After the harsh breakup of the Big ‘Least’ in 2012, many suspect that the new conference that was born because of the breakup, the American Athletic Conference, will be the weakest of all in the BCS. And to all of those who believe that, you are probably right. Nevertheless, time will move on and the AAC will obtain a BCS Bowl bid in 2013 to the dislike of college football fans around the nation. But in the meantime, here is my preview of the 2013 American Athletic Conference.
1. Louisville Cardinals
The Louisville Cardinals enter the 2013 season with a tremendous surge of confidence, after being Big East champions in 2012 and defeating Florida in the Sugar Bowl in 2012. High expectations are on the 2013 team, as they should be. Senior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returns, and he will enter the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate and a top NFL prospect. The Cardinals also welcome back 700-yard back Senorise Perry and top wide receivers DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland. The Cards are also the only team in the country to be returning all eleven starters on their defense, and that’s already to a squad that was 36th in the nation in points per game last year. Look for Louisville to breeze through hysterically easy schedule and become American Athletic Conference champions in 2013.
2. Cincinnati Bearcats
In 2012 Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux torched defenses for over 1700 yards and 13 touchdowns, all while only playing in eight games. Legaux will do much of the same in 2013, along with running back Ralph Abernathy and receivers Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum. On defense, the Bearcats return six starters, so they will have to rely on defensive playmakers such as linebacker Greg Blair for success. Cincinnati will likely have a successful season, and if they were to upset Louisville in the season closer, they could be the AAC champs.
3. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
There are many factors that will affect Rutgers’ season, but the one most prevalent is the quarterback play of Gary Nova. Nova thre for 2695 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, but that also came with 16 picks. A breakout player for the Scarlet Knights will likely be junior running back Savon Huggins, who racked up 410 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore. The 6-6, 250 wide receiver Brandon Coleman will be the top pass-catcher, but it is going to be vital for Rutgers to repeat defensively what they did last season. In 2012 the squad was 4th in the nation in opposing points per game, allowing their opponents an average of only 14 points. If Rutgers finds their marquee playmakers on offense, and repeat their defensive success, then the team could find themselves in a very good position for 2013.
4. Central Florida Knights
Central Florida, who is coming off a 10-win season in the Conference-USA, decided to join the American Athletic Conference in the offseason and in my opinion, will reap the rewards. Junior quarterback Blake Bortles, who passed for over 3000 yards and 25 TD’s as a sophomore, will be the undisputed leader of the team and could lead the Knights to overacheive in 2013. Junior running back Storm Johnson also returns, and he will fit right in with playmaker wideouts Rannell Hall and J.J. Worton. The defense will be the weakness of the team, as they only return five starters and will have trouble filling in the holes with the recruiting classes they have pulled in the past couple of years.Look for Central Florida to surprise a lot of people in 2013.
5. Houston Cougars
After nearly cracking the BCS in 2011, Houston mightily struggled in 2012 and limped out with a 5-7 record. Although, the 2013 Cougars return a solid 15 starters, including senior quarterback David Piland, who lead Houston to the 11th ranked pass offense last year despite a 5-win season. The Cougars do lose their top rusher and receiver from a season ago, but among top offensive returning players are running back Kenneth Farrow and wide receiver Daniel Spencer. Like many of the teams in the AAC, the Cougars will have a weak defense, but Houston overall will have an average season.
6. Southern Methodist Mustangs
SMU, another team that will be switching conferences in 2013, and they will not have as much luck in the coming year. They are losing literally everything on offense, including their top passer, rusher, and receiver from a year ago. They also only return three starters on defense, and will get blown out in several games in 2013. They do miss Louisville in the schedule, but will have to cook up something special to have much success on the gridiron.
7. Connecticut Huskies
Unlike many squads in the AAC this year, Connecticut’s strength will be in their defense. In 2012, they allowed under 20 points a game, and although they only return five starters on the defense, the Huskies should field a good one in 2013. On offense, Connecticut will have to make a drastic turnaround, after fielding one of the worst in the country a season ago. The Huskies are returning eight starters, but they are losing starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer. Connecticut could be a program on the downfall, and look for them to struggle in 2013.
8. Memphis Tigers
For the Memphis Tigers to have success in 2013, senior quarterback Jacob Karam will have to find a top receiver. Junior wide receiver Keiwone Malone presents a great target for Karam, and junior running back Brandon Hayes could have a breakout season. Although, these are all players with little experience, and their defense is not much better. The Huskies were just 81st in the country in opposing points per game, and though they return eight starters, the Tigers will struggle in 2013.
9. Temple Owls
Many believe that Temple is a program on the rise, but it will not happen in 2013. Though they welcome back eight starters on offense, they lose running back Montell Harris, and not to mention they will not bring back a receiver that had more than 363 yards next year. On defense, six starters come back, and Temple will struggle again in 2013.
10. South Florida Bulls
In 2012 South Florida was the disappointment story of the Big East, and the way things are shaking up 2013 could be the same story in the AAC. They return a total of ten players (4 offense, 6 defense), and the Bulls will not bring a player that totaled more than 534 yards of offense last year. Recent recruiting suggest that South Florida could be on the rise in the future, but the Bulls will limp through the 2013 season.