This year will be a very interesting one for the AAC. Besides UCF, and maybe Houston, every team is either rebuilding or reloading at key positions. Make no mistake that this conference is still going to be competitive as ever. USF, Tulane, Temple, and even Cincinnati are in the picture as dark horses of the conference.
However, the main storyline of this upcoming season is going to center around coaching. From the favorite to the bottom dweller, the coaching in the AAC is going to contribute to what we see from the conference this year. So for this article, I wanted to talk about the stock of each coach. I put them each in one of the four following categories: Elite, Second Tier, Wait and see, Room for Improvement. Seeing that the article combined was extremely long, I decided to break it up between the two divisions. So make sure you look out for part 2 as well!
This may be shocking to some, but I do not think there are any elite coaches in the eastern division. Don’t get me wrong, the coaches in this divisionare good. But absolutely none are elite right now.
Temple - Geoff Collins: Seems to be a great fit. He is getting the most of the talent that is there and is ready to bring back the good times during Matt Rhule’s last season. Temple’s momentum has also surged after their bowl win over FIU. The fans like him and he seems to have the personality that embodies being at Temple. Now that he has found a capable quarterback in Frank Nutile, Temple is seen by many as a dark horse candidate to unseat UCF.
Cincinnati - Luke Fickell: What he has done in his short span at Cincinnati is impressive. I think he is an up and coming coach who is about to start getting offers from P5 programs if he can simply get his great recruiting classes to put it all together. I think Cincinnati is still maybe a year out from contending as the cupboard was pretty empty when Tommy Tuberville left. However, getting the top recruiting class in the conference this past year is impressive.
Wait and See
UCF - Josh Heupel: Yes UCF fans, your team is still very good. But we still do not know how Heupel will perform inheriting this great team. There is still a lot of work to be done and the style of offense he runs is a bit different from Scott Frost’s offense. I take spring games with a grain of salt. I am not sure how McKenzie Milton and the others will transition to this new offense. Despite a promising performance in their spring game, USF struggled mightily in a similar situation in 2017. Heupel will also need to prove that he can recruit an area that he does not know entirely well. This team should still be solid, but I feel this season will be underwhelming in comparison to last year.
USF - Charlie Strong: While recruiting has been a huge strength for Strong and company, last season’s results were a huge disappointment. The defense was back to being the fierce bull shark defense we were accustomed to seeing under former DC Tom Allen. While the defense improved, the offense regressed under Sterlin Gilbert. This is even more of a concern now that the best player in program history is now gone. Charlie is going to have to prove that he can get production out of this talented team. While these guys will be mostly new, the ceiling is super high. Strong has a chance to show that he is a worthy coach again as he went from a premier coach to a coach with question marks around him over the past few seasons.
Room for Improvement
UConn - Randy Edsall: He could easily fall into the win to keep your job category, but I think it would be too early to relieve him of his duties. Usually, a three-year window is how long a coach has to show improvement or at least field a competent team. Any improvement from last season will be considered a success in 2018.
ECU - Scottie Montgomery: Like Edsall, Montgomery does not have a team that is very good. They are atrocious defensively, lost both quarterbacks (Thomas Sirk, graduated. Gardner Minshew, transferred), and lost some of the other decent playmakers they had. This team is going to be awful and Montgomery is going to take the fall. If he somehow manages to get this team near bowl eligibility, his job is saved. If not, ECU will be hiring a new head coach by December.