The end of the college football season is always sad, and even more so when you realize some of your favorite players won’t play college ball again. The AAC saw a number of players take their games to new levels in 2019, and a number of them did it in their final seasons. Some improvements, like those by Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry and SMU running back Xavier Jones, were sudden. Others, like SMU wide receiver James Proche, were expected. There are many players that need to be replaced, but today we take a look at the 10 that will be the most difficult.
UCF: C Jordan Johnson
USF: TE Mitchell Wilcox
ECU: DE Kendall Futrell, DT Alex Turner
Temple: C Matt Hennessy, LB Sam Franklin, LB Shaun Bradley, LB Chapelle Russell,
Cincinnati: TE Josiah Deguara, LB Bryan Wright
Houston: RB Patrick Carr
Memphis: WR Antonio Gibson, RB Patrick Taylor
Navy: C Ford Higgins
Tulsa: LB Cooper Edmiston
Tulane: QB Justin McMillan, WR Darnell Mooney, WR Jalen McCleskey, RB Corey Dauphine
10. LB Bryce Huff, Memphis
Genard Avery set a standard for his position, and the Memphis Tigers needed a replacement when he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Huff took over that role, and thrived in his own way. He racked up 34.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 sacks over the past two years, and Memphis must find a replacement for him. They’ve had a nice stretch of talent on the edge, and Huff’s disruptive play will be missed by the new coaching staff.
9. WR Gabriel Davis, UCF
UCF’s safety net in the passing game leaves the Knights in need of a new deep threat, though they’ll have options. Davis helped Dillon Gabriel thrive in his first year as a starter, and helped the freshman avoid costly turnovers at times in the 2019 season. He led UCF in receiving yards over the past two years, and had a career high 72 catches for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns this past year. Tre Nixon and Marlon Williams give Gabriel and the offense options in Davis’ absence, so his loss won’t have too much of an effect on the production in 2020.
8. LB Nate Evans, UCF
Evans followed up a career year with another one, and leaves the defense in need of a playmaker at linebacker. He inherited more of a leadership role last year with Pat Jasinski gone, but the Knights won’t be totally lost without him. His 113 tackles led the team last year, but Eriq Gilyard (77 tackles) and Eric Mitchell (77 tackles, 11.0 for loss) return to make up for that lost production.
7. DE Quincy Roche, Temple
Normally, players leave when a coaching staff enters the picture, not a year after they arrive. Quincy Roche’s bizarre exit remains a decision that will be talked about for a while. It’s not like he had a bad year either. In fact, he dominated, and won AAC Defensive Player of the Year. Roche produced 49 tackles (19 for loss) and 13 sacks, but decided to take his talents to Miami for his final season.
6. RB Michael Warren II, Cincinnati
Arguably the most surprising news in terms of departures came from Cincinnati. Warren decided to enter the NFL Draft, a decision that shocked many. It’s hard to argue with him after he produced 2,979 yards and 36 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Finding his replacement won’t be an issue, but identifying depth could be. Former starter Gerrid Doaks returns, but needs to prove he can endure a full season. Behind Doaks, there’s not much experience after Tavion Thomas decided to transfer.
5. RB Xavier Jones, SMU
After a down year in 2018, Jones produced a career season with 1,276 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing. He scored a touchdown in every game, and only had one game where he didn’t rush for a touchdown. His backup, Ke’Mon Freeman is gone as well, and only T.J. McDaniel returns with experience. Whoever takes over for Jones will join Shane Buechele in the backfield and have an opportunity to add to an explosive offense.
4. WR James Proche, SMU
Proche leaves SMU as the school’s career leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, which won’t be easy to replace. He had a solid freshman season when Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn were on roster, and his game exploded after they left. The past two seasons produced 2,424 yards and 27 touchdowns, including a number of highlight reel catches (one that won SMU a close game against Tulsa this year). Reggie Roberson returns next year, but replicating what Proche did this past year won’t be easy.
3. OT Josh Jones, Houston
On an offensive line that struggled mightily, Josh Jones was the lone bright spot. Announcers rarely talked about him during games, because he dominated his competition so frequently while the rest of the line struggled. Now, there’s talk about him being a Top 10 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Jones gave the Cougars a tackle with length that could also bully his defender with power. Jarrid Williams was granted a sixth year of eligibility, and brings some stability to the line, but the other positions are unknown right now.
2. QB Malcolm Perry, Navy
Perry and Navy pulled off the surprise of the year in 2019 with their 11-2 finish, and Perry’s explosion ended with him winning AAC Offensive Player of the Year. Questions about his running abilities filtered into the program after a rough 2018 season and even after the first game against Holy Cross, but he silenced those doubters right away. After the first game, he only failed to rush for 100+ yards once, including a 304-yard, two touchdown performance against Army. Ken Niumatalolo has proven that he can adapt his offense to anyone that takes over at quarterback, but replacing a talent like Perry won’t happen overnight.
1. QB D’Eriq King, Houston
Just like Roche, King’s departure from Houston was interesting. After declaring that he wasn’t leaving Houston, he ultimately decided to transfer and will end his career with Miami. Whether you agree with the decision or not, King’s easily the toughest player to replace in this conference. Houston got a glimpse of what life without him looked like, so it won’t be as much of a shock to move on without him.