Tag Archives: Bob Diaco

Reviewing Our 2016 College Football Predictions

Deshaun Watson and Clemson won the 2017 College Football Playoff versus Alabama. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

Reviewing Our 2016 College Football Predictions

Prior to the start of the 2016 College Football season, we made five predictions for each conference. Those can all be found here. Below we will list and then review how each prediction turned out.

FBS Independents

1. Army will beat Navy in 2016 – This was correct as Army defeated Navy 21-17. This was Army’s first win against Navy since 2001.

2. Army will reach 6 wins in 2016 – Army reached the 6 win plateau and went beyond as they finished 8-5 overall with a win in Heart of Dallas Bowl versus North Texas.

3. UMass will not top 3 wins in 2016 – Another one that proved correct. Massachusetts slumped to 2-10 in 2016, which was their first year as an Independent.

4. BYU will pull at least 3 upsets in the regular season – We missed on this one. Going by Vegas Insider’s lines, the Cougars pulled only one outright upset. BYU did cover all five games in which they were underdogs, but lost four outright.

5. Notre Dame will lose at least 3 regular season games – Perhaps we were too kind. The Irish lost 8 games and reached our magic mark of three losses by the end of September.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct.

Sun Belt

1. Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida will lead the Sun Belt in rushing – This was a risky prediction and it did not come close at all. Breida finished with 646 yards on the season while Appalachian State’s Jalin Moore led the conference with 1,402 yards.

2. Arkansas State or Appalachian State will win the Conference – This was correctly predicted. This required a Troy loss on the final day of the regular season. Both Arkansas State and Appalachian State tied for the title.

3. Texas State will not win more than 3 games in 2016 – We called this correctly, but early in the season it looked iffy. Texas State started the season with a 2-2 record, but lost all their Sun Belt games to drop to 2-10 in Everett Withers’ first season.

4. New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 56 years – This seemed like an easy call and it was. The Aggies went 3-9 on the season though they did have some entertaining games throughout the season.

5. Idaho will make a bowl game –This was another correct prediction. Idaho started 2-3, but won 7 of their last 8 games including the bowl versus Colorado State. It is a shame Paul Petrino and Idaho will be in the FCS by 2018.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 8 correct out of 10.

Conference USA

1. Rice will win the West Division – This pick was not even close. The Owls started 0-6 and even though they went .500 the final six games, they never really had a chance to win the division.

2. Old Dominion will make a bowl game – The Monarchs proved this one right. Old Dominion went 7-1 in C-USA and 10-3 overall. Their loss to Western Kentucky prevented them from competing for the C-USA Championship.

3. Charlotte’s offense will top 25 points per game in 2016 – This was correct, but barely as Charlotte scored 25.2 points per game. The 49ers had 6 games were they scored less than 25 points and went 4-8 overall.

4. North Texas will finish with double digit losses – This was wrong and in a big way. The Mean Green went 5-8 overall this year and made an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in Seth Littrell’s first season as coach.

5. Middle Tennessee will finish no worse than 2nd in the East – Another incorrect prediction. The Blue Raiders started the C-USA season well, but losses to Western Kentucky, UT-San Antonio, and Marshall saw them finish 3rd in the East Division.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 10 correct out of 15.

MAC

1. Northern Illinois will make it 7 straight MAC Title Game Appearances – This never came to fruition as the Huskies lost three MAC games and did not even reach a bowl game.

2. Western Michigan will defeat at least one Big Ten opponent in 2016 – This one was correct. They defeated Northwestern in the opening game 22-21 and then blew the doors off Illinois two weeks later in 34-10 win. They had a chance for the rare Big 10 trifecta in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin, but lost 24-16.

3. The East will be mayhem – This is a very hard prediction to quantify. Ohio ended up as the MAC East winner at 6-2 in conference play, but Miami (OH) came back from an 0-6 start to win out and reach a bowl game. Miami finished 6-2 in the conference as well. We will call this a draw and award half a point.

4. Kent State will reach six wins – This prediction was incorrect. The Flashes lost to North Carolina A&T in week two and then bounced back the next week to defeat FCS foe Monmouth. Kent State never threatened to get to 6 wins and finished at 3-9.

5. Eastern Michigan will end their four straight years of double digit losses (and not finish last in the West) – This was correct. The Eagles got off to a flying start at 4-1 and then sealed their winning season with two wins in the final three games. They finished 7-6 overall and fourth in the MAC West.

Final Result: 2.5 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 12.5 correct out of 20.

American Athletic

1. SMU will win at least four games in 2016 – This was correct. SMU could not get on a roll in a choppy season as they went 5-7 overall. They did upset Houston at home with a resounding 38-16 win.

2. South Florida will win the East Division – This one was close, but was incorrect. The Bulls had a great 11-2 season and went 7-1 in AAC play. Their lone conference loss was to Temple (7-1 AAC), the AAC Champions, thus preventing them from winning the East.

3. Houston will win the West Division and Conference title – This one was incorrect. Houston started 5-0, but finished 4-4 and placed fourth in the AAC West.

4. Connecticut will have winning season –This one ended up as incorrect. The Huskies started 3-3, but lost their last six games to fall to 3-9. The lack of offense cost them and it also cost Bob Diaco his job.

5. The Three “T” teams (Tulsa, Tulane, and Temple) will win at least 20 games combined – This was correct due to Tulsa and Temple. Temple went 10-4 overall (won the AAC Championship), Tulsa went 10-3 overall, and Tulane came in at 4-8 overall to make it 24 wins combined.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 14.5 correct out of 25.

Mountain West

1. Air Force will win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and win 10 games – This prediction was correct on both accounts. The Falcons started 4-0, then lost 3 in a row, and finished the season on a 6 game winning streak. They also defeated Navy and Army.

2. San Diego State will win the West Division – An obvious call before the season, this one was correct. The Aztecs won the West Division going away and finished 11-3 as the only team in the West with a winning record.

3. Boise State will lead the MWC in points scored and Thomas Sperbeck will lead the MWC in receiving yardage – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. Boise State’s offense never reached the expected heights as they finished sixth in the conference at 33.8 points per game. Thomas Sperbeck ended up tied for second in the conference with 1,272 yards receiving behind Tanner Gentry of Wyoming (1,326 yards receiving).

4. UNLV will make a bowl game in 2016 – This was incorrect as the Rebels could never find a good flow. They finished 4-8 overall with wins against Jackson State, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Wyoming.

5. New Mexico will make their second straight bowl game in 2016 – This prediction was correct. The Lobos started 2-3 with losses to New Mexico State, Rutgers, and Boise State, but finished with 7 wins in their last 8 games. They played, and won, in the New Mexico Bowl.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 17.5 correct out of 30.

Big 12

1. Kansas State will make a seventh straight bowl game – This was correct. The Wildcats had a sneaky good season going 9-4 overall and finished it off with a 33-28 win in the Texas Bowl over former conference foe Texas A&M.

2. Oklahoma will lose at least one game they are favored in – This prediction was correct after the first weekend of games. Oklahoma was favored by 13.5 against Houston, but lost 33-23. The Sooners finished 11-2 overall.

3. West Virginia will not win more than 7 games – This prediction was wrong. West Virginia started 6-0 to put this prediction to shame. They went on to finish 10-3 with losses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Miami (FL) as they finished 3rd in the Big 12.

4. TCU and Baylor will win 20 games or less combined – This prediction was correct. TCU underachieved going 6-7 overall while Baylor went 7-6 with Jim Grobe at the helm.

5. Texas and Texas Tech will both make a bowl game – This prediction was doubly wrong. Neither Texas nor Texas Tech had a winning record, much less made to a bowl game. Both teams finished 5-7 overall.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 20.5 correct out of 35.

ACC

1. Georgia Tech will get back to a bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Yellow Jackets went 9-4 overall on the season with losses to Clemson, Miami (FL), Pittsburgh, and North Carolina. Georgia Tech defeated Kentucky 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

2. The ACC Champion will make the National Championship – This one was correct. Clemson won the ACC over Virginia Tech and then defeated Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs Semifinal 31-0. They reached the National Championship game to face Alabama for a second straight seeason and won 35-31.

3. Pittsburgh will have a double digit win season – This prediction was close, but incorrect. Pittsburgh went 8-5 with losses to Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), and Northwestern. Only the game against Miami (51-28) was decided by more than a touchdown.

4. Boston College will average at least 25 points per game on offense and give up less than 20 points per game on defense – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. In fact, if the numbers were flipped, this would have been on point. Boston College put up 20.4 points per game on offense and allowed 25 points per game on defense. They finished 7-6 overall.

5. Duke’s bowl streak will end at four – This was correct. The schedule set up against Duke finishing with 6 wins and that is how it turned out. They defeated North Carolina Central, Notre Dame, Army, and North Carolina to finish 4-8.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 23.5 correct out of 40.

Pac-12

1. California and Oregon State will both miss a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Surprisingly, neither of these teams finished last in the Pac-12 North as that distinction went to Oregon. California went 5-7 while Oregon State finished 4-8.

2. Colorado will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct and undersold. Colorado had a great season going 10-4 overall and playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. They unfortunately had to face some tough opponents in 2016 with losses to Michigan, USC, Washington, and Oklahoma State. Still, it was a superb season.

3. The duo of Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman will rush for a combined 4,000 yards – This prediction was wrong and was not even close to being right. After stellar 2015 seasons, these two seemed big campaigns again. Christian McCaffrey finished with 1,603 yards rushing while Royce Freeman had 945 yards rushing in 2016 with both getting injured during the year.

4. Washington will not win the Pac-12 – This one was way wrong. The Huskies were never really challenged in the Pac-12 North and they easily dispatched Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game. We probably will not make this prediction again any time soon.

5. The Pac-12 will not make the College Football Playoffs –Another one that was wrong. This prediction was predicated on the idea that Washington would not win the Pac-12. Well, the Huskies DID win the Pac-12 and were a contender for the College Football Playoff all season long.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 25.5 correct out of 45.

Big 10

1. Indiana will play in their second consecutive bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Hoosiers needed to beat Purdue in the season finale to reach 6 wins and they did in a close 26-24 contest. Head coach Kevin Wilson resigned before the bowl game, which they lost 26-24.

2. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson will lead the conference in rushing – This prediction was correct. Justin Jackson had a very good season leading the Big 10 with 1,524 yards on the ground. He beat out guys like Saquon Barkley, Corey Clement, Rodney Smith, Devine Redding, Mike Weber, and Akrum Wadley for the conference rushing title.

3. Wisconsin will not win 10 games – This prediction was incorrect and happily so. As a Wisconsin fan and someone who attended the school, this is one prediction we are more than happy to eat crow on. The Badgers had what looked like a daunting schedule in the pre-season, but some teams were not as good. However, the Badgers still had to navigate their schedule after back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers finished 11-3 overall with a victory in the Cotton Bowl over Western Michigan.

4. The winner of The Game will make the College Football Playoffs – This prediction was right on the money. Despite a mid-season loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes were selected for the College Football Playoffs after defeating Michigan 30-27 in overtime despite not playing in the Big 10 Championship Game. The Buckeyes were crushed 31-0 in the Playoffs versus Clemson.

5. Iowa will be pushed to the brink by North Dakota State – This prediction was perfectly called. North Dakota State took their patented blueprint to Iowa City and defeated the Hawkeyes 23-21. Iowa finished 8-5 overall on the season.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 29.5 correct out of 50.

SEC

1. Every SEC West team will make a bowl game – This was close, but incorrect. 6 of the 7 teams made it to a bowl game with only Ole Miss not participating in the post-season. That is interesting because most had Ole Miss as a team contending for the top of the SEC West, not the bottom.

2. Kentucky will not reach that elusive bowl game – This prediction was wrong. Kentucky started 5-3 and had Austin Peay near the end of regular season to make it 6 wins. They did one better as they upset Louisville 41-38 on the road to reach 7-5 and the TaxSlayer Bowl. They lost that game 33-18 to Georgia Tech.

3. Vanderbilt will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Vanderbilt needed two late season upsets to reach six wins. They defeated both Ole Miss and Tennessee at home to reach the Independence Bowl, but were thrashed by NC State 41-17.

4. The Arkansas-Mississippi State game will determine the last place finisher in the SEC West – Another one that was close, but ultimately incorrect. Arkansas and Mississippi State played a 58-42 thriller in Starkville late in the season, but it was the Egg Bowl a week later that determined the final team in the SEC West. Ole Miss lost that day 55-20 to finish in the basement after a season of high expectations.

5. Missouri will win the SEC East – It is fitting we round this article out with the worst prediction. Before the season, we thought Missouri’s defense would carry the team, but it ended up being the offense that was key. The Tigers started 2-2 with a 26-11 loss at West Virginia and a 28-27 loss at home to Georgia. It was all downhill from there as they lost five in a row. They won 2 of their final 3 games (Vanderbilt and Arkansas) to finish 4-8 overall. Perhaps this prediction is better suited for 2018 or later.

Final Result: 1 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total finishes at 30.5 correct out of 55 (55.5%).

Hopefully we can do better in 2017 with our predictions.

Five Predictions For The American Athletic Conference In 2016

SMU head coach Chad Morris (right) talks with TCU head coach Gary Patterson. Morris has SMU going the right way. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images North America)
SMU head coach Chad Morris (right) talks with TCU head coach Gary Patterson. Morris has SMU going the right way. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For The American Athletic Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for American Athletic Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the American Athletic Conference as the twelve teams remain the same. The East division is composed of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, South Florida, and Temple. The West division is made up of Houston, Memphis, Navy, SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa.

Here are five predictions for the American Athletic Conference in 2016:

1. SMU will win at least four games in 2016 – The Mustangs were hit hard in 2014 when they tumbled to 1-11 while losing June Jones early in the season as he left the programChad Morris came in for 2015 and he worked wonders with an offense that put up only 11.1 points and 269 yards per game in 2014. Last year, the offense went up to 27.8 points and 383 yards per contest. There are nine starters back from that side of the ball and there is no reason that the offense cannot continue the upward trend.

The defense needs a lot of work as they gave up 45.7 points and 502 yards per game last year. They have seven starters back, but the second year of schemes should improve those numbers. SMU will face the duo of North Texas and Liberty in the first three weeks. They also have toss-up games (but still winnable) against Tulane, Tulsa, and East Carolina with all three of those on the road. Any type of improvement on defense in 2016 should result in more than two wins for the Mustangs.

2. South Florida will win the East Division – This will not be an easy task for USF, but they can certainly do it. They have seven starters back on both offense and defense that saw solid gains from 2014 to 2015. The offense went from 17.2 points and 305 yards per game to 33.6 and 442 in 2015. The defense went from 27 points and 403 yards per game in 2014 to 22.9 and 380 yards in 2015. Both sides of the ball will be tested early in the season as the Bulls face Northern Illinois at home, Syracuse on the road, and Florida State at home in weeks two through four.

In conference, they also have a tough schedule as they will play Cincinnati, Temple, and Memphis all on the road. The return of their dual quarterback Quinton Flowers (2,296 yards passing and 991 yards rushing), running back Marlon Mack (1,381 yards and 8 touchdowns), the top receiver Rodney Adams (45 catches for 822 yards and 9 touchdowns), and five of their top 6 tacklers from 2015 will help navigate the team through their tough schedule.

3. Houston will win the West Division and Conference title – This is not going out on much of a limb. The Cougars exploded last year under the first year of Tom Herman’s offensive schemes to the tune of 40.4 points and 484 yards per game. The defense was just as impressive giving up 20.7 points and 384 yards per game. In 2016, the offense returns six starters including Greg Ward at quarterback, which is good news because he led the team in rushing with 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The defense will have five starters back and the biggest concern has to be the back five in this nickel scheme. There is only one starter returning from the secondary that allowed 275 yards passing per game and 55.6% completions. Luckily, the front six allowed just 109 yards per game and four starters are back.

Houston will have to contend with games on the road against Cincinnati, Navy, and Memphis a year after being the duo of Cincinnati and Memphis by a total of four points at home. It will not be easy to repeat, but this Houston team looks very capable of having another excellent season.

4. Connecticut will have winning season – The Huskies have quite a bit going for them in 2016. They will be in year three of Bob Diaco’s tenure, have ten starters returning on offense, six starters back on defense, and a very manageable schedule. The defense improved dramatically from 2014 to 2015. They allowed 29.8 points and 379 yards in 2014 and then 19.5 points and 355 yards in 2015. The six starters returning this year are joined by the talented Florida State transfer EJ Levenberry at linebacker.

The offense made a tiny improvement from 15.5 points and 276 yards per game in 2014 to 17.2 points and 310 yards in 2015. The team managed to improve to the record from 2-10 to 6-7 (including a bowl loss to Marshall). The offense will have to continue to improve in 2016, but having 10 starters back and the third year of recruits leaves no room for excuses.

The schedule is ripe for the Huskies to have their first winning season since 2010. They open with Maine, but also face ACC opponents Virginia, Syracuse, and Boston College through the season all of whom finished 4-8 or worse. In conference, they have games against Central Florida, East Carolina, and Tulane that are winnable. They face Navy, Houston, Cincinnati, South Florida, and Temple, but the defense should be solid enough to keep them in most games and an upset or two is definitely plausible (see their 20-17 win over Houston last year).

5. The Three “T” teams (Tulsa, Tulane, and Temple) will win at least 20 games combined – The idea that each team has to win at least 7 games (including bowls) seems pretty straight forward, but Tulsa and Tulane both play in the very strong West division. Tulsa will be in their second year under Philip Montgomery with seven starters back on offense and defense. Tulane went 3-9 in 2015, but now have a new head coach in Willie Fritz and he is changing offensive schemes (check out his Sam Houston State teams from 2010 through 2013). The defense for Tulane will be solid with eight starters back, but the offensive change is worrisome in regards to the win column.

Temple is the best of these three teams and went 10-4 last year, but had 19 starters back. There will be six starters back on both offense and defense including quarterback PJ Walker an running back Jahad Thomas. The defense will be very solid again under Matt Rhule and they have an easy schedule to open the season outside of Penn State on the road (they did win against the Nittany Lions at home in 2015) with Army, Stony Brook, and Charlotte all at home. 9 wins are probably needed by Temple to be correct. They have the defense to do it. This one will be close especially if Tulsa (or Temple) under-performs.

The Prediction Schedule

With the AAC predictions above, there are now predictions for five conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

2015 College Football Preview: AAC East

Tommy Tuberville has finish third and first in his first two years with Cincinnati. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
Tommy Tuberville has finish third and first in his first two years with Cincinnati. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: AAC East

Part seven of the Sports Enthusiasts’ College Football Preview delves into The American with a specific look at the East Division. Below is a schedule of the 2015 College Football Preview.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at the AAC’s East Division.

1. Temple Owls

It has been a wild ride for the Temple football program. They have gone from the Big East in 2004 to Independent status in 2005 to the MAC from 2007 through 2011. They then went back to the Big East for the 2012 season before the name change to The American beginning in 2013. Matt Rhule is in his third season and led Temple to a 2-10 record in 2013 before improving them to 6-6 last year.

2015 will easily be Rhule’s most experienced team. He has nine starters back on offense and the biggest loss was top wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick had 53 catches for 730 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2014. Quarterback PJ Walker returns after putting up 2,317 yards with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last year. Walker was more inconsistent last year than in 2013 and he will need to develop some receivers to have a better season. Running back Jahad Thomas ran for 384 yards as the top rusher in 2014, which will need to be improved upon drastically. He could be replaced by freshman TJ Simmons or sophomore Zaire Williams. With all five starters back on the offensive line, there should be no reason the offense cannot produce the highest output under Rhule.

In 2014, the defense made the biggest strides under Rhule. They gave up 17.5 points and 347 yards per game last year after giving up 29.8 points and 474 yards in 2013. 2015 could be even better with 10 starters back. There is not much to say about the defense other than their only loss was at strong safety, but the replacement, Will Hayes, started seven games in 2014 at three different positions. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich was easily the team’s leading tackler after recording 117 stops, 1.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups, and an interception. The defense will be excellent again in 2015.

Temple opens the season with a home game against Penn State (Rhule’s alma mater) before back-to-back road games against Cincinnati and Massachusetts. They face Charlotte on the road after a bye week and also have Notre Dame coming to town on Halloween to complete their non-conference schedule. They have to play Memphis from the West, but get them at home and also get SMU (road) and Tulane (home) from the West Division. As for the East opponents, they will face Cincinnati and East Carolina on the road while facing Central Florida at home. It is weird to say this, but Temple looks like the team to beat in the East with their defense.

2. Central Florida Knights

George O’Leary has been magnificent at Central Florida including leading the Knights to the 2013 Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor. 2014 was a step back for UCF, but 2015 could go either way.

The offense returns five starters, but the big losses were at wide receiver where the top four from 2014 are gone. The biggest loss is Breshad Perriman after his 50 catches for 1,044 yards and 9 touchdowns. UCF does return quarterback Justin Holman and he threw for 2,952 yards with 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Also returning are running backs William Stanback (697 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Dontravious Wilson (347 yards and 3 touchdowns). Three linemen also return and the offense could do well this year if a few receivers are developed.

The defense has only four starters back in 2015 after giving up 19.2 points and 299 yards per game last year. The strength this year will be on the defensive line with three starters returning after giving up only 104 yards rushing and 3.2 yards per carry in 2014. Thomas Niles will be one of the ends after recording 49 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year. They will need to be solid because the back seven return only one starter in linebacker Chequan Burkett. He recorded 40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss last year. The secondary losses 148 career starts as well as all four starters, which is going to hurt the Knights. It will be tough to produce the same overall numbers in 2015 as they did in 2014.

Central Florida opens with Florida International (home), Stanford (road), Furman (home), and South Carolina (road) to start the season before beginning AAC play. From the West, they will play Tulane and Tulsa on the road while getting Houston at home. In division play, they will have Temple and Cincinnati at home and play East Carolina at home. O’Leary has stout defenses even when there are not a lot of starters returning (i.e. 2011 with 4 starters returning UCF allowed 18.3 points and 303 yards per game). That makes UCF dangerous to contend for the division title.

3. Cincinnati Bearcats

Tommy Tuberville left Texas Tech after the 2012 season to come to Cincinnati. 2015 will be his third year and he has led the Bearcats to a record of 9-4 in each of this first two seasons. 2015 is also a season of change for The American Conference, as they are now divided into two divisions. How will Tuberville do in the inaugural season of the East?

On offense, there are eight starter back this year led by quarterback Gunner Kiel. Kiel threw for 3,254 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions despite some injury issues and he will have seven of his top eight receivers back from 2014. The top threats are Shaq Washington, who had 66 catches for 761 yards and 4 touchdowns and MeKale McKay, who had 44 catches for 725 yards and 8 touchdowns. Mike Boone returns at running after running for 650 yards with 9 touchdowns as a freshman despite being the #2 guy. The offense will be explosive again in 2015.

The defensive side of the ball sees only five starters return with the bulk of the losses coming in the front seven. Only Silverberry Mouhon returns on the line after recording 45 tackles, 4 sacks, and 1 tackle for loss. It is a similar story with the linebackers as only Leviticus Payne is back and he recorded 57 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 1 interception last year. The secondary is undoubtedly the strength going into the season with three starters back led by Zach Edwards. Edwards was second on the team in tackles with 121 and also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense have up 27.2 points and 439 yards per game in 2014 and it looks like that might happen again this year.

It will be an interesting start to the season for Cincinnati with two conference games in the first four weeks. They open with Alabama A&M and Temple at home before a road trip to Miami (OH). They have a quick turnaround of five days to face Memphis on the road and then get Miami (FL) at home on October 1. They have another road trip to BYU two weeks later after a bye. They also have to face Houston on the road out of the West. It will be another winning season for Tuberville, but the games against Central Florida (home), Temple, and East Carolina (road) as well as if the offense can outscore the opponents will decide where they finish.

4. East Carolina Pirates

A simple look at the 8-5 record for East Carolina in 2014 would suggest it was a slightly above average season for them. However, it was much bigger than the record indicates with wins over then #17 Virginia Tech on the road 28-21 and at home to North Carolina 70-41 in back-to-back weeks. Ruffin McNeill enters his sixth year in charge of his alma mater after compiling a 37-27 record. Let’s see what is in store for the Pirates.

The offense brings back six starters, but the losses are big at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Shane Carden threw for over 4,700 yards in 2014 and his main targets were Justin Hardy (121 catches for 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Cam Worthy (55 catches for 1,106 yards and 4 touchdowns). Kurt Benkert will take over at QB, but he has only throw 10 passes in his collegiate career. While the losses of the top two receivers will hurt, Isaiah Jones put up some good numbers in 2014 with 81 catches for 830 yards and 5 touchdowns. Running back is probably the easiest of the skill positions to replace for ECU with Chris Hairston running for 528 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 79 carries last year. The offensive line does return four starters, which should provide good running lanes and ample time to the QB. However, the offense will not be as potent this season as it was in 2014.

The defense will have five starters back from a unit that allowed 25.8 points and 367 yards per game last year. That was done with only three returning starters for the 2014 season. Defensive line returns only one starter from last year, but Terrell Stanley is back after starting 12 games in 2013 and then missing all of 2014. Linebacker has two starters returning led by Zeek Bigger. Bigger had an astounding 140 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary will have two starters back including 2014 1st Team ACC cornerback Josh Hawkins. Hawkins had 44 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 11 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions. The defense should produce similar numbers as they did in 2014.

East Carolina has FCS Towson to start the season before a road trip to Florida and another road trip to Navy to start conference play. They face Virginia Tech at home before back-to-back road games again with SMU and BYU on the schedule. The other team from the West, in addition to Navy and SMU, is Tulsa on October 17 at home. ECU faces fellow East contenders Temple and Cincinnati at home while getting Central Florida on the road. The final two weekends consist of UCF and Cincinnati. East Carolina will need to get their offense going right away if they are to challenge for the East, but look very good to reach another bowl game in 2014.

5. South Florida Bulls

2015 will be year three of Willie Taggart’s reign at South Florida. He has gone a combined 6-18 in his first two seasons, but the offense and defense have both improved in those two seasons.

In 2015, the offense has only four starters back and that will make it a bit harder to continue improving the offense. 2014’s starting quarterback Mike White is gone after transferring from the program and that leaves a battle between sophomore Quinton Flowers and former Penn State player Steven Bench. White threw for only 1,639 yards with 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last year so the new QB should be able to top those stats. Marlon Mack will be the workhorse running back after running for 1,041 yards and 9 touchdowns as a true freshman. Mack also was named to the 1st Team AAC last year. The top wide receiver is gone, but Rodney Adams is back after catching 23 passes for 323 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite the low amount of returning starters the offense should produce more than the 17.2 points and 305 yards per game it did in 2014.

The defense is in a better situation with seven starters back including all of the top five tackles from a year ago. There is only one returning defensive lineman in Eric Lee, but both linebackers return in this 4-2-5 system. One of those linebackers, Nigel Harris, was second on the team with 77 tackles, 2 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. Three of the back five starters return from a unit that gave up 220 yards passing in 2014. Jamie Byrd was the top tackler in 2014 with 95 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions and he will be expected to help out in large volume again. The defense gave up 27 points and 403 yards per game last year and should improve on that this year.

South Florida opens with Florida A&M at home before back-to-back road trips to ACC teams Florida State and Maryland. They end their non-conference schedule against a third ACC team in Syracuse on October 10. From the West, USF will face contenders in Memphis (home) and Navy (road) as well as SMU (home). The game at Connecticut on October 17 is likely to decide who finishes last in The American’s East division. USF is probably a year away from contending for a bowl game appearance.

6. Connecticut Huskies

Bob Diaco took over at Connecticut in 2014 after Paul Pasqualoni was let go just after the start of the 2013 season. He went 2-10 in 2014 with only 12 returning starters on his team and UConn has not been to a bowl game since 2010 when they faced Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl (they lost 48-20).

Six starters are back for Diaco from an offense that scored 15.5 points and gained 276 yards per game last year. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer has departed while Tim Boyle threw for 335 yards with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions last season. Boyle will most likely play second fiddle again this year as North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs is likely to win the starting job. The running game only averaged 107 yards per game in 2014 and that should improve with four of the top five backs returning. Wide receiver sees the top two guys depart while Noel Thomas (26 catches for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns) is one of the top targets. The offense should be better in 2015.

The defense gave up 29.8 points and 379 yards per game in 2014 with six starters back. In 2015, there will be eight returning starters with two on the defensive line and the top four tacklers are back as well on the line. Linebacker looks like an excellent unit for UConn with former Florida transfer Graham Stewart (94 tackles, 2 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss), Marquise Vann (105 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss), and Florida State transfer EJ Levenberry all expected to start. Byron Jones is gone from the secondary, but three starters return to help make this a solid unit. The defense looks like it will improve in 2015 as well.

UConn opens the 2015 season with home games against Villanova and Army. The travel to face Missouri before a home game against Navy and another road game against BYU. From the West, they will have the aforementioned Navy, but also Tulane (road) and Houston (home). As stated before, the game against South Florida on October 17 will most likely decide the AAC East’s bottom team. Diaco does have this team headed in the right direction.

Overview

The American Athletic Conference’s East division looks incredibly competitive. Any one of four – Temple, Cincinnati, Central Florida, or East Carolina – can win the division. South Florida and Connecticut will be battling to stay out of the cellar. Below is a recap of the predicted order of finish.

1. Temple

2. Central Florida

3. Cincinnati

4. East Carolina

5. South Florida

6. Connecticut

Check back on Friday, July 24 for The American’s West Division preview as well as the predicted winner of the conference championship game.