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After previewing all 12 AAC football teams for 2018, here’s how I think the conference stacks up

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UCF and Memphis will again be among the American Athletic Conference’s best. Can a team like Houston, Temple, or USF prevent a repeat title game?

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference previews run-through, 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. We have already completed the Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC and MWC.

Bill C’s AAC power rankings

Here’s a link to every team’s data, and each team’s name below is linked to its preview.

Tier 1

1. UCF
2. Memphis
3. Houston

Honestly, you could make an excellent case that UCF belongs in a tier of its own. I fully expect the Knights to play at a top-20 level or so again in 2018, despite turnover on defense and in the head coach’s office.

But both Memphis and Houston could be capable of top-30 work as well, or perhaps even better if a couple of new pieces click. Grouping them here says more about them than UCF.

Tier 2

4. Temple
5. USF
6. Navy
7. SMU

I really like how Temple looked over the last month of 2017, and with the pieces USF has to replace, I think the Owls are the No. 1 threat to UCF in the AAC East. (USF is going to be awesome in 2019, though.) Of course, USF is the one that gets to host UCF, not Temple...

Tier 3

8. Tulane
9. Tulsa
10. Cincinnati

In last year’s AAC power rankings, I had UCF ranked eighth. I wanted to put them higher (my entire UCF preview was basically “They could overachieve again! But...”), but it took just a few too many assumptions to do so. Either way, congrats in advance to Tulane for a 13-0 run and NY6 bowl win. Magic number eight.

Tier 4

11. UConn
12. ECU

Below, I choose the best offensive and defensive players from each team. For UConn, both selections are sophomores. I like a lot of the moves Randy Edsall is making, but they’re probably another year or two from bearing fruit.

How does S&P+ see things?

Here’s how my statistical system has the AAC laid out for 2018, with zero equating to an average FBS team. (You can find full 2018 S&P+ projections here.)

2018 projected standings (per S&P+)

Projected conference wins, with overall wins in parentheses.

East Division

  1. UCF 6.7 (9.8)
  2. USF 5.1 (7.9)
  3. Temple 4.3 (6.6)
  4. Cincinnati 3.9 (6.0)
  5. UConn 1.9 (3.4)
  6. ECU 1.7 (3.1)

West Division

  1. Memphis 5.5 (8.5)
  2. Houston 5.0 (7.6)
  3. SMU 4.3 (6.1)
  4. Navy 3.5 (6.4)
  5. Tulane 3.3 (4.9)
  6. Tulsa 2.8 (4.1)

As much as I try to talk myself into Temple being good this year, the Owls and everyone else in the East will need UCF to take a larger than expected step backward. In the West, though, things could come down to Houston at Memphis on the last Saturday before championship week. And the shrift I’m giving SMU might be a little too short.

How these teams looked in 2017

UCF and USF were the closest to having both excellent offenses and excellent defenses, while Memphis and Temple each had one serious plus unit. Temple’s offense improved just enough at the end of the season to suggest a more balanced squad this time around. That’s what I’m banking on, anyway.

AAC offenses heading into 2018

Navy was mega-efficient as always but needed a few more big plays from its slot backs to be full-on Navy. We’ll see if the Midshipmen have the slots this time around.

AAC defenses heading into 2018

USF’s defense was low-key fantastic last year, no matter what that amazing UCF-USF shootout might lead you to believe.

Best 2018 offensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Cincinnati: QB Hayden Moore
  • ECU: WR Trevon Brown
  • Houston: QB D’Eriq King
  • Memphis: LT Trevon Tate
  • Navy: QB Malcolm Perry
  • SMU: QB Ben Hicks
  • Temple: WR Isaiah Wright
  • Tulane: SLOT Terren Encalade
  • Tulsa: C Chandler Miller
  • UCF: QB McKenzie Milton
  • UConn: RB Kevin Mensah
  • USF: RT Marcus Norman

This is a quarterback league, and Milton is one of the nation’s best.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida
McKenzie Milton
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Best 2018 defensive players by team

  • Cincinnati: LB Perry Young
  • ECU: SS Devon Sutton
  • Houston: DT Ed Oliver
  • Memphis: NB Austin Hall
  • Navy: FS Sean Williams
  • SMU: DE/OLB Kyran Mitchell
  • Temple: LB Sam Franklin
  • Tulane: CB Donnie Lewis Jr.
  • Tulsa: FS McKinley Whitfield
  • UCF: ILB Pat Jasinski
  • UConn: S Tyler Coyle
  • USF: OLB Greg Reaves

The thought of Houston being led by Oliver on defense and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles (plus King) on offense is pretty tantalizing. But I think Memphis still holds an overall edge. Plus, the Tigers get to host the Cougars at the end of the year.

NCAA Football: Houston at South Florida
Ed Oliver
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports