It was a tough end to the season for the AAC. The conference went 2-5 in bowl play, and lost its biggest game. One year, however, doesn’t define this conference, and it could be a bounce back 2019 for the AAC as a whole. Who will win the conference? We’re not sure, but a few teams at the top should look familiar. Let’s take a look at the Way Too Early AAC Power Rankings.
1. UCF Knights
It wasn’t the end that the Knights envisioned, but they still proved no competition is too much for them. Next year should mean more of the same. McKenzie Milton and Darriel Mack both return next year, but Milton’s health remains the biggest question. The offense will be extremely talented once again in 2019, with a ton of weapons to utilize. Like most of the conference, the defense will be a concern.
2. Memphis Tigers
For a second consecutive year, Memphis returns a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. They also must find a way to get that talent to play more consistently. Brady White returns along with Patrick Taylor, most of the receivers, and two starting linemen. Defensively, there aren’t many holes to fill. If the Tigers found a way to make it to the AAC Championship game this year, they should be considered as a candidate to make a third consecutive appearance.
3. Cincinnati Bearcats
No one saw this coming from the Bearcats, but now this is a team that many have their eyes on. The emergence of both Desmond Ridder and Michael Warren II gave the Cincinnati offense life. Replacing Marquise Copeland and Cortez Broughton on defense will be top on the “To Do” list, but Luke Fickell will have that group ready.
4. Houston Cougars
D’Eriq King showed the nation why he’s a special talent, and his receivers made Houston’s offense one of the best in the country. Unfortunately, the Cougars basketball team plays more defense than the football team. Horrendous, porous, awful, unwatchable, you name it. That’s what Houston was on defense. They must replace seven of their top nine tacklers, which is a funny statement considering the amount of tackling Houston didn’t do this year.
5. Temple Owls
A slow start raised concerns for the Owls, but still nearly made it to the AAC Championship Game. A new coach is still needed after Manny Diaz bolted for the Miami job after agreeing to take Temple’s opening. Will Anthony Russo keep the quarterback job? It appears that the Owls have question marks yet again at that position. Defense should be tough as usual.
6. Tulane Green Wave
Will Tulane be a team to watch for in 2019? Most likely. Willie Fritz got his team playing extremely well at the end of the year, and has some great talent returning. Quarterback will need to be addressed next year. Whoever it is will still have leading receiver Darnell Mooney torching opposing defenses.
7. SMU Mustangs
With Ben Hicks transferring, the Mustangs will need to find a new quarterback. William Brown took over for Hicks this year, but also struggled and was benched. The backfield gets less crowded for Ke’Mon Freeman, but James Proche needs to be replaced. Sonny Dykes got a horrendous defense in 2017 to play better in 2018, and will need to do the same next year.
8. USF Bulls
There was supposedly a ton of depth on the Bulls roster coming into this season, but it didn’t seem to help them. In case you didn’t know, the Bulls were 7-0 at one point, but then lost their last six games. Charlie Strong decided to make some changes, which isn’t promising heading into next year. Getting Blake Barnett back helps, but he wasn’t consistent enough to make defenses fear the Bulls passing attack. Strong has to do a lot in a short period of time to convince everyone that he can turn this ship around.
9. ECU Pirates
Mike Houston comes in from James Madison, and inherits a team that was making some good progress late in the year. Holton Ahlers proved to be the starter of the future, and the offense has explosive potential in 2019. Before we get too excited, the Pirates have to improve their consistency, and beating FCS teams would be a good first step.
10. Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Seth Boomer’s growth as a passer determines how good this team will be in 2019. Or Luke Skipper. Whoever wins the job must be more efficient passing. Tulsa improved defensively, and had another great rushing attack with Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II. It all came down to passing, but neither Boomer nor Skipper could utilize their options at receiver. Brooks and Taylor return, so it comes down to quarterback play once again.
11. Navy Midshipmen
If Malcolm Perry struggles next year, Zach Abey won’t be there to take over. Neither will Garrett Lewis. A disappointing 2018 campaign was a surprise for the Midshipmen, and that leads to concern for next year.
12. UConn Huskies
David Pindell kept UConn in games this year, and the dual threat was fun to watch. He had to do so because the defense was awful. The Huskies had the worst defense in the country this year, and it only gets worse in 2019. Pindell’s gone. Pray for this team.