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Five Questions for the AAC Entering Spring Practice

The exit of multiple stars give way for new ones to emerge, and last year’s conference champ has plenty of new adversity to address.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Just like that, football is back! Sort of. Spring practice begins, and while that doesn’t necessarily give fans a chance to see their team in action weekly, it means we are one step closer to the first game. UCF capped off an undefeated season with an upset win over Auburn, but can they do it again? There are plenty of questions that still need to be answered, and nothing is a given. Before we get too excited about the 2018 season, let’s examine some of the pressing questions heading into spring practice.

Why did Gardner Minshew transfer to Alabama?

Honestly, this is probably the most difficult question to answer. Minshew battled with Thomas Sirk last season for the starting spot, but didn’t win the competition until late in the season. Minshew then announced after the season that he was taking some time away from the program. It was later rumored that he was transferring to Alabama, and then those rumors came true. But why?

Minshew couldn’t win the job on a struggling team, so going to the reigning national champions doesn’t make much sense. Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts will already be battling for the starting position, and both are better than Minshew. Maybe he wants a chance at winning a ring, or maybe even just to be on a winning team, but it still doesn’t explain this transfer. If he’s pursuing academic or future career opportunities, props to him. ECU now has to find a new quarterback to lead an offense that was proving to be difficult to stop towards the end of the season in 2017.

Can UCF repeat their 2017 campaign?

Ask any Knights fan, and they most likely will emphatically say “YES!!!!” to this question. Repeating the magical run this team had last year will be difficult to repeat, though. McKenzie Milton and some elite talent return on offense, but the defense has some positions to fill. Throw in a new coaching staff, and there’s plenty to question about this team before we can feel comfortable about another undefeated season.

New coach Josh Heupel has a ton of talent to work with thanks to Scott Frost, so the cupboards not completely bare, but there’s still work to do. Finding replacements for players like Shaquem Griffin and Mike Hughes will be the most difficult, and won’t be decided by the end of spring practice. Milton will also need to find a new go-to target with the exit of Tre’Quan Smith to the NFL. Dredrick Snelson could be that guy, and Otis Anderson will also be another valuable target that could step up in the spring.

Who will be the next star quarterback?

Milton is the obvious choice, and should be the answer to this question. Outside of him is where the debate can begin. Malcolm Perry from Navy showed flashes of greatness late last season, but will have to battle with Zach Abey for the starting spot. Ben Hicks returns to SMU, but needs to find new weapons to catch his passes. Will it be Frank Nutile? The Temple quarterback was a key piece in the Owls turnaround last year, but still doesn’t have a full year of experience under his belt. Jonathan Banks is another option. Tulane’s biggest issue was a lack of offense two years ago, and Banks fixed that issue. If he can stay healthy, the Green Wave could be a team that surprises the AAC.

Will the defenses make any improvements?

As a whole, this conference was arguably the worst in the nation at defense. The AAC had five of the ten worst teams in terms of total defense, and only had two teams in the top 50 in scoring defense (Houston was 39th and USF was 37th). That will be addressed in spring practices this year, and should be a focus for 2018. If this conference wants to become a Power 6 conference, and have a chance to compete for a national championship, they have to play better defense.

Which coach has the most to prove in 2018?

It depends on who you ask. Some will argue that Scottie Montgomery (ECU), Randy Edsall (UConn) and Philip Montgomery (Tulsa) have a lot of work to do, and could be/are on the hot seat. ECU’s 6-18 under Montgomery, Edsall’s second round with the Huskies started with a 3-9 campaign that featured a loss on a missed extra point, and Tulsa followed a 10 win season with 10 losses. Others would argue Houston’s Major Applewhite. While his first season resulted in a bowl appearance, there are some who believe that he underachieved in his first season on and off the field.