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AAC POWER RANKINGS: Houston leads the way in 2016, with parity a close second

This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Stay tuned! The AAC's complete, and now it's time to stack 'em up.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference run-through (previously: Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt), 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. This is just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them.

Win projections for each team are based on odds. If you're given a 60 percent chance of winning a given game, your projection gives you 0.6 wins. Keep this in mind when you look at the projections for everybody from the AAC below, and think about how many tossups this conference race is going to have. It's going to be fantastic.

Nobody is projected higher than 5.4 wins in conference, and only three teams are projected lower than 3.6. Somebody's going to win those tossups and separate from the field a bit, but while we all think Houston is the favorite (and I think I agree), every other top team has plenty of hurdles.

Tier 1

1. Houston
2. USF
3. Temple

I know Houston fans are tired of me calling their team lucky, but there was definitely luck involved in the Cougars winning 13 games as opposed to 10 or 11. Still, their S&P+ rating was a bit artificially low because of Greg Ward Jr.'s injury, and I don't think they'll have a problem exceeding projections this year.

But they still might not be the clear favorite to win the conference, not with USF returning so much (or perhaps a few unlucky breaks along the way).

I'm putting Temple in the top tier because of sheer faith in Phil Snow's defense. The Owls have to replace some difference-makers, and their projections are dinged for that, but I like the backups a lot.

Tier 2

4. Memphis
5. Navy
6. Cincinnati
7. UConn

Any of these could make a run to the AAC title game without surprising me too much. If the efficiency aspects of Navy's offense -- quarterback, fullback, offensive line -- click despite turnover, the Midshipmen are a top-tier team. If Memphis' new QB is able to establish an early rhythm, the Tigers could thrive post-Fuente. If Cincinnati actually keeps its QB and secondary healthy for once (and stops getting so many bad turnover bounces), the Bearcats' upside is as high as anybody's.

As with Temple, I'm putting UConn in this tier with a leap of faith. I love that Bob Diaco is building the anti-AAC team, with solid defense and a slow tempo. The Huskies are perhaps more likely to be a Tier 3 team this year, but I think they have leap potential.

Tier 3

8. ECU
9. Tulsa

With ECU's new coaching situation and Tulsa's shoddy defense, it would be a surprise for either to make a conference title run. But with a few breaks, either could finish with eight wins or so.

Tier 4

10. UCF
11. SMU
12. Tulane

One of these three will be bowling this year. I just can't decide which.

UCF has potential for a fast bounceback after last season's collapse, SMU's offense could be as awesome as its defense is terrible, and if Willie Fritz is able to establish an offensive rhythm, the defense he inherits might be good enough to turn Tulane around quickly.

Still, these three are starting from the back. All three fell pretty far recently.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

AAC West

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
Houston 13-1 (7-1) 44 53 7.7 (5.3) 68 58% (72% / 44%)
Memphis 9-4 (5-3) 55 77 6.5 (4.2) 88 54% (40% / 68%)
Navy 11-2 (7-1) 20 66 7.3 (4.8) 96 45% (34% / 56%)
Tulsa 6-7 (3-5) 94 93 5.5 (3.6) 79 70% (73% / 67%)
SMU 2-10 (1-7) 104 98 4.7 (2.9) 76 81% (97% / 65%)
Tulane 3-9 (1-7) 120 122 3.8 (1.8) 80 64% (54% / 75%)

AAC East

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
USF 8-5 (6-2) 50 41 7.9 (5.4) 49 79% (89% / 70%)
Temple 10-4 (7-1) 49 61 8.0 (5.0) 73 63% (73% / 53%)
Cincinnati 7-6 (4-4) 74 70 6.9 (4.2) 64 69% (55% / 82%)
UConn 6-7 (4-4) 87 81 5.8 (3.7) 77 82% (94% / 70%)
ECU 5-7 (3-5) 76 78 6.0 (4.1) 75 73% (85% / 60%)
UCF 0-12 (0-8) 125 99 4.7 (2.9) 59 92% (99% / 84%)