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AAC Roundtable: Predictions for the 2019 season

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Predictions, good and bad, headed your way.

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Temple vs Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year again. Football is almost here, so it’s time to make some terrible predictions. Ok, so we actually haven’t made any horrible predictions. We had a couple picks for SMU and USF as breakout teams last year, but that’s about as bad as it gets. Hopefully we continue the trend in 2019.

Who wins Offensive & Defensive Players of the Year?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Temple at Houston
Without McKenzie Milton, King is the favorite to win AAC Player of the Year.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Joe B: It’s tough to pick against D’Eriq King for Offensive Player of the Year, and I just can’t bring myself to do it. Patrick Johnson’s going to be a popular pick for DPOY year here, but I’m going to go with Memphis CB TJ Carter. He’s poised for another great year, and it sounds like Memphis’ defense could be the best its ever been under Mike Norvell.

Eric: I think you have to go with D’Eriq King for Offensive Player of the Year. However, I’d still keep an eye out for Patrick Taylor Jr. King should really take off in his second season as a full-time quarterback. His athleticism is off the charts and Houston has enough weapons around him. UCF’s Richie Grant is my choice for DPOY. He’s a man amongst boys at the collegiate level and should excel even more in year two under DC Randy Shannon.

Dan: Here’s to being safe, and unoriginal. D’Eriq King will win the Offensive Player of the Year Award. This comes after McKenzie Milton won the award twice in a row, but he won’t be able to win the award in 2019 because of his injury. King is explosive as a runner, and underrated as a passer. Under Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid there’s no reason he won’t put up the best numbers of his career. As for Defensive Player of the Year, that would be Richie Grant, who’ll win a two horse race against Patrick Johnson. In the end, name recognition will put the ball-hawk safety, Grant, ahead of the Johnson. Last season Grant led UCF in tackles (69) and interceptions (6), and was first team All-AAC. He’s expected to do the same as a redshirt junior, in 2019.

Joe S: I wanted to be the one who went with someone other than King, but it’s impossible to do so. He should have won it last season. The other side of the ball is much more difficult to choose from, but I’m gonna go with Bryce Huff from Memphis. He basically lived in the backfield last year with 19 tackles for loss, and Memphis should be leading in a ton of games this season which will allow him to rack up the sack numbers.

Who will be the breakout player in the conference?

East Carolina v Cincinnati
Ahlers and the ECU Pirates have breakout potential in 2019.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Joe B: I’m picking ECU’s Holton Ahlers. The Pirates quarterback showed signs of his greatness in multiple games last season, but needs to fix a few flaws first. Though he needs to work on his accuracy (just 48% completion), he did eclipse 350 yards passing against Tulane, UCF, and Memphis. Mike Houston took over the program this offseason, and Ahlers benefits the most from the change.

Eric: For me there’s two names that come to mind. ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers and UCF utility man Otis Anderson. Provided Ahlers wins the job, the Greenville native is a dynamic talent who just needs to develop more consistency as a passer. He passed for over 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with rushing for 592 yards last season.

As for Anderson, had he taken an offer from any of the other two dozen programs who showed interest in him coming out of high school, he would be the focal point of an offense. However, he’s at UCF and along with that means he’s one of many talented playmakers. Anderson averages a touchdown every 11.8 touches, meaning I expect to see him in the endzone regularly for the Knights in 2019.

Dan: I wanted to find someone on UConn, as a joke, but they’ll be worse than last season, without David Pindell. In short, I couldn’t find a not terrible UConn answer. Instead, my honest answer is Patrick Johnson, from Tulane. Being a defensive player in the AAC is an easy way to get over looked, but Johnson should have everyone’s full attention. As a sophomore, he had 10.5 sacks. Now, he’s stronger, and has had more time to perfect his rush moves. He’ll whip AAC tackles, and help keep Tulane in the AAC West race.

Joe S: He’s not McKenzie Milton, but I fully expect Brandon Wimbush to keep the UCF train rolling. Josh Heupel - a top three coach in the conference - knows how to get the best out of his quarterbacks, and while Wimbush likely won’t repeat Milton's numbers, he’s got the weapons around him to post gaudy numbers of his own.

Over/Under 6 Power 5 wins

Joe B: I want to be positive here, but I’m going to say push. There are five games the AAC should win for sure, but games like Cincinnati-UCLA, UCF-Stanford, Houston-Oklahoma, Houston-Washington State and USF-Wisconsin are tough to judge right now. I’m probably leaning towards the over, but I’ll stick with a push right now.

Pittsburgh v Central Florida
UCF pounded Pitt last year, and could do the same in 2019.
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Eric: I’ll be the optimist and say over. I think UCF wins both of their P5 games, USF beats Georgia Tech, Memphis defeats Ole Miss, Temple beats Maryland, Cincinnati defeats UCLA, and Houston beats Washington State.

Dan: Push is probably the most likely, but I’ll take the over. UCF will get the conference their two wins. Cincinnati will at least split their own. Georgia Tech is transitioning from the triple option to a regular offense, which will be a mess. I don’t see them winning against USF or Temple. From there finding two more wins to hit the over isn’t difficult.

Joe S: One thing is certain, I don’t want to hear that the AAC is not scheduling quality opponents. With that said, I only see five wins from the conference so I’m going under. There are too many toss up games to feel confident about going over.

Over/Under 7.5 bowl teams

Joe B: I think I’ve said over every year, so let’s stick with that. The only teams that won’t make a bowl game are Tulsa, UConn, and Navy. Maybe Tulane/SMU finish 5-7, but it’s tough to see that happening given the talent on both teams. ECU will be team that could go either way. Given their recent history, it’s not looking good. However, they have a new coach and a lot of potential.

Dan: I want to say over, but I’m going to say under. For starters, UConn won’t make a bowl game. ECU is unlikely to make a bowl game, especially since two of their games will be FCS opponents, which doesn’t scream “Invite us to your bowl.” Then, I’m not confident USF will be better than a six win team. Then, who knows what Temple looks like under a new coaching staff, especially without a sure thing at running back? Navy and Tulsa will need to figure out their quarterback situations to even sniff a bowl. Then, SMU needs to improve to get to six wins, especially with a tough out-of-conference slate. That leaves me with five sure things; UCF, Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, and Tulane. Sure, a couple more, like USF and SMU, could sneak in, but will a third make their way to six wins? Not likely.

Eric: I just can’t find it in myself to say over. Now, I’ll probably look back at this at the end of the year and wonder why I didn’t take the over, but I don’t have enough belief in teams like SMU and ECU to get to six. My locks are: UCF, USF, Memphis, Houston, Cincy, Temple, and Tulane. So I’ll take the under.

Joe S: Kind it surprised the two above me went under as I feel this is the deepest the AAC has been since its inception so give me the over. I believe this is the year SMU makes some noise in the conference and wins a game or two we didn’t expect, and ECU won’t be a pushover this year. UConn, Tulsa and Navy are the three teams I don’t see winning six games (they might win six combined).

Who is the sleeper team in the conference?

Joe B: No going back now. I think it’s the ECU Pirates. Mike Houston inherits a program looking to regain its winning culture. Behind the arm of Holton Ahlers, ECU has a chance to make a bowl game. Consistency on both sides of the ball is needed, but no one’s taking this team seriously right now. That makes them the perfect sleeper team. For a bowl game. Let’s not get too crazy.

East Carolina v Tulane
Mooney and the Green Wave are a trendy pick to be a sleeper team in 2019.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Eric: Look out for the Tulane Green Wave in 2019. Willie Fritz has that program heading in the right direction after years of mediocrity under Curtis Johnson and Bob Toledo. Darius Bradwell is the real deal at running back and I think the addition of Jalen McCleskey in the offseason will make Tulane an eight-win team with an outside shot to contend in the West.

Dan: I’m all in on Tulane. Their schedule is brutal, but I still think they’ll win the AAC West. After last season, where tiebreakers kept them out from the championship game, they’ll be hungrier than ever. Their offensive weapons are insane. Darius Bradwell, Corey Dauphine, Darnell Mooney, and Jalen McCleskey are all capable of going to the house every time they touch the ball. Justin McMillan will have actual practice time in the offense now, and he should be able to orchestrate everything beautifully. It doesn’t hurt they have the conference’s best pass rusher, Patrick Johnson, either.

Joe S: I might have been on the SMU Mustangs hype train a little too soon last season, but Sonny Dykes has Shane Buechele to run his offense and some firepower around him. Like I said above, they’ll shock a couple teams this year.

Who wins the AAC?

Joe B: I’ve gone with Houston too many times, so I’ll refrain from doing so again. I think Memphis beats UCF. Not just because the Tigers are due for a win, but because a third consecutive match-up between these two provides the most entertainment. It’s UCF’s conference to lose until further notice, but I think the Tigers can pull off the upset.

Eric: UCF defeats Memphis. I’m not usually someone who looks at previous history, but I was at Spectrum Stadium when Memphis blew a 17-point halftime lead to the Knights. The look on members of the Memphis coaching staffs’ faces as they left the coaches box spoke volumes. The Tigers haven’t beaten UCF in their last 13 tries and I especially don’t think they can defeat them in Orlando. The Knights have enough firepower with the run game, their offensive line, and playmakers on defense, that will be able to offset the loss of McKenzie Milton.

Dan: UCF beats Tulane in the AAC Championship Game, for the three-peat. Put aside the quarterback position, as difficult as it is to do. They have three excellent running backs, a bunch of stud receivers, and the best offensive line in the conference. Does the quarterback matter with all that? Yes, but Dillon Gabriel is a stud, Brandon Wimbush is a winner, and it’s unlikely Darriel Mack misses the whole season. On defense, they have the conference’s best defensive player, Richie Grant. In total, UCF has the best secondary, and a defense which should be much improved in its second year under Randy Shannon’s 4-3 defense. As for Tulane, they’re a sleeper who will need to survive a tricky west division. However, their explosiveness on offense will make them hard to compete with. Justin McMillan will have had a full off-season to get settled in with his explosive targets. Don’t forget, the Green Wave were tied for first in the west last season.

Joe S: I’m already on record of saying that Memphis represents the G5 in the NY6 bowl game. A 12-0 mark isn’t out of question if they get the win over Ole Miss and they are licking their chops to get another shot at UCF. Mike Norvell finally gets over the hump, and it won’t surprise me if he’s with another program at this time next year.