What determines a team’s success? Having talent certainly helps. Depth is an asset as well. But there is always one player or position that is the glue that will hold everything together. They are the X-Factor.
An X-Factor can sometimes be as important as the best player, and their performance can make or break a game (maybe even a season). The AAC has various X-Factors, some teams have multiple X-Factors. One seems to be filled with them, which isn’t necessarily something you want if your coach is on the hot seat.
UCF - Coaching Staff: This team has plenty of talent to make another run in 2018, but a new coaching staff enters the picture. Josh Heupel and his staff take over after Scott Frost left for Nebraska. We know this team can ball, but will they gel with Heupel and Co.? That will be the biggest question throughout the season.
USF - Quarterback: Speaking of talent, the Bulls aren’t short on it themselves. On offense, it comes down to the winner of the quarterback battle. Many think Alabama and Arizona State transfer Blake Barnett will win based on his potential, but potential doesn’t guarantee wins. If Barnett is the player many think he is, USF could very well find themselves atop the AAC at the end of the year.
Temple - Ventell Bryant: Many in the Owls fanbase expected Bryant to have a breakout year in 2017, but that never happened. He still caught 29 passes, but was fourth on the team in receptions and yardage. With Isaiah Wright as the only returner with over 40 catches and 600 yards, Bryant has a chance to step up. Temple’s offense appeared to hit a groove towards the end of the season, and they can continue that if the passing attack is lethal.
ECU - Everything except wide receiver: Honestly, there are so many issues with this team outside of a few players. Losing Gardner Minshew really hurt the offense, which wasn’t exactly elite with him. Running back and offensive line could be okay, so we shouldn’t necessarily count them out, but the entire defense was brutal last year.
Cincinnati - Hayden Moore: He’s on this list again because he determines how explosive this offense can be. With Gerrid Doaks running the ball and Kahlil Lewis at receiver, it really all comes down to Moore. Sure, the defense needs to improve after being inconsistent, but there were times where the offense didn’t help much. If Moore can show that he’s evolved in his third straight year as the starter, the Bearcats are in good hands. They need that confidence because, if Moore goes down, they don’t have much experience behind him.
UConn - Defensive back: The defense returns just two starters from last year, which doesn’t calm any nerves with how they performed. In a unit that was overall terrible, the secondary needs the most attention. Giving up 333 yards per game is simply unacceptable, and the Huskies are hoping that number decreases in 2018.
Memphis - Quarterback: Every other position is mostly settled with talent and depth, but the QB has yet to be established. Brady White and David Moore will compete presumably until the first week of the season, but that shouldn’t cause too much concern. Memphis has talent everywhere else to help the new signal caller transition into his role. With a veteran offensive line, two of the best backs in the country, and a plethora of receivers/tight ends, White or Moore will be in good hands.
Houston - Receiver/Running back: Both are on here for different reasons, but they are equally important. Quarterback D’Eriq King is the leading returner in catches and yards, so it’s a mostly unproven group. Courtney Lark and Keith Corbin both showed flashes last year, and could unleash their potential this year. At running back, it’s up to Mulbah Car and Baylor transfer Terence Williams. With so little experience at the skill positions, Houston needs answers quickly. If this potential can turn into production, the Cougars offense could be one of the best in the conference.
Navy - Wide Receiver: Wait, what? Yes, the Midshipmen need a receiver to step up. Malcolm Perry will need someone to throw to if he wants to continue his explosive output at quarterback. The triple option may be good enough to win some games, but a supplemental passing attack is vital. Improvement on defense will help as well, but finding reliable downfield targets will help the offense immensely. Perry can’t throw just two passes like he did last year.
SMU - James Proche: The Mustangs need their defense to improve dramatically, but that’s an entire unit issue. Proche himself now steps into a bigger role with Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn moving on to the NFL. Ben Hicks has a solid offensive line and a stable of running backs with him, but receivers need to emerge. Proche will need to be Hicks’ favorite target until others prove themselves. This shouldn’t be a concern, and hopefully the focus can be on fixing the defense.
Tulane - Terren Encalade and Darnell Mooney: Could it be that the Green Wave are a pass-first team in 2018? Most likely not, but they have the personnel to do so if they choose. Encalade and Mooney had big years after the emergence of last year’s X-Factor, quarterback Jonathan Banks. Banks returns, and his two favorite receivers could make this offense appear slightly different than last year’s. It may not be the Air Wave, but it will be about as close as you can get.
Tulsa - Luke Skipper: Skipper proved to be the more consistent option between him and Chad President. However, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. After completing just 55.9% of his passes and throwing just three touchdowns with four interceptions, the Golden Hurricane passing attack needs to be better. That all starts with the quarterback, but he has talent at receiver. Justin Hobbs and Keenan Johnson could be two of the best in the conference, but they can’t control if the ball gets to them.