The 2018 American Athletic Preview with the Game of the Year, Players of the Year, top pro prospects, big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight, and more.
Preview 2018: American Athletic Preview
What else could you possibly want out of your Group of Five conference other than to be considered just this close to being a Power Fiver?
Forgetting for a moment that it’s absolutely ridiculous that the Big 12 hasn’t figured out that adding Houston, UCF, USF and either Cincinnati or Memphis is the TV market move to take the league to another level, for now, the American Athletic Conference is checking a whole lot of boxes.
It has had its stars. From UCF last season, to the Tom Herman Houston teams before that, to the Memphis team that beat UCLA and continues to be entertaining, to the USF program that appears to have staying power, to the Temple and Navy teams that won their bowl games, the league can compete. It’s holding its own.
UCF beating Auburn sure helped that cause.
Of course, the problem for Group of Five programs is always three or four dead weight programs every season that drag down the schedule strength, but as long as the top-end teams in the conference are doing their part, the American Athletic Conference will earn more and more respect.
Helping the cause is how the league has become that next tier up for the coaches to earn their stripes.
There might be a few Mountain West coaches here and there who are using the league as a stepping-stone, but Justin Fuente, Scott Frost, Tom Herman, Matt Rhule, Willie Taggart and Chad Morris have shown that with a little success, a giant job at a big-time program is quickly possible. And that’s attracting the talent.
Josh Heupel, Luke Fickell, Mike Norvell, Major Applewhite and Geoff Collins might all have a lot to prove, but they’re all talents with Next Big Gig Up potential – and that’s a good thing.
Mix the upwardly mobile young guys with Charlie Strong, Ken Niumatalolo, Sonny Dykes, and even Randy Edsall and Willie Fritz, and this is one well-coached league.
This season, there might not be the superstar team like last year’s UCF, but Strong’s USF team looks every bit as good as last year’s version. Applewhite has attracted what seems like every decent grad transfer, Memphis will be great again if it can find a defense, and UCF will still be fantastic, even if it’s not national championship-good.
Navy is Navy, Tulsa can bounce back fast if the offense starts to work again, and Fickell is cranking up the recruiting that will eventually make Cincinnati good.
Now, the league is every bit as much of a watch as the rest of college football. The teams are good, the coaches are great, and after last year, the games have proven to be thrilling.
The conference has worked hard to get to this point. Now it’s time for the college football world to enjoy it.
American Athletic Team That Will Surprise
The idea of being a surprise is a bit relative, considering SMU was okay last year and went bowling. This season, under new head coach Sonny Dykes, the Mustangs will struggle a bit out of the gate and be written off, but will surprise when it turns it on late in the season to rip through home games against Houston and Memphis to shake up the West race.
American Athletic Team That Will Disappoint
This is based on the hypothesis that the offense will be just a wee bit worse and the defense won’t improve enough to pick up the slack. There will be some amazing moments, but the team that was this close to winning the American Athletic title last year will have problems with the Navy and Tulane option attacks on the road and will be stunned in at least one shootout against East Carolina or SMU.