While the AAC’s been known for offense, there have been some talented players on the defensive side of the ball too. Often overlooked because of the explosive offenses, players on defense are often forgotten. One way to slow down the explosive defenses is to get after the quarterback, and many of the players listed below will make an impact in that regard.
1. Cincinnati: Everyone knows Myjai Sanders, but Malik Vann showed some promise last year. If the Bearcats use four down linemen, the inside of Curtis Brooks and Marcus Brown will give everyone issues. They also get Virginia transfer Jowon Briggs, so there’s hardly a gap with the backups.
2. UCF: Tre’Mon Morris-Brash will be one of the leaders up front after a solid season that produced 6.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. If Josh Celiscar can take the next step, UCF has two of the best ends in the conference. Kalia Davis is back after missing all of last year, and he’s a big presence up the middle. Cam Goode has star potential, and Malzahn brought in his former DE in Big Kat Bryant (who should start) and Western Kentucky DL Ricky Barber for depth.
3. Tulsa: Anthony Goodlow had a great spring, and will rotate with Cullen Wick at defensive end. Tyarise Stevenson and Jaxon Player were both solid in the middle, and will need guys behind them to emerge.
4. Houston: Iowa State transfer Latrell Bankston (DT) flexed his talent in the spring. Bankston’s partner could be a rotation of Olivier CharlesPierre, Chidozie Nwankwo, Sedrick Williams and Jamykal Neal, with Logan Hall and Atlias Bell sitting behind him to give the group some depth. At end, David Anenih, Derek Parish and D’Anthony Jones return.
5. Tulane: Losing Cam Sample and Patrick Johnson won’t be easy to replace, but Tulane’s defense returns a number of players that can play to that level. Darius Hodges, Angelo Anderson, Eric Hicks Jr. and Noah Seiden will all get a shot, but Memphis transfer Joseph Dorceus figures to have one of the spots locked next to Jeffery Johnson in the middle.
6. SMU: Turner Coxe and Gary Wiley proved the be disruptive in the backfield, with Nelson Paul filling into the rotation. Junior Aho and Elijah Chatman were solid up the middle, with Mike Williams and Will Jones behind them.
7. Memphis: Morris Joseph had a great 2020 season at defensive end, but he’s the only returning starter. John Tate IV was injured last year, but was a major contributor in 2019, and there are a few options to provide depth up front. Maurice White, Cole Mashburn, John Cartwright, Wardalis Ducksworth and Mississippi State transfer Devon Robinson will push for starting time as well. The loss of O’Bryan Goodson remains evident, but this is a talented group that has the potential to make an impact.
8. ECU: Rick D’Abreu is a force on the inside, and will be joined by Elijah Morris. Immanuel Hickman and Damir Faison man the end positions, and the staff expects them to make a bigger impact this year.
9. Temple: Washington State transfer Will Rodgers fills the defensive end spot opposite Manny Walker, who finished second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks. North Carolina transfer Xach Gill comes in to play tackle alongside fellow former Tar Heel Lancine Turay.
10. USF: Everyone besides Thad Mangum needs to prove themselves, but that competition should create depth. Jason Vaughn and Kelvin Pinkney flashed in their limited reps last year, and Tramel Logan fights for the spot opposite Vaughn.
11. Navy: J’arius Warren is the only experienced one on the line back, with Jacob Busic and Donald Berniard Jr. the frontrunners at their positions. They’ll need to step up for the defense, because the back seven are locked and loaded.