2013 American Athletic Conference Football Preview
By Marc Lawrence
A bad day at the office is nothing compared to the bad year the Big East has been forced to endure.
Losing foundation blocks Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC was just the start. The conference officially began to fall apart at the seams when West Virginia bailed out and left for the Big 12 last year.
TCU then reneged and did a u-turn, that on the heels of the announcement that Louisville and Rutgers were headed out as well, with the Cardinals off the ACC and the Scarlet Knight to the Big Ten next year.
To top it off the once powerful Big East Basketball Conference made like a shrinking violet and instead became the Catholic 7.
Yeah, it’s safe to say the Big East had a bad year.
New kids on the block this football season include Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF. In addition, next year they will take in East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa, while Navy will join forces in 2015.
Hence, by the time the 2015 football season arrives the conference that started playing football in 1991 will be comprised of 12 teams, only two of who (Rutgers and Temple) were original members. And starting July 1st this season they officially will become known as the American Athletic Conference.
From that point forward they will look to stand tall and forever be known as… THE AMERICAN.
Truth be told, the new moniker is in place for one simple reason: so as not to confuse the AAC with the ACC.
Lost in the turmoil is the fact that the Big East was the only FBS conference that had seen each of its members play in at least one bowl game the past three seasons, and the only league which saw each team with at least one bowl win the last five years.
Then there was 2011, when every Big East team won at least five games last season – the first time since 1905 that an existing Bowl Subdivision conference had every member finish with at least five wins.
And let’s not forget the conference also owned the best postseason record (46-29, .613) of any Bowl Subdivision conference since the inception of the BCS in 1998, including a stellar 10-3 SUATS mark against the powerful SEC.
So where did it all go wrong?
Blame is on the newest disease to enter the world of college athletics: expansion.
And for that we can thank the cable networks for killing the golden goose.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2013 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine.
Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.
Team Theme: A COMMITMENT, OF SORTS
A day after promising Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt that he would return to coach the Red Raiders in 2013, Tommy Tuberville agreed to a $2.2M per year contract with Cincinnati. That goes hand in hand with former 5-star quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel coming to Cincinnati. Kiel originally committed to Indiana, switched to LSU and eventually went to Notre Dame for one season before bailing out and coming aboard with Tuberville in Cincinnati. The good news for the Bearcats is that regardless of who is behind center (6th-year senior Brendon Kay and senior Munchie Legaux are also in the mix), they will be well protected by the best offensive line in the Big East, one that returns intact after allowing just 15 sacks in 2012. Also on the positive side, UC opens the Tuberville era against eight straight teams that ended the 2012 season with a losing record.
Stat You Will Like: The Bearcats will face five foes that will be playing with a week of rest this season, tying Memphis for the most in the FBS in 2013.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. SMU (11/9)
Team Theme: HOWLING AT THE MOON
The Huskies failed to regain their bite in a ‘mission’ season in 2012 when a season-ending loss to home Cincinnati kept them home for the holidays for a 2nd straight year. The biggest downfall was the shoddy showing at home at Rentschler Field where a 3-3 effort paled in comparison to the Huskies’ 46-18 all-time overall mark here, including 8-0 SU and ATS off back-to-back losses. Even stranger, head coach Paul Pasqualoni, the Big East career leader with 117 wins (including 67 in conference play) has seen the home team log a 109-70-1 SU and 100-71-5 ATS mark in his career. If the defense once again holds up its end of the bargain, and behind an experienced offense, the Huskies could do well switching from a missionary to the doggie position in 2013.
Stat You Will Like: The Huskies are 8-0 SU and ATS at Rentschler Field when playing off back-to-back losses.
PLAY ON: vs. Cincinnati (10/19) - *Key
Team Theme: POTTY TRAINED
After beating Penn State, 30-14, in the 2011 Ticket City Bowl in his first game on the sidelines for the Cougars, Tony Levine proceeded to pee his pants in his first start of the season last year when he laid a Texas-sized egg in a 30-13 loss to Texas State as a 34.5-point home favorite! It didn’t go much better thereafter as the Cougars’ offense and defense each slipped over 100 YPG on the season en route to a precipitous 5-win campaign. Not unexpectedly, a new OC and DC were promptly hired. An experienced group of 43 juniors and seniors will dot this year’s roster, as 21 letter-winners (including eight who received all-conference honors) return with a combined 303 career starts: 181 on offense and 122 on defense. As they move to the Big East, it’s time this group sheds the Pampers.
Stat You Will Like: The Cougars’ 48,315 total yards of offense is tops in the nation since 2006.
PLAY ON: vs. SMU (11/29) - *Key
Team Theme: STRONG NUMBERS
Claiming back-to-back Big East titles the last 2 seasons, including an 11-win campaign for the 4th time in school history last year, the Cardinals are indeed the team to beat in the conference in 2013. Led by Big East Offensive Player of the Year QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville won back-to-back games against ranked teams for the first time ever in 2012. Bridgewater welcomes back his top three receivers - all of whom caught 40 or more passes last year - plus 9 starters on defense. Thus the question begs: is their room for improvement or is a crash-and-burn in order? We say that knowing the last Big East team to win 11 games (Cincinnati) went 4-8 SU and 4-7 ATS the next season in 2010. You may call it paranoia. We call it precautious. However, given the neighborhood in which they reside, along with a soft Charmin-like schedule, don’t be surprised to see this team in another BCS bowl.
Stat You Will Like: Strong has coached in 23 bowl games in his collegiate career.
PLAY ON: vs. Connecticut (11/8) - *Key
Team Theme: CODE: BCS
The Tigers made huge strides under first-year head coach Justin Fuente last season, doubling their 2011 win-total while winning each of its final three games of the 2012 season. After ranking next-to-last in rushing yards in 2011, the Tigers nearly doubled that total last year. With 16 starters back this campaign, including QB Jacob Karam, excitement resonates with Memphis moving up to the Big East conference this season. “We have taken a step forward but we have to understand when you take a step forward, you don’t take a break. We will play bigger, more physical teams,” said Fuente. His demand of ‘Tiger Code’: 1. Fundamentally Sound, 2. Physically Fit, 3. Mentally Tough – will be put to the test in 2013.
Stat You Will Like: The Tigers’ 3 Interceptions thrown last year were the fewest in school history.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (10/12)
Team Theme: FLOODING THE WIN COLUMN
When Kyle Flood led his troops onto the field against Kent State last season he was in select company. That’s because since 1990 there were a total of only 13 first-year Division-1 coaches to open a season 7-0 heading into Game Eight. Not only did Flood become the first to lose straight-up as a favorite (-13.5) in this role, his perfect start ended in a disappointing 2-4 finish. To make matters worse, a school-record seven players were drafted into the NFL, including three by the New England Patriots. The good news is six of the seven home games this year will be against teams that ended the 2012 season with a losing record.
Stat You Will Like: Rutgers is 51-4 SU in games in which it outrushes its opponent.
PLAY ON: vs. Louisville (10/10)
Team Theme: JUNE IS IN BLOOM
After a head-scratching 1-11 debut with the Mustangs in 2008, SMU head coach June Jones has led his charges to bowl games each year since, setting a school-record in the process. QB Garrett Gilbert, former high school player of the year, returns after throwing for 2,952 yards on 53% completions with 15 TDs and 15 INTs. To his credit his numbers increased with alarming precision over the second-half of the season when the Ponies rallied from a 2-4 start to close the campaign with a 5-2 flurry. One of six teams to leave CUSA for the Big East, the heat will be on early this season with SMU taking on teams coming off winning campaigns in each of its first five games of the season.
Stat You Will Like: June Jones is 6-0 ATS as a dog of less than 18 points versus undefeated opposition.
PLAY ON: vs. TCU (9/28)
Team Theme: RETURN TO THE GOLDEN RHULES
When Matt Rhule decided to vacate his position as OL coach with the NY Giants and accept the head coaching position at Temple, he became the 3rd new head coach for the Owls in the last four years. A former 6-year assistant at the school, including the last three seasons under Al Golden, Rhule is a disciplinarian and will command the respect of his team. He inherits a veteran squad that sank like the Titanic in its debut in a BCS conference last year. After opening the Big East season with a pair of wins, Temple lost its next five conference games en route to a 4-win season, thus making them a ‘mission team’ in 2013. Thus, we’re betting they win more than the one game they did ‘In The Stats’ last season. It’s our rule.
Stat You Will Like: Temple won 26 games the previous three seasons prior to last year.
Team Theme: TRICK OR TREAT
With nary a revenge game on this year’s schedule, head coach George O’Leary will need to dig deep into his bag of tricks to keep his team inspired. After all, the Knights won their fourth CUSA Eastern division title last season with just eight years in the league. Plenty of talent returns with no less than six all-conference performers back in 2013, led by QB Blake Bortles who tossed for over 3,000 yards last year. Bortles is joined by five of his top six wide receivers. Meanwhile former Miami RB Storm Johnson is anxious for a breakout season after gaining over 500 yards in a backup role behind departed star RB Latavious Murray (1106 yards and 15 TDs). Lots of talent here with little motivation. No thanks.
Stat You Will Like: The Knights ranked 16th in FBS turnover margin last season.
Team Theme: GOOD BULL HUNTING
When South Florida hired Skip Holtz in 2010 he went on record as saying, “We can win conference championships here. We can win national championships here.” But it did not happen. The Bulls dismissed Skip Holtz and hired Willie Taggart as its new head coach last winter following the worst season in the program’s 16-year history. The bottom line was turnovers (-19 net) along with Injuries that decimated the Bulls last season when they lost quarterback B. J. Daniels, #3 on the Big East’s career total yardage list. By the end of the season tight end and emergency backup QB Evan Landi was taking snaps. Taggart was a prep standout at Bradenton Manatee High School and returns home after having taken the Western Kentucky program from 0-20 to its first bowl appearance in 2012. The Bulls are in good hands.
Stat You Will Like: USF has lost 14 of its past 16 contests against Big East opponents and were 5-16 overall in league play under Holtz.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Connecticut (10/12)
Be sure to check back here next Monday, June 10th for Marc’s 2013 ACC Football Preview!
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