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AAC X-Factors 2019

These guys play a big role in determining their team’s success.

Rice v Houston Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Any college football team can have a loaded roster. They can also be a team that has the potential to be great, but what is the one thing that plays a big role in determining their success? X-Factors. If they step their game up, they make an impact on their team’s performance. Take Houston for example. Last year, we predicted that the running backs/receivers would be the X-Factor for the Cougars. Unknown players took giant leaps and made the Houston offense one of the best in the country. Many of our X-Factors turned out to be correct from last year, whether that resulted positively or negatively. Today, we take a look at who each team’s X-Factor will be for the 2019 season.

AAC East

UConn: One year

With the Huskies moving on to the Big East, they just have to survive one more year in the AAC. Teams will have to find a new way to include another bye week into their schedule going forward.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati
Ahlers can be great, but he must first be consistent.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

ECU: Holton Ahlers

Expectations were high for Ahlers coming in as a freshman, and he did alright meeting them. The freshman eventually won the starting job, and led the team in rushing. His biggest weakness was his accuracy, as he finished with a 48.3% completion percentage. That needs to change. Still, he has electric potential, and is a big reason why some like the Pirates to surprise the conference this year.

Temple: Coaching Staff

The Owls had their man in Manny Diaz, and received rave reviews from almost everyone. Then, Diaz left for Miami, and Temple needed another new head coach. They landed on Rod Carey. Carey inherits a solid roster, but there’s plenty to be worked out. New leaders in the secondary and a starting running back must be found, and the Owls must avoid another slow start this year.

Cincinnati: Defensive Line

Cortez Broughton and Marquise Copeland left big holes in the Bearcats front. If Cincinnati should repeat their defensive success, new faces must step up. Kevin Mouhon returns after missing last year, but other starters are needed. The Bearcats schedule presents quite a few more challenges than last year, so the defense needs to be better than ever. That all starts up front.

UCF: Brandon Wimbush

We’ll learn a lot about the Knights program this year, including the quarterback position. Josh Heupel came to Orlando and inherited one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country. Now, his star player (McKenzie Milton) is hurt, Darriel Mack was injured in the offseason, and Brandon Wimbush is left. It’s Wimbush’s final chance to prove he can play at a high level, but there are weapons everywhere. If UCF wants to go undefeated in the regular season again, Wimbush must prove he’s elite.

USF: Kerwin Bell

Fans had plenty to complain about last year with Sterlin Gilbert running the show. Charlie Strong got lucky when Gilbert took a head coaching job, and replaced him with Bell. The offense returns some solid playmakers, and it’s up to Bell to find ways to make them successful. If the offensive coordinator was the issue, USF should be great. If not, things won’t look good for Strong.

AAC West

Houston: Defense

It seems lazy to say the whole defense is the X-Factor for the Cougars, but it makes the most sense. Houston’s offense is going to be explosive once again, and the Coguars success comes down to the success of the defense. New starters are needed on all three levels, and there’s really no way to go but up. Many are pegging this team anywhere between 6-6 and 8-4, but an improved defense could help exceed expectations. Dana Holgorsen and his staff brought in a ton of talent on this side of the ball, so now it’s all about execution.

Memphis: Brady White/ Second Half of UCF games

Experience is everywhere on the Tigers roster, so there aren’t many weaknesses. Offensively, it really comes down to White’s play. While he did pass for 3,000 yards, many of his best games came against inferior competition. If Memphis is to get over the hump and win the AAC, White must elevate his game. Playing better in the second half of big games helps too. While they don’t face UCF in the regular season, all signs point towards a third consecutive Memphis-UCF conference championship game. Nobody will need to tell the Tigers about the past when that happens.

Tulsa: Quarterback

Whether it’s Zach Smith or Seth Boomer, quarterback play needs to be immensely better than last year. The offensive line needs new starters to replace Chandler Miller and Tyler Bowling, but should be solid. Running backs Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II are going to be great, so it comes down to quarterback play. Boomer showed flashes at times last year, but not consistently enough. Smith did the same at Baylor before transferring.

NCAA Football: Cure Bowl-Tulane vs UL Lafayette
McMillan’s got all of the tools he needs offensively to be a star.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tulane: Justin McMillan

Offensive line will be solid. Tulane’s backfield is loaded. Darnell Mooney and Oklahoma State transfer Jalen McCleskey will terrorize secondaries. They’ll just need someone to get them the ball. McMillan gave us glimpses of how dangerous this offense can be, and it’s up to him to make that a consistent nightmare for defenses. All the pieces are in front of him, and he just needs to produce.

Navy: Malcolm Perry

Round 2 (or 3 I guess) of Perry at quarterback. Two years ago, he lit up defenses. Last year, he struggled mightily. He has one more chance to prove he can be the next great quarterback. We know he’s capable of doing so, but we need to see it again. Navy has plenty of other positions to fill, so this could be tough.

SMU: Shane Buchele

At one point, he was the starter for the Texas Longhorns over Sam Ehlinger. Now, he’s at SMU. The Mustangs posses a plethora of talent at wide receiver and running back. It comes down to their quarterback play. William Brown will push Buchele, but there’s no reason why the former Longhorn won’t win the job. His play determines how high this offense soars.