The 2022 season is rapidly approaching. With that, it’s time to dive into the rosters for teams in the AAC. Get a feel for what’s returning and who is new. That starts with the quarterback position. It’s a spot the AAC traditionally has a few explosive options. This year isn’t an exception.
Elite: These teams are dominant at the quarterback spot and should be at the top of the conference all season because of it.
Second Tier: These teams have talent at quarterback, but there are questions in some way, shape, or form.
Wait and See: These teams have more than a couple of questions left to answer at the position.
Houston: It’s been a long time coming for Clayton Tune, but here he is. Early in his career, Tune would make the wrong decision with the ball, which led to a lot of turnovers. A talented runner, he would often bail from the pocket too quickly. Then, in 2021, he hurt his hamstring. It wasn’t enough to sideline him, but it did keep him in the pocket. That’s when something miraculous happened—Tune had to throw from the pocket. He became one of the conference’s best quarterbacks when that happened. In 2022, he’ll be a true dual-threat who is a capable passer with tons of experience.
SMU: There is a rumor going around that Preston Stone is pressing Tanner Mordecai for the starting job. My guess is that this probably isn’t true, but it’s also not a bad thing. A little competition is healthy. Assuming Mordecai is still the starter, he’s coming off a massive season, statistically. There’s a lot of turnover at the skills positions that could make it hard to replicate that success, though. Rhett Lashlee coached under Sonny Dykes, but his system is closer to the Gus Malzahn spread than the Air Raid. So, Mordecai will also adjust to a new system.
Tulsa: Davis Brin’s 2021 TD to INT ratio was bad, admittedly. 18 touchdowns to 16 interceptions are bad, actually. 3,254 yards passing is pretty good, though. So, it’s fair to say that Tulsa’s quarterback situation is a little challenging to judge. Importantly, Brin seemed to improve over the course of the season. Call this a prediction, but I bet Brin is gonna take a big step forward.
UCF: UCF has a healthy quarterback competition of its own this offseason. Mikey Keene took over from Dillon Gabriel in mid-2021, following a broken collarbone. He clearly has potential, but he also looked like a freshman at times. UCF brought in John Rhys Plumlee from Ole Miss to compete. Plumlee needs to relearn the position after moving to wide receiver to make room for Matt Corral under Lane Kiffin. Still, he’s a highlight waiting to happen. Expect Plumlee to go and fit perfectly into Malzahn’s offense.
ECU: Holton Ahlers is back for another year in Greenville. The number one problem that he’s had during his career is being consistent. The strong lefty has all the tools, he just doesn’t always put things together the way he should. Against Cincinnati and South Carolina, he failed to be better than 50% throwing the ball. At the same time, he’s perfectly capable and is often excellent. He’s said the right things this offseason. Now, he has to prove it in his fifth season.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are replacing a legend at quarterback (like they are at most positions). There are two quarterbacks who could earn the job; Ben Bryant and Evan Prater. Bryant has experience and is expected to be the starter. He transferred from Cincinnati to Eastern Michigan and is now back with the Bearcats. He started at Easter Michigan, with pretty average numbers. Prater, for his part, lacks experience but was a highly touted recruit. In the transfer portal era, he’ll get a look.
Tulane: Michael Pratt has had a challenging go of it during his time at Tulane. While flashing the potential to take Tulane over the hump, he’s always had a knack for poorly timed turnovers. Now in his junior year, he’s also on his third offensive coordinator. Add in a displacing hurricane, and it feels like his growth has been stunted. Still, the raw tools are there if he can put it all together.
USF: Quarterback has been a problem at USF since Quinton Flowers left (and don’t come at me with any Blake Barnett takes). That’s why Timmy McClain, in extremely limited work, has to be exciting for Bulls fans. He kind of looked like a young, left-handed Quinton Flowers. Still, he’s incredibly raw and if you have a better option, you should go with it. Jeff Scott did, bringing in Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon. His numbers at Baylor weren’t overwhelming, but he’s a winner who got the Bears to the Big 12 Championship before an injury sidelined him and cost him his job.
Memphis: With Grant Gunnell transferring to North Texas, it’s clearly Seth Henigan’s team. Despite only being a freshman in 2021, Henigan played extremely well. He had a few massive games but did start to have a turnover issue in the second half of the season. He was a little too reliant on Calvin Austin, who is now a Pittsburgh Steeler. Spread the ball around better, figure out who steps up next at the skills positions, and find a defense that keeps at least a couple of teams under 30 points and Henigan could be great.
Wait and See
Temple: Don’t let 2022 impact how you feel about Stan Drayton. It really isn’t his fault. He inherited a mess and it’s going to take time to fix this. There are four quarterbacks on the roster for Temple. D’Wan Mathis returns after he tested the transfer portal and couldn’t find a new home. For better or worse, he’s probably the starter again in 2022. He didn’t provide much in 2021, though. Justin Lynch is gone, having transferred to Northern Illinois. EJ Warner is a freshman. TJ Pergine is a walk-on. Redshirt sophomore Mariano Valenti is the only quarterback besides Mathis with experience. He threw for 73 yards in a game against Navy.
Navy: Navy remains, due to being a service academy, incredibly difficult to assess. They’re just doing something completely different than anyone else by running the triple option and recruiting future naval officers. Tai Lavatai and Xavier Arline were the two quarterbacks last season and they’re both back as juniors, now. Expect Lavatai to be the starter moving into 2022. He gives Navy just a little balance by being a threat that has to be accounted for in the passing game. That doesn’t mean he’ll throw a lot, just that he’s capable. This opens up the running game, where he’s decisive in the triple option.