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Breaking Down the AAC’s 2021 Talent Composite

Taking a look at which teams have the most talent in the AAC, according to 247Sports’ 2021 College Football Team Talent Composite

NCAA Football: Central Florida Spring Game Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

When we look at recruiting rankings, 247Sports is generally considered the standard to follow. This is largely because they compile star rankings for players, as well as give them their own ratings, all while formulating a list that ranks every team’s annual recruiting class.

Another great thing that they do is provide a composite talent ranking for every team’s entire roster.

Now, plenty of people, especially G5 fans, don’t like to talk about recruiting rankings. They look at them as a way of artificially inflating the perception of certain programs and as an excuse to look down on others. At times, they definitely are. Still, there’s a reason the only teams to win National Championships always have classes ranked in the top ten. You still need to recruit well to be in contention at the end of the season.

These rankings don’t rank teams from best to worst. They don’t predict the end of the season. However, they do explain the raw talent level that a program is working with, and there is a lot that we can learn from that. So, let’s look at the overall composite talent of each AAC roster according to these rankings.

1. UCF (48 Overall)

The top ranked team on this list is UCF, who sits between Colorado and Virginia in terms of roster talent. The Knights do get a bump in these rankings from both having a few more players on their active roster than anyone else in the conference and a string of recent transfers. According to 247Sports the top two players on UCF’s roster, in terms of raw recruiting talent, are transfer wide receivers Jordan Johnson and Nate Craig-Myers.

The top player listed for UCF to come to the program straight from high school is Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, who signed with UCF this past off-season between Josh Heupel leaving for Tennessee and Gus Malzahn being hired. It’s also easy to lose track of Dillon Gabriel, who falls in the upper-middle of the list, despite being arguably the team’s most important player. Fans could take Gabriel as a great example of how recruiting rankings can sometimes fail the individual player.

2. SMU (61 Overall)

Second in the AAC and 61st overall between Washington State and Wake Forest is SMU. Much like UCF, this number is strengthened by bringing in former four-star high school talent that transferred in from a P5 school. Their top two talents, based on their initial prospect rankings, are Jahari Rogers and Grant Calcaterra, former Florida and Oklahoma players, respectively.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Southern Methodist Timothy Flores-USA TODAY Sports

SMU’s top talent that they recruited out of high school is Danielson Ike, a tackle who saw action as a freshman in 2020. However, it should be noted that Preston Stone is not yet included in this ranking. Meanwhile, Ulysses Bentley IV and Rashee Rice are stud talents who get lost among the three-star players in these rankings.

3. Houston (63 Overall)

In what shouldn’t be a surprise given who they are as a program, but is because of their recent lack of success, Houston is the third-best AAC team in terms of recruiting talent. At 63rd, they are between Wake Forest and Kansas State overall. Despite only having two players listed with four-star rankings, they got to this point through the same system of bringing in transfers as UCF or SMU. That includes top-listed talents Deontay Anderson and Tank Jenkins.

If you’re wondering where Houston’s high expectations are coming from, it goes back to this level of raw talent on the roster. Whether or not that clicks and Houston starts winning more consistently is up to how the coaches develop this talent and implement it. Alton McCaskill is the top recruit to Houston out of high school, while Maddox Kopp is the top ranked quarterback.

4. Cincinnati (67 Overall)

Given their success, you might think that the Bearcats would be higher on this list, but there are a couple of good reasons that they’re only fourth. For one, only 55 current players are listed for their roster. Secondly, while they bring in transfers, they bring in far fewer than the teams ahead of them. 67th overall is right between Boise State and Kansas.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Bearcats benefit from some of the best player development and scheme in the conference, which elevates their excellent talent to a whole other level. Still, their top roster talent is a transfer in sophomore Jowon Briggs who came from Virginia. Quarterback-in-waiting Evan Prater is the top recruit to go straight to Cincinnati from high school, so don’t expect a ton of drop off once middle-of-the-pack Desmond Ridder graduates.

5. Memphis (71 Overall)

Another team that heavily uses the transfer portal, but also are snakebit by the portal, Memphis comes in at fifth in the conference and 71st overall. That 71st ranking sits between Syracuse and Arizona, overall. The Tigers’ top two players in terms of recruiting rankings are both Michigan State transfers, Devontae Dobbs and Julian Barnett.

Interestingly, quarterback Peter Parrish is ranked ahead of Grant Gunnell, though only two players sit in-between them. Calvin Austin III, who is clearly the team’s top wide receiver, is one of the players who were towards the bottom of Memphis’ wide receivers in the rankings.

6. USF (73 Overall)

USF is expected to be one of the worst teams in the conference as they continue to rebuild under now second-year head coach Jeff Scott. Still, if you go strictly by recruiting talent, they should be towards the middle of the pack. Currently, they sit between Arizona and Western Kentucky overall.

Most freshmen aren’t currently on this list, which makes it difficult to tell if the talent is improving under Scott from the Charlie Strong era, but it’s also clear that Scott wasn’t happy with what he inherited just by his actions, especially his choice to invest in multiple transfer quarterbacks in two seasons. The top rated of those quarterbacks is going to be their starter, in Cade Fortin, as well. Matthew Hill, meanwhile, is the top player overall.

7. ECU (75 Overall)

The Pirates have made a lot of strides under Mike Houston, even if the wins aren’t there yet. This was important because Scottie Montgomery was not prepared to bring the right talent to ECU. In his last season, the Pirates were 87th overall. So, they are, at the very least, more talented. Their current 75th spot is between Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech.

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Like many AAC teams, building talent at ECU is about trying to find the balance between P5 transfers coming into the program and home grown talent. Avery Jones and Ryan Jones, the team’s top two players, are from North Carolina and Oklahoma, respectively. Meanwhile, Holton Ahlers was a high three-star, and there are plenty of other guys who need developmental time on the roster.

8. Temple (79 Overall)

The Owls have been heavily criticized for relying on the transfer portal this offseason, but it hasn’t helped them from being 8th in the conference. Still, when you lose a lot of players to the portal and your team is too young and lacking depth going into a season, this is going to be the way to try and fix those issues. Still, while these players often have higher recruiting rankings, many don’t work out and Temple is a bit too reliant on them.

In a way, it’s nice to have your starting quarterback as the second highest rated player on your roster, but anyone who saw D’Wan Mathis play last season knows that he is limited. West Virginia transfer Kwantel Raines is their highest rated prospect overall. The Owls sit between North Texas and Middle Tennessee State in the rankings overall.

9. Tulane (82 Overall)

Given how many people think of Tulane as a dark horse in the AAC, it may be surprising to see them this low. Still, higher academic standards compared to a lot of other programs in the conference can temper your recruiting rankings. Willie Fritz is also a great developmental coach who will take the time to develop consistent talent, rather than relying on a quick fix in the transfer portal. That isn’t to say that Tulane doesn’t use the portal, just that they use it less.

82nd overall is between Fresno State and Tulsa. A home grown player, Angelo Anderson, is the top ranked recruit. Michael Pratt, meanwhile, is towards the top of the recruiting rankings as well.

10. Tulsa (83 Overall)

Despite their success last season, Philip Montgomery has struggled to put highly regarded recruiting classes on the field. Still, he’s found good talent to fit their needs and there is no denying that Tulsa develops talent, especially on the line, very well. Their 83rd ranking is right between Tulane and FIU.

Transfers Grayson Boomer and Travon Fuller are the top two players that Tulsa has in the recruiting rankings. Fuller, in particular, playing cornerback will need to have a strong season for Tulsa’s defense. Davis Brin, meanwhile, is a high end three-star recruit. For his part, Jaxon Player is the top rated player who came to Tulsa out of high school.

11. Navy (131 Overall)

Navy, as always, is unfairly judged by recruiting rankings. They don’t recruit the same players as other AAC or even FBS schools, because you need someone who can both get into the Naval Academy and who wants to join the U.S. Navy. Then, add being good enough at football to play at a D1 level, and the pool of players is small. They also, unlike everyone else, don’t welcome in transfers.

On either side of Navy’s 131st ranking are Liberty and Towson. Kevin Brennan and Diego Fagot are the top two players listed on Navy’s roster.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Navy Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

So, does where each team sits on this list matter? The answer is that it kind of does. The top five teams or so are the teams you expect to be in the top five. Still, Tulsa is always towards the bottom of these rankings and they proved that they can still go to the championship game last season.

So, you can use this as a clue to who might be good, but it’s certainly not a complete picture.