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AAC Roundtable: Power 6 Predictions for the 2018 season

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The AAC staff goes through their sleeper picks, breakout players and predicts who wins the AAC.

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

August is here, and college football is right around the corner. That means it’s time to make some predictions. Everyone has an opinion on how the season will go and who will stand out, so it’s time to put those thoughts in writing. Today, we make predictions on the AAC, and how the season will unfold.

Who will win Offensive & Defensive Players of the Year?

Joe Broback: Anyone who says another name besides Ed Oliver for DPOY is kidding themselves. He’s the best player in college football, and he will get the awards he’s due. Offensively, it seems ridiculous to pick against McKenzie Milton after last season, but watch out for D’Eriq King (Houston), Darrell Henderson (Memphis), and Xavier Jones (SMU).

Joe Serpico: This will likely be unanimous picks on both sides of the ball. Ed Oliver is going to be a top-5 NFL pick, barring injury. I almost want to say Oliver on offense also because Houston is building up his Heisman campaign as if he’s going to play both sides of the ball, but McKenzie Milton has to be the pick on offense after last season.

Nick Armstrong: On the offensive side of the ball, McKenzie Milton should be the favorite. While I expect some regression due to coaching changes and loss of players, Milton will put up good enough numbers to win OPOY. On the defensive side, I will also say Ed Oliver. He’s really unstoppable and we have been lucky to have such a top talent in our conference.

Eric Henry: McKenzie Milton is my favorite to win OPOY. I’ll shamelessly self-promote the fact that I called him winning it last season. Despite the losses at receiver and tight end, there’s enough talent around Milton for a repeat performance. Ed Oliver is the best player in college football. It’s been a treat to watch him the last two seasons and he’ll capture his second DPOY award.

Who will be a breakout player in the conference?

Navy v Houston
D’Eriq King blossomed towards the end of the 2017 season and with a full year as the starter, King could be Houston’s next star QB.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Joe Broback: D’Eriq King. He took over at quarterback for the Cougars last year, and will finally get a full year of playing time. If he played a full year at quarterback last year, he would have passed for 3,218 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for 866 yards and 18 touchdowns. If the Cougars offense is explosive this season, King will play a huge role in their success.

Joe Serpico: A Memphis quarterback. Whether it’s Brady White or David Moore at the helm, Mike Norvell is going to put his signal caller in position to have a phenomenal season. The Tigers still have weapons on offense even though Anthony Miller is now in the NFL, and a soft schedule should help boost the numbers of whoever wins the job.

Nick Armstrong: A USF running back. The Bulls lost Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson and now everyone thinks that USF officially has no talent at running back. This could not be more untrue. Between Elijah Mack being the big bruiser of the bunch and Florida transfer Jordan Cronkrite, USF is loaded again. Look for this position, and potentially both of these players, to be breakout stars in the AAC.

Eric Henry: Brady White. I’m going out on a limb and taking Brady White to win the Memphis QB job. With that said the Tigers have a litany of weapons on offense and Mike Norvell will put White in a position to realize the potential he had coming out of high school.

Over/Under 5 Power 5 wins this year...

Joe Broback: Push. It’s tough to say over here. If Houston lives up to its potential, wins against Arizona and Texas Tech are easily possible. UCF faces UNC and Pitt, which should be wins but the new coaching staff remains the question for the Knights. I’m not sold on USF this year. They should beat Illinois, but I don’t think they can compete with Georgia Tech. Any other Power 5 win would be a surprise.

Joe Serpico: Under. Joe B. listed the games for Houston and UCF, and I can’t see both teams pulling off two wins each. The rest of the AAC draws some solid matchups that would be considered upsets.

Nick Armstrong: I would say push as well, but I have different outcomes. Houston will beat Texas Tech, but lose to Arizona. UCF should win both of their easy P5 games. USF will win it’s easy game against Illinois and will squeak out a win against Georgia Tech. I agree with Joey in that any other P5 win would shock me.

Eric Henry: I’ll take the over here. I’m a huge believer in the strength at the top of this conference. UCF wins both of their P5’s, especially with the suspensions at UNC. South Florida beats Illinois and Georgia Tech. Houston will make Kliff Kingsbury’s hot seat even hotter as they defeat the Red Raiders. My pick for the sixth win comes with Memphis over Missouri. That game will be a shoot-out, but I’m taking the Tigers to leave Columbia with a win.

Over/Under 8 Teams qualify for a bowl game...

Joe Broback: Over. If Tulane can find a way to be bowl eligible this year, this conference should have eight teams in bowl games. If Cincinnati surprises people, it will be nine. If ECU and UConn... well let’s not get greedy.

Joe Serpico: Under. Everyone is talking about Tulane as a sleeper team, and I do think they will be a tough matchup for teams, but their out-of-conference schedule is arguably the hardest in the AAC. Navy is another team with a rough schedule, and everyone who is hyping Temple needs to look at the teams they beat to squeak into bowl eligibility last season.

Nick Armstrong: Push. There will be six definite teams that will go to a bowl game. Those teams consist are: Memphis, Houston, Navy, UCF, USF, and Temple. The gray area comes with Tulane, Cincinnati, and SMU. I think we will see Tulane become bowl eligible as Willie Fritz has this team moving in the right direction. I am not nearly as high on Cincinnati as my colleagues here are and think they miss out on a bowl game. Finally, I think SMU will scrape by at either 6-6 or 7-5 and reach a bowl.

Eric Henry: Under. This was a tough one for me. The seven sure fire bowl teams in my opinion are: UCF, USF, Memphis, Houston, Temple, Navy and SMU. I’m not sold on Tulane especially with the loss of starting center Junior Diaz and I can’t quite pull the trigger on Cincy just yet. Another team who I believe just misses the mark is Tulsa. Yes, you read that right. Justin Hobbs might be the best WR you haven’t heard of and Luke Skipper/Chad President can only go up after last season.

Who is the sleeper team in the conference?

Joe Broback: Cincinnati. Usually, it’s the teams that not many pay attention to. That is the Bearcats this year. Tulane is already getting a ton of attention, so they have become less of a sleeper as the season grows near. Temple is another good choice, but I’ll stick with Cincy. Luke Fickell seems like he’s ready to make some noise and get this team back to a bowl game.

NCAA Football: Frisco Bowl-Louisiana Tech vs Southern Methodist
Sonny Dykes and SMU are a perfect fit on paper. With the players such as Ben Hicks already in place to run his air raid offense SMU could be a surprise team.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Serpico: SMU. The out-of-conference schedule is daunting, but their top three competitors in the AAC West - Navy, Houston and Memphis - all come to Dallas this season. It will all come down to whether or not Sonny Dykes can get the defense to do it’s part.

Nick Armstrong: USF. Everyone is sleeping on the Bulls. This team has a lot of athleticism and players with enormous potential. They have the best depth at WR in the conference and bring back a veteran-laden defense. The x-factor is at quarterback. I believe the former five-star QB, Blake Barnett, will win the job. If he plays well, USF is easily the dark horse to win the conference. If not, USF will end up at the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

Eric Henry: USF. I complete agree with Nick. Too many people are quick to write off the Bulls as dead and buried. Nobody can replace Quinton Flowers. But USF has three very capable signal-callers. It’s now or never for Blake Barnett and I think he’ll be leading the team at some point this season. This team has something to prove after the way last season’s War on I-4 ended and I believe they’re up to the challenge.

Who wins the AAC?

Joe Broback: Houston. I’m buying in that all of this talent acquired in the offseason will get the Cougars to the top. Memphis is their toughest competition in the West, so it could also be the Tigers. It’s going to be tough for UCF to repeat last year’s performance, and even more difficult with a completely new coaching staff. No other team in the East appears to be a competitor yet.

Joe Serpico: UCF. There hasn’t been a repeat champion since the inception of the AAC, but this is the year it happens. I would be stunned if they were to run the table again, but they have a pretty favorable conference schedule and there is no real threat in the East. Milton is hands down the best quarterback in the conference and the Knights offense will continue roll even with a new coaching staff.

Nick Armstrong: Houston. This is simply coming from the point of view from what we saw USF go through last year. They came in as the unanimous favorite to win the division and almost unanimous favorite to win the conference. Obviously, expectations were not met as rival UCF stole the glory away. I think the same thing will happen this year. It’s tough to repeat and tougher to go 12-0. Also, I’m a big believer in this Houston team.

Eric Henry: UCF. To put it simply, the Knights have McKenzie Milton and the rest of the conference doesn’t. Ed Oliver is the best player in the conference. However, he’s not a quarterback and Milton will have a greater impact on his teams success than Oliver. I think the Knights offense will be even more lethal than last season. The only issue is there’s only one football. With that being said, Houston or Memphis shouldn’t be taken lightly.