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NCAA Football: Connecticut at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2019 AAC Preseason Position Previews: Defensive Back

Despite some flaws, there’s NFL potential in the secondary.

We’re nearing the end of our Preseason Position Preview series, but that means the season is almost here! While the AAC isn’t known for it’s elite defenses, they do produce some great defensive backs. A couple of them are the best in the country, and others have immense potential. It’s going to be tough to stop offenses again this year, but opponents may find it difficult to pass against these guys.

Room for Improvement: Your team can definitely get better. Even if your team has a returning starter, there’s still plenty of room for growth.

Wait and See: Most likely, your team is going through a transition to a new starter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means the new face has to prove themselves.

Second Tier: Good not great. The position isn’t elite yet, but may be right on the doorstep.

Elite: The best of the best. Most likely competing for an All-Conference spot. Also helps to have depth at the position.



1. Cincinnati: Beating the Bearcats remains quite the challenge thanks largely in part to a stellar defense. The secondary will be their biggest strength. James Wiggins is one of the best in the country at safety and led Cincinnati with four interceptions. Cam Jefferies led the team with 11 passes defended, and the Bearcats return Darrick Forest and Coby Bryant (great name).

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Louisiana State vs Central Florida
Brandon Moore.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

2. UCF: Richie Grant is an NFL talent, and the best safety in the AAC. He also led the team in tackles (108) and interceptions (six). He’ll need a partner at safety with Kyle Gibson in the NFL. Corner shouldn’t be a concern for the Knights. Nevelle Clarke is reliable, and Brandon Moore has big play potential (see his pick six against LSU).

Second Tier

3. Memphis: Teams decided to test the Tigers best player in the secondary last year, and it sometimes worked. TJ Carter burst onto the scene as a freshman, but seemed to struggle as a sophomore. His production didn’t drop much if at all. Carter remains the best corner in this conference, and teams should be cautious about testing him too much. Memphis needs to find a new starting cornerback opposite of Carter, but safeties Tyrez Lindsey and Sanchez Blake showed they can be solid.

4. Tulsa: Where do you think Tulsa was ranked in passing yards allowed per game last year? Not many of you would guess they were Top 10, but the Golden Hurricane finished 10th. Granted, that doesn’t tell the whole story (and they were gashed on the ground), but that’s still incredible. Three of their four starters in the secondary return, but losing McKinley Whitfield will do some damage.

5. Temple: It would be insulting to say the Owls will be better this year after losing Rock Ya-Sin and Delvon Randall. Still, there’s potential for another great group. Benny Walls was solid last year at safety, and corners Sam Franklin and Linwood Crump should take over the cornerback positions.

6. USF: If you played defensive back for the Bulls last year, you probably finished in the Top 10 on the team in tackles. That’s not a good sign for the rest of the defense, but at least the last line of defense is reliable. Gone is one of the best corners in the conference in Mazzi Wilkins, but Mike Hampton and Nick Roberts return. Roberts led the team in interceptions last year.

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Southern Methodist
Rodney Clemons.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

7. SMU: The Mustangs weren’t exactly great, but they weren’t horrible either. Luckily they return four players with solid experience. Rodney Clemons remains one of the most underrated players in the conference. With SMU being such a wild card in the conference, improvement from this group could vault the Mustangs to the top of the division.

Wait and See

8. Houston: This could be an elite group by the end of the season, which is scary to say considering the Cougars finished dead last in passing yards allowed per game last year. Dana Holgorsen addressed that immediately in the offseason. Deontay Anderson and Gleson Sprewell should start, but they’ll be pushed by Jordan Moore (who was granted eligibility to play this season). JUCO All-American Damarion Williams has star potential, and the battle at cornerback should be intense. Don’t be surprised if this group makes a big turnaround in 2019.

9. Tulane: Replacing Parry Nickerson was tough, but Donnie Lewis did well and got himself drafted. Now, he’s gone too, and the Green Wave must replace him. PJ Hall returns at safety, and proved to be solid on the backside. Both cornerback spots will be positions to watch in fall camp.

Room for Improvement

10. ECU: The Pirates took a giant step forward last year, but can take another one this year. Mike Houston has work to do in the secondary, but gets back three players with good experience.

11. UConn: Well, we won’t have to worry about this team pretty soon. This was a young group last year, and they struggled mightily. That might be the same story again this year. They’re more experienced, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better.

12. Navy: Here’s the thing, Navy doesn’t do itself any favors by running the triple option on offense. In a league that’s known for explosive offenses and passing games, the Midshipmen don’t have the talent to give the defense a good look. With just one experienced returner, it could be a long season on the backside.

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