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3 Players to Watch in the AAC — Week 1

The AAC’s opening slate of games are finally upon us and, as a result, an opportunity for guys to break out comes again.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 UCF at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every time I open up the GIF keyboard available on Twitter, I see a GIF of Drake celebrating on the sidelines of a Toronto Raptors game.

That’s the mood right now as the AAC college football season is officially here.

While college football’s week zero slate provided some fun matchups and a nice appetizer to a jam-packed year of football, its action has nothing on the week one slate, which features 11 AAC games.

That list includes some high-profile games — including East Carolina hosting NC State and a matchup between No. 24 Houston and defending C-USA champion UTSA — and some lower-profile games, including a Thursday night matchup between South Carolina State and UCF.

Still, the excitement is palpable as the start of the season comes ever so close to reality.

These AAC games also offer fans the first opportunity to watch some players that drew hype during the team’s fall camps and it also offers some players an opportunity to break out to start the season.

With that, here are three players to keep an eye on for week one’s AAC slate.

Temple QB D’Wan Mathis

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

The start of the Stan Drayton era at Temple offers the Owls a chance to get off to a winning start, as they travel to Durham, NC to play a rebuilding Duke program.

Although Temple open as underdogs according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings, this might be the AAC’s best chance to get a Power 5 victory.

In games like this, the responsibility often falls on the team’s starting quarterback to play a good game and, for Temple fans, their QB1 is a familiar face.

After a quarterback battle during camp, Drayton named incumbent starter D’Wan Mathis as the team’s starting quarterback, beating out Virginia Tech and North Dakota State transfer Quincy Patterson II.

Mathis wasn’t perfect last season but the former Georgia Bulldog had some bright moments, including a strong performance against Memphis where he threw for 322 yards and 3 touchdowns.

As Temple travels to Duke, its biggest matchup may come in Mathis against a Duke defense that struggled against the pass a season ago.

Last season, Duke allowed 311 passing yards a game, placing them near the bottom of the nation. The Blue Devils also allowed 32 passing touchdowns and placed No. 114 in defensive FEI, which measures how much of a per-possession scoring advantage a team would have over another opponent if a game was played on a neutral field.

Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace, Jr.

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Cincinnati hasn’t announced who will start at quarterback and, according to head coach Luke Fickell, they won’t announce one prior to the start of their season opener against the No. 19 Arkansas Razorbacks.

For the sake of this article, they won’t need to either because the real matchup lies on the defensive side of the ball.

Under head coach Sam Pittman, the Arkansas Razorbacks like to bully teams between the tackles and make life a challenge for the opposing defenses. As a result, strong play from your linebackers is not only a recommendation, but a necessity.

The good news for Cincinnati is that linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr. is a very good player who can impact games.

The Miami (OH) transfer finished with 124 total tackles last season, including 14 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Pace was equally as efficient in coverage too, finishing with 4 passes defended and an interception.

Given Arkansas’ desire to be a honkin’ menace with their interior runs, look for someone like Pace in that Cincinnati front 7 to be a driving force should the Bearcats find themselves on the winning side.

SMU RB Tre Siggers

NCAA Football: Tulane at Southern Methodist Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, welcome to the Tre Siggers revenge game. Again.

After transferring to SMU from North Texas prior to the start of last season, Siggers registered 727 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground, and now, he’s set to take over as the team’s lead running back.

Siggers had a solid performance against North Texas last season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, but there’s an opportunity for an even better game this season given the departure of Ulysses Bentley IV.

Why Siggers over the likes of quarterback Tanner Mordecai? It’s simply done to how effective North Texas was last week in stopping the run.

In a lot of ways, the Mean Green was able to shift UTEP’s game script completely and force them into becoming a one-dimensional offense, which forced quarterback Gavin Hardison to throw the ball 48 times.

Overall, North Texas held UTEP to just 107 yards rushing on 30 attempts, including just 36 yards to Ronald Awatt, who serves as UTEP’s lead running back.

SMU could still beat North Texas if they’re forced to go one-dimensional, sure but doing so on the road can be a recipe for disaster at times.