We had many questions entering last season about the talent in the AAC. New faces emerged, while familiar ones continued thriving. This year, there’s a ton of talent returning. After two straight NY6 bowl appearances by UCF, the goal is obvious this year. The Knights quest for a third straight appearance won’t be easy this year in a talented conference. Who should you watch for? We give you seven players to keep an eye on this season.
Breakout Player: Memphis QB Brady White
Memphis returns a ton of talent once again, and White returns with a full year of starting under his belt. The biggest knock on him last year was that he didn’t play well in big games. While he passed for more than 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns, his best games came against inferior competition. In the Tigers eight wins last year, White averaged 267.4 yards passing per game with a touchdown to interception ratio of 21-4. In six losses, he averaged 192.8 yards per game with a ratio of 5-5. Now that he’s more comfortable in Mike Norvell’s system (and Memphis’ relatively easy schedule), he should have a big year.
Comeback Kid: Memphis CB TJ Carter
Carter’s year wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t nearly as good as his freshman campaign. Teams tested him a lot more last year, and won a good amount of those battles. In his third year, Carter will show why he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the country. The Tigers defense returns a ton of experienced talent, but they need to show that means a better group.
Rising Star: Tulane DE Patrick Johnson
His future says NFL, but he’s focused on dominating the college level first. With everyone focused on Ed Oliver last year, Johnson flew mostly under the radar to many. Offensive coordinators knew who he was, and he’s looking to add on a year where he recorded 14 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Tulane’s offense appears ready to breakout, but their defense also appears ready to do the same. It all starts with Johnson.
Don’t Forget About: USF QB Blake Barnett
Playcalling and injuries have put Barnett’s name out of mind for many AAC fans, but he’s ready to go out with a bang. USF brings in a new offensive coordinator that fits Barnett’s skillset better, and he just needs to stay healthy to have a good year. He completed 61.1% of his passes last year with 12 touchdowns. He also threw 11 interceptions, so there’s still things he can work on this season. Charlie Strong’s seat is warm, but he made the necessary changes this offseason to cool it down. If the Bulls beat Wisconsin in Week 1, expect Barnett to lead the charge.
Needs to Rebound: SMU RB Xavier Jones
When you go from 1,000 yards one season to 300 the next, you better rebound to prove the first year wasn’t a fluke. Jones got lost in a crowded backfield last year, but has the skillset to be elite. He’ll share the carries with Ke’Mon Freeman, but he’s the more complete back of the two. SMU’s a sleeper team to win the West, and Jones can help the offense explode this year.
Dark Horse MVP: ECU QB Holton Ahlers
This is extremely dark horse, but Ahlers showed his potential last year. His accuracy needs work after completing just 48% of his passes, but he eclipsed 400 yards passing in two games last year. If he can find a balance, the Pirates offense will be dangerous.
Under the Radar: Temple WR Isaiah Wright
Temple continues to find ways to get the ball in Wright’s hands, and it usually ends well. His production dipped last year at receiver, but he returned two punts and one kickoff back for touchdowns. With all of the explosive talent in the conference, Wright tends to get overlooked. Do so at your own risk, because he’s on of the best even though he doesn’t receive the proper attention.