In its eight year history, the AAC’s seen some phenomenal players come and go. Winning player of the year on either side of the ball is difficult, but even tougher on offense. With the firepower featured in this conference, standing out on top becomes a difficult task. Desmond Ridder enters the 2021 season as the reigning AAC Player of the Year, and it’s going to be tough to repeat. McKenzie Milton is the only player to have won the award twice, and even he had Houston’s D’Eriq King chomping at his heels. Who are the Top 10 Player of the Year candidates in the AAC? It’s going to be a tight race.
1. QB Dillon Gabriel, UCF
It just feels like Gabriel is due for this award, and it would be a shame if he played four years and never got it. He’s already thrown for over 7,000 yards and 61 touchdowns in two seasons (one of them shortened), and we’ll know more about his potential for this year when UCF finally hires a coach. Still, this is the top pick to win player of the year, and the talent around him makes it easy to see why.
2. QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Like I said, it’s tough to repeat for this award, but Ridder will compete. He bounced back after a tough start to his 2020 campaign, and became a more consistent passer as the year progressed. He gets a number of weapons back on offense too, making the Bearcats offense solid again. He’ll be competing against guys who run more explosive offenses than his, so it will be tough to fend off the competition.
3. QB Tanner Mordecai, SMU
Yes, Mordecai must hold off incoming freshman Preston Stone for the starting job, but Mustangs fans should expect him to do just that. He doesn’t have a ton of experience, but the little we’ve seen provides enough evidence to believe he’ll thrive in Sonny Dykes’ system. It might be a little high for someone who’s yet to take many meaningful snaps, but this is also a nod to the playmakers Mordecai will have at his disposal this year.
4. RB Jerome Ford, Cincinnati
Gerrid Doaks provided stability to the Bearcats offense at times last year, including when Ridder was struggling. He’s gone, but former Alabama transfer Ford is here to fill his spot, and we got a glimpse of what Ford can do running the football in the Peach Bowl. More of a burner than Doaks, Ford could put up some big numbers for Cincinnati’s rushing attack.
5. QB Holton Ahlers, ECU
Is this the year Holton Ahlers finally breaks out? He’s only got one shot left, so it has to be. ECU’s offense has the potential to compete with anyone, but it’s up to them if that actually happens. Ahlers has shown flashes of his greatness, but he can’t seem to find the consistency. If he can consistently play near his ceiling, there’s not a team in the conference that will be able to slow this Pirates offense down.
6. QB Michael Pratt, Tulane
Pratt quietly had a solid season for the Green Wave, throwing for 20 touchdowns in 2020 as a freshman. He gets back his top two receivers back this year, and will have a full year of experience under his belt. Tulane’s offense opened things up through the air because of Pratt, and he’s ready to take the next step. Winning Player of the Year might be a stretch, but he’s going to be one to watch.
7. RB Ulysses Bentley IV, SMU
Bentley emerged as a freshman when TJ McDaniel was lost for the season, and he brings a lot of momentum into 2021. McDaniel returns, and SMU added North Texas transfer Tre Siggers to the mix, so carries might be hard to come by this year. Bentley was so close to breaking 1,000 yards last year, and it might be at least one more year before he gets a chance at doing that again.
8. WR Calvin Austin III, Memphis
Austin is the best receiver in the conference, but only slightly. His quickness off the line makes it tough for even the best corners to stop him. He doesn’t rely just on his speed and quickness to win as he pays attention to the details of running routes and avoiding a jam at the line of scrimmage. If you’re covering him, good luck. Also throw in his punt return opportunities, and he has a slightly better chance of winning the award (even if it’s still a long shot).
9. WR Reggie Roberson, SMU
Roberson’s return to the SMU offense is the biggest return in the conference. An injury limited his 2020 season, but he’s back to open up the field vertically. His presence alone is a big factor in why Tanner Mordecai is so high on this list, and it’s scary to think that there are many more options in this offense if he gets taken away. He’s yet to break 1,000 yards receiving, but a full healthy year gives him a great chance to do that for the first time.
10. WR Jaylon Robinson, UCF
Like Dillon Gabriel, Robinson’s waiting to see what scheme he’ll be playing in this year. His speed makes him a great option in any offense, and defensive backs don’t exactly look forward to seeing him line up across from them. Lost in all of the Marlon Williams love was the fact that Robinson nearly broke 1,000 yards receiving in just 10 games. With Williams off to the NFL, he’s the top receiver for the Knights. Depending on the scheme he’s in, he could move up higher on this list.