minshew showed flashes of potential at the end of the season, and his favorite target returns with him (Trevon Brown). If the offense can be as explosive as it was in the last four games, any improvement in defense will result in more wins. It’s a simple formula for Scottie Montgomery, but it might not be that hard to achieve. Montgomery might be coaching for his job as well.
12. UConn: The Huskies offense improved under new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee last season. Only problem is Lashlee now holds the same position at SMU, so we have no idea what the offense will look like next year. Uncertainty on offense, combined with a defense that was surprisingly bad might mean bad things for this team this coming season.