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2015 AAC football power rankings, topped by Cincinnati and Navy

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Cincinnati is your AAC favorite this year, but barely. Any of six other teams could throw a significant challenge the Bearcats' way.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

At the end of each conference run-through (here's the whole AAC), I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them.

In the last five years, the American/Big East has finished with at least a three-way tie at the top four times. It had a four-way tie in 2012.

Now, as it moves to the two-divisions-and-a-championship-game format, it will end up with just one champion ... but two opportunities to use tie-breakers.

There is serious logjam potential in both divisions; in the West, Memphis should regress just enough to open the door for Navy or a dark horse like Houston or Tulane. In the East, Cincinnati and UCF will start the year feeling like favorites, with Temple and ECU not far behind.

This might not be a power conference, but if you like down-to-the-wire finishes, this could again be the conference for you.

Tier 1
1. Cincinnati
2. Navy
3. UCF
4. Memphis
5. Temple

As I put it in Cincinnati's preview, I think the Bearcats are the AAC's safest bet. They absorbed countless injuries last year and played like a top-25 team for most of the last two months. Of course, injuries could strike again, and I know damn well the dangers of putting any expectations whatsoever, good or bad, on a Tommy Tuberville team. But I said "safest bet," not "slam-dunk lock."

If any of these five teams wins the conference, it won't be much of a surprise. Navy returns quite a bit (including a star quarterback) from its best team in five years, one that would have had the second-best F/+ rating in the conference last year. UCF is still crazy-athletic, if inexperienced in key areas. Memphis, last year's best team, could bring enough back on offense to offset defensive loss, and Temple was basically a more extreme Memphis (worse offense, better defense) that returns all 11 defensive starters.

After Cincinnati, I have moved these four teams around countless times since starting this post. They are almost interchangeable.

Tier 2
6. East Carolina
7. Houston

These two have the most party-wrecking capability, but I think they have one or two more flaws than the Tier 1ers.

ECU has to replace its best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and defensive lineman, and while there is a wealth of candidates, they're dealing with potential more than production. If there's a team I'm being unfair to, it's probably the Pirates, who ranked almost even with UCF in F/+ (and on the field, for that matter) and return more starters. My gut could be wrong.

Though Houston returns an excellent backfield -- one new head coach Tom Herman will know how to utilize -- the Cougars are starting over in the receiving corps and the defensive front seven. Still, they're only a couple of steps behind.

Tier 3
8. Tulane

I have no idea what to do with Tulane. I expect the Green Wave to go bowling, and I expect them to be quite a bit better than the four teams below, but it feels like they're behind the rest of the pack.

Tier 4
9. Tulsa
10. SMU
11. South Florida
12. UConn

These four graded out dramatically lower than everybody else in the AAC, and while at least a couple could improve by quite a bit, the teams above them should, too. Three have made exciting coaching hires within the last 16 months, but the rebuilds are going to take a little while.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

AAC East

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
Cincinnati 9-4 (7-1) 47 90 90 77 -0.2 12 (8, 4) 8.8 (+0.2)
UCF 9-4 (7-1) 60 38 52 59 -1.2 9 (5, 4) 8.4 (+0.6)
Temple 6-6 (4-4) 67 77 71 79 +0.8 19 (8, 11) 6.6 (-0.6)
ECU 8-5 (5-3) 61 71 76 75 +1.1 11 (6, 5) 9.4 (-1.4)
USF 4-8 (3-5) 123 78 50 52 +1.9 12 (4, 8) 3.8 (+0.2)
UConn 2-10 (1-7) 119 90 90 77 -5.2 14 (6, 8) 2.2 (-0.2)

AAC West

Team 2014 Record (Conf.) 2014 F/+ Rk 5-Yr F/+ Rk 2-Yr Rec. Rk 5-Yr Rec. Rk 2014 TO Luck/Gm Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)
2014 2nd-order wins
Navy 8-5 (N/A) 44 55 78 97 -1.0 11 (5, 6) 7.4 (+0.6)
Memphis 10-3 (7-1) 41 104 85 89 +1.0 11 (8, 3) 10.1 (-0.1)
Houston 8-5 (5-3) 73 53 79 71 +0.8 10 (5, 5) 7.6 (+0.4)
Tulane 3-9 (2-6) 93 115 81 78 +1.3 15 (8, 7) 3.5 (-0.5)
Tulsa 2-10 (2-6) 117 63 83 76 -1.1 17 (10, 7) 1.9 (+0.1)
SMU 1-11 (1-7) 127 82 86 73 -1.4 15 (8, 7) 1.2 (-0.2)