Tag Archives: Keenan Reynolds

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

Quinton Flowers (#9 above) and South Florida might run away with the AAC East Division. (Jason Behnken/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

The 2017 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This edition is the second and we once again will focus on the mid-majors conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 20 Through 16

20. (MAC) Akron will win the MAC EastTerry Bowden will be in his 6th year at Akron and this team looks poised for a big season. 8 starters are back from an offense that put up 27.4 points and 387 yards per game. The 2016 offense had only 3 starters back and now the top quarterback and running backs return. The offense has to contend with the loss of the top 2 receivers, but do have talent to replace them.

The defense has 7 starters back from a group that allowed 33.6 points and 466 yards per game. The 2016 version had four starters back while 2017 will see much more experience and add in Miami (FL) transfer James King. The defense should be closer to 2014 numbers of 23.1 points and 371 yards per game allowed.

Akron has a potentially difficult conference schedule with all 8 games packed into 8 weeks. They start with Bowling Green (away) and Ball State (home) before back-to-back road games at MAC West contenders Western Michigan and Toledo. Even a split of those two games would be huge for the Zips. Akron ends the conference season Buffalo (home), Miami (away), Ohio (home), and Kent State (home). The run in is favorable for them to steal the MAC East from Miami and Ohio.

19. (MWC) Boise State will lose at least three games – This does not seem like much of a prediction, but let’s provide some historical context. Since the Broncos have moved from the FCS to FBS, they have only 1 stretch of three or more seasons when they lost at least three games: 1996-1999. That coincided with their move to the top level of collegiate football. Boise State has shown a great pattern of bouncing back when they have a multi-loss season.

The 2017 Boise State team has five starters back on offense and four on defense, which will hurt the Broncos. The duo of Jeremy McNichols (RB) and Thomas Sperbeck (WR) depart for veteran quarterback Brett Rypien, but Rypien still has a lot of talent around him. They will need to step up to help him and the team. The defense loses the top four tacklers and six of the top seven from 2016. Again, there is talent on both sides of the ball to help absorb some of the departures, but that lone does not mean success.

The schedule is difficult for Boise State. They take on Troy (home), Washington State (away), Virginia (home), and BYU (away) in the non-conference portion. In the Mountain West, they have to play San Diego State (away), Wyoming (home), Nevada (home), Colorado State (away), and pesky Air Force (home). The Falcons have beaten Boise State three straight seasons although they look weaker this season.

There is no doubt Boise State is talented enough to win double digit games and even the Mountain West, but it looks like they will see a third straight 3+ loss season for the first time in nearly two decades. That is still impressive given their relatively short history in the FBS.

18. (MWC) Air Force will reach a bowl game – In 10 seasons under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have only failed to reach a bowl game once. The non-bowl season was in 2013 when they went 2-10 going winless in conference play.

A 10th bowl game in 11 seasons is not a slam dunk for Air Force. They have six starters back on offense led by experienced quarterbacks Arion Worthman and Nate Romine. Top receiver Jalen Robinette has moved on, which may lead to more rushing plays. That will put extra pressure on Worthman and Romine as well as Tim McVey, who is the top returning running back by a wide margin. The pieces are there for Air Force to do well on offense.

The real worry on paper is the defense, which returns just one starter and loses 12 of the top 13 tacklers. Grant Ross is back at linebacker and he was the third leading tackler in 2016. The defense allowed 26.2 points and 365 yards per game in 2016 with 9 starters back so on paper it looks like they will take sizable a step back. The last time Air Force had only a few starters back on defense was in 2012 when they had 2. That group did well enough to allow only 29 points and 409 yards per game, which represented marginal increases of .6 points and 23 yards from the 2011 numbers.

Air Force will need a few upsets to reach 6 wins and a bowl game, but the path is there. Air Force takes on VMI (home), Michigan (away), Navy (away), and Army (home) in a non-conference schedule sprinkled throughout the first 9 weeks. From the West division they will play San Diego State (home), UNLV (home), and Nevada (away). Their best chances are the latter two though a porous defense will hurt their opportunity to reach 6 wins.

The Falcons have to deal with a contentious Mountain division of New Mexico (away), Colorado State (away), Wyoming (home), Boise State (away), and Utah State (home). The Falcons could win 3 of those games, which would give them a great chance to get to a bowl.

17. (AAC) 9 teams will make a bowl game – The American Athletic Conference has been on an upward swing since the start of the chaotic conference realignment that began 7 years ago. 2013 was the first season of AAC football and they sent 5 of their 10 members to a bowl game.

2014 saw 5 of 11 teams go to bowl game followed by their best season when 8 of 12 teams went to a bowl game. 2016 finished with 7 teams going to a bowl game and a lot of preseason hype around Houston.

This year looks like a great opportunity for the AAC to put 75% of its members into a bowl game. The AAC has 7 bowl tie ins and the oversupply of bowl games make it easier for teams to participate than ever before. (Side note: there is actually one less bowl game than 2016 with the cessation of the Poinsettia Bowl).

In 2017, South Florida is the clear favorite for the East division, but Temple (10-4 in 2016, but a new coach this year) and Central Florida (6-7 in 2016) also look likely to get back to a bowl game. The bottom half of the East looks like a conundrum between Cincinnati, Connecticut, and East Carolina. The Bearcats underachieved in 2016 and now have Luke Fickell in his first season. They could improve enough to get a bowl bid.

Connecticut welcomes Randy Edsall back to Storrs after a six year absence. Edsall made a bowl game in each of his last four seasons and has 7 starters on both offense and defense to work with. He could steal a bowl bid though the offense will need a lot more than 14.8 points per game. East Carolina is the weakest team in the East and they will be in year two of Scottie Montgomery’s reign. They have a tough schedule out of conference (West Virginia, Virginia Tech, BYU) and will probably struggle to top the 3 win total they put up in 2016.

The West looks very competitive between Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, and Navy. Any of those four could win the division and even SMU and Tulane look capable of getting a bowl bid.

SMU will be in year three with Chad Morris and he has 9 starters back on offense and 5 on defense. They should open 4-1 to give them great confidence to grab the last 2 needed wins. Tulane has a bit more work to do in the second season of Willie Fritz. He has 8 starters on both offense and defense, which looks like a good thing. The offense improved 4.4 points on offense and 8.6 on defense in his first season. Another improvement like that in 2017 and Tulane will be bowling.

To summarize, we like South Florida, Temple, Central Florida, and Cincinnati from the East division to make a bowl game. From the West, we like Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, Navy, and SMU to make a bowl game. Those are the 9 we like to make a bowl, but any 9 will do for this prediction.

16. (AAC) – South Florida and Memphis will play in the AAC Championship GameSouth Florida is in year one under Charlie Strong and has a great situation on his hands. He walks into 7 returning starters on offense and 9 on defense. Quinton Flowers will lead the offense that put up 43.8 points. Flowers led the team in both passing and rushing last year and could have an even better year.

The 2016 defense actually allowed quite a few points at 31.6 per game and 482 yards per game. Now 9 starters are back for Charlie Strong, which should mean a big improvement on that side of the ball. Their toughest games all come at home against Temple, Houston, and Tulsa.

The West division is wide open and we will go with Memphis to win it. All the pieces are back on offense for Mike Norvell between quarterback Riley Ferguson, running back Doroland Dorceus, and receivers Phil Mayhue and Anthony Miller. An offense that put up 38.8 points per game in 2016 now has 9 starters back and looks set to put up over 40 points per game.

The defense for Memphis has 6 starters back from a group that allowed 28.8 points and 455 yards per game. The top two tacklers, Jonathan Cook (88) and Genard Avery (81), are both back as are 5 of the front 7. The main concern is the secondary, but they do have 2 Oklahoma transfers in the mix.

Memphis will have tough road games at Central Florida, Houston, and Tulsa, but winning two of those games would put them in a great position to make their first AAC Championship Game.

That concludes the second set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 15 through 11.

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 8

Mark Helfrich and Oregon sit at 2-4 mainly due to a bad defense. Can they turn it around in the second half of the season? (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images North America)
Mark Helfrich and Oregon sit at 2-4 mainly due to a bad defense. Can they turn it around in the second half of the season? (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 8

We are closing in on week eight and there are some big games this week. Miami (FL) is at Virginia Tech, TCU is at #12 West Virginia, #6 Texas A&M travels to face #1 Alabama in the biggest game of the week, #17 Arkansas is at #21 Auburn, #2 Ohio State plays Penn State on the road, and #23 Ole Miss is at #25 LSU.

Those are big games, but we will take a look at some of the games not listed above that could have an impact on week eight and beyond. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Oregon at California (10/21 at 10:30 PM) – This game will be nationally televised, but the implications are huge. Oregon is on a four game losing streak and sits at 2-4 overall. They had a bye last week and one can only assume the defense was the focal point (Oregon has given up at least 35 points each game during their losing streak).

California has alternated between wins and losses this year to get to 3-3. Their offense has been very good this year too with Davis Webb at the helm (2,256 yards at 60.8% with 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions), which presents a great opportunity against Oregon’s porous defense. Oregon’s defense gives up 522 yards per game including 284 yards through the air.

Oregon needs this win more than California, but the road to end the season for both teams is not easy. Oregon faces Arizona State, USC (away), Stanford, Utah (away), and Oregon State (away) after the Cal game. How many wins are there for the Ducks with this defense?

California has USC (away), Washington, Washington State (away), Stanford, and UCLA after playing Oregon. Their schedule is tough as well and a win will help both teams if they want to make a bowl game.

2. Indiana at Northwestern (10/22 at 12 PM) – On paper, Northwestern seems like the favorite given their back-to-back road wins over Iowa and Michigan State. As of this posting, the Wildcats are favored by a point and a half. Indiana is a scrappy team though and they could make things interesting.

The key in this game, and for Northwestern’s offense, is Justin Jackson. He ran for 339 yards and 3 touchdowns (all in the opener) on 83 carries through his first four games for an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Against Iowa and Michigan State, he has rushed for a combined 359 yards and 3 touchdowns on 60 carries for an average of 6 yards per rush.  In turn, he allows the passing game to flourish especially if the ball is headed towards Austin Carr. Carr has 5 touchdowns in the last two games, but he has been producing all season long (at least 5 catches and 73 yards in every game).

For Indiana, this year’s team is different. It is no longer just about out-scoring the opponent and hope the defense can make a stop or two. The defense is a cohesive unit that can consistently play well in 2016. For 2015, the defense gave up 37.6 points per game compared to 25.3 points per game through six games this year. The hiring of Tom Allen has no doubt improved the defense and they will have their hands full with Justin Jackson this week.

Both teams enter this game at 3-3 and it is clear the winner will be in a very good position to make a bowl. However, a loss can be overcome with both teams having 3 winnable games in their final five contests.

3. Akron at Ball State (10/22 at 3 PM) – This is not the biggest game of the week for the MAC. That is listed two slots below, but this is a big game for both teams in their respective division.

Akron is currently a joint-first with Ohio in the MAC East at 2-1 in conference play. They are coming off a shellacking at the hands of the top MAC team Western Michigan 41-0. It was not pretty as the offense put up 283 yards of offense and the defense gave up 585 yards. The offense did not get into Broncos’ territory until late in the first half.

Ball State got their first conference win this year over Buffalo after losses to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. James Gilbert, who has been good this year, had a monster game with 264 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 34 carries. It was his fourth 100 yard rushing game this year and third in a row (at least 2 rushing touchdowns in the last three games as well). It is worth noting that Jarvion Franklin ran for 281 yards and 1 touchdown in Western Michigan’s win over Akron in week 7.

How good is Ball State? How will Akron respond to their drubbing? Those questions will be answered this week and beyond in Ball State’s case. At this point, Akron can only have one more loss prior to their game at Ohio to end the season if they want to have a chance at winning the MAC East. Ball State still has to face Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo this year, so a win may be crucial this week just to try to make a bowl game.

4. Memphis at Navy (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – This is a big AAC West Division tilt. Memphis is 2-0 in the AAC while Navy is 3-0 in conference. Plus, Navy has the win over Houston from their last game so a win here would really help the Midshipmen given their schedule to end the season.

The defense for Memphis has been solid this year giving up 19.3 points per game and 140 yards rushing per game. The latter is more pertinent against the triple option of Navy. Navy’s offense puts up 32.2 points per game and 262.4 yards rushing per game. In last year’s game, Navy put up 374 yards rushing against Memphis, but that offense included Keenan Reynolds and and Chris Swain, both of whom are no longer there.

Memphis had Paxton Lynch in 2015 and now Riley Ferguson has taken over at quarterback. Ferguson has done well throwing for 1,596 yards (65.5%) with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Memphis’ toughest opponent this year has been Ole Miss, a game in which Ferguson threw for 343 yards, but with no touchdowns and three interceptions. If he can continue to be accurate and avoid interceptions, this team has a good chance of winning.

Memphis still has to face Tulsa, SMU, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston to end the season so a win here will help and give them some confidence. Navy will play South Florida, Notre Dame, Tulsa, East Carolina, SMU, and Army to end the season.

5. Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – Here is another MACtion game, but this one is the marquee matchup this week.

Eastern Michigan has been a surprise this year. They are 5-2 and sit one win away from their first bowl game since 1987. They defeated MAC East contender Ohio on the road last week 27-20. Brogan Roback threw for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions to lead the Eagles.

Western Michigan has been a surprise too, but on a national level. They defeated both Northwestern and Illinois on the road in their first three games. They have looked like the best team in the conference to this point and have a legitimate chance at making a big bowl if they go undefeated and win the MAC Championship. Zach Terrell has been fantastic this year throwing for 1,597 yards with 17 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions. He also has 142 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns. Jarvion Franklin has been good the last three weeks, which coincides with Jamauri Bogan missing time due to an ankle injury. Franklin has 582 yards and 4 touchdowns on 87 carries the last three games (6.7 yards per carry).

This will be the toughest team Eastern Michigan has faced this year in MAC play (possibly all year if one wants to consider WMU better than Missouri). They will have their hands full, but could keep it interesting. A win for Western Michigan would put them in a commanding position for the MAC West title until their game against Toledo in the season finale.

6. Old Dominion at Western Kentucky (10/22 at 7 PM) – Old Dominion enters this game at 4-2 while Western Kentucky is 4-3. The Monarchs two best opponents so far this year have been Appalachian State and North Carolina State, which ODU lost. Those two games were played on the road and the combined final scores were 80-29. Their other four games have all been 2+ touchdown margin of victories.

As for Western Kentucky, they played #1 Alabama and obviously got crushed, 38-10. However, their other two losses were to Vanderbilt 31-30 in overtime and 55-52 against Louisiana Tech. They have close wins against Middle Tennessee (44-43 in 2 OT last week) and Miami (OH) 31-24.

Old Dominion runs a balanced offense (yardage is 53% passing and 47% rushing). David Washington leads the offense and while his numbers are not impressive, he is efficient. He has thrown for 1,250 yards with 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He also has 158 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He completes only 56.4% of his passes, but has only had 1 game with a negative TD to INT ratio (Appalachian State when he threw 1 INT and no touchdowns). The running game will be led by Jeremy Cox (420 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Ray Lawry (373 yards and 3 touchdowns).

Western Kentucky is led by former South Florida quarterback Mike White. He has thrown for 2,098 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. In two seasons at USF, he threw for 2,722 yards with 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His favorite targets are Taywan Taylor (54 catches for 870 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Nicholas Norris (43 catches for 647 yards and 8 touchdowns).

If Old Dominion’s pass defense, which gives up 224 yards per game,  can stop Western Kentucky’s offense that puts up 372 yards passing per game (and 526 yards of total offense per game), they will have a chance. The more time they run off the clock, the better chance they have of winning this game.

With both teams in the thick of the C-USA East division race, this game will be important. ODU has yet to face FlU and will also play Marshall and Southern Miss. Western Kentucky will also play FIU and Marshall, but have one loss already in C-USA.

Check back next week for the week nine edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Five Predictions For the FBS Independents In 2016

Army QB Chris Carter. Navy has defeated Army 14 straight years, but will 2016 be the year Army ends that streak? (Elsa/Getty Images North America)
Army QB Chris Carter. Navy has defeated Army 14 straight years, but will 2016 be the year Army ends that streak? (Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For the FBS Independents In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is time for predictions. Below, five predictions will be made for the FBS Independents for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful by the end of the season.

The FBS Independents have a new team joining the fray as Army, BYU, and Notre Dame welcome Massachusetts. UMass was part of the MAC, but has not find a suitable landing spot yet.

Here are the five predictions for the FBS Independents in 2016:

1. Army will beat Navy in 2016 – This would be huge for Army as Navy has won 14 straight in one college football’s greatest rivalries. Army has lost by 7 points or less in four of the last five years and now return 16 starters. Navy returns just 8 starters with only one of those on offense while also losing the incredible Keenan Reynolds. A lot of factors point in Army’s favor to end the 14 year losing streak.

2. Army will reach 6 wins in 2016 – The Black Knights have not been to a bowl game since 2010 when they beat SMU 16-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl. This year they have winnable games against UTEP, Buffalo, Lafayette, North Texas, Wake Forest, and Morgan State. They also face Temple, Rice, Duke, Air Force, Notre Dame, and Navy. They could conceivably beat Rice or Navy, but that is a daunting task to defeat more than one of those (preferably Navy as seen above). Still, there is plenty to like about this team returning 16 starters and having an easy schedule to reach 6 wins.

3. UMass will not top 3 wins in 2016 – Last year the Minutemen went 3-9 with 19 starters back. While the offense was solid again, the defense improved only marginally and now only five starters return to that unit. In addition, the schedule looks tough for UMass as they face three SEC squads in Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. They have winnable games against Old Dominion and Wagner plus they face Tulane and FIU. They will need to win all four of those games to prove this one wrong.

4. BYU will pull at least 3 upsets in the regular season – This prediction is based solely on the killer schedule the Cougars are facing: Arizona (neutral), at Utah, UCLA, West Virginia (neutral), Toledo, at Michigan St, Mississippi State, at Boise State, at Cincinnati, Southern Utah, Massachusetts, and Utah State. Of the 12 teams on their schedule, only Massachusetts did not play in the postseason as FCS Southern Utah played in the FCS Playoffs (lost to Sam Houston State in the first round). BYU does have the Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams combination in the backfield as well as 8 starters back on defense. It is hard to think that BYU will not be able to win at least three games in which they are not favored.

5. Notre Dame will lose at least 3 regular season games – The Irish had an excellent 2015 season going 10-3 despite the early season loss of Malik Zaire. DeShone Kizer did well in his absence as both players return. The real problem is the amount of talent they lost on the line and at receiver. Replacing Will Fuller will not be easy though having Torii Hunter and Corey Robinson waiting will certainly help somewhat. The defense returns 5 starters but not the talented Jaylon Smith and also miss two starters at linebacker. The Irish have to face Texas (away) Michigan State (home), Stanford (home), Miami (FL), Virginia Tech (home), and USC (away). Three losses could be conceivable though there is plenty of talent on the Notre Dame roster.

Check back soon for five predictions for the Sun Belt Conference in 2016.

The Prediction Schedule

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 West

Navy has joined a conference for the first time in their history. How will they fare in The American in 2015? (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)
Navy has joined a conference for the first time in their history. How will they fare in The American in 2015? (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: AAC West

We are up to part eight in the 2015 College Football Preview with a closer look at The American Athletic Conference’s West division. Also included is the Championship Game prediction for The American. As a reminder, below is 2015 College Preview Schedule as well as links to conferences already previewed.

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

Below is the preview for each team in The American’s West Division.

1. Navy Midshipmen

2015 will be very historic for the Naval Academy. For the first time, they will be playing in a conference after 124 years of independence. It will be Ken Niumatalolo’s eighth year at Navy and he has only had a losing record one time, which was in 2011.

There will be only four starters back on offense for Navy, but the most important one is quarterback Keenan Reynolds (pictured at the top). Reynolds ran for 1,191 yards and 23 touchdowns while also throwing for 843 yards with six touchdowns and 3 picks in 2014. He also had some injury issues and will have his top target back in Jamir Tillman (20 catches for 386 yards and 3 touchdowns). With the triple option, the quarterback will also need to have his running backs help out. Chris Swain ran for 693 yards as the third leading rusher. Watch out for DeBrandon Sanders, who ran for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns on 29 attempts for an average of 8 yards per carry. The last time Navy had only four starters returning on offense, they averaged 28 points per game (2009). The offense will be fine in 2015.

The defense is in better shape with six starters back from a unit that gave up 27.3 points and 404 yards in 2014. The defense will be set up in a 3-4 scheme and has two starters back on the line with Will Anthony as the top threat. He finished 2014 with 67 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. The linebacking unit has only one starter back in Daniel Gonzales, who had 86 tackles in 2014 to finish second on the team. and also intercepted three passes. Another strength on the defense will be the secondary with three starters back. The defense should acclimate well in The American during 2015.

Navy opens with a home game against Colgate before a bye week and then facing East Carolina at home. Their other non-conference games are against Air Force at home on October 3, at Notre Dame on October 10, and, of course, the Army game on December 12 in Philadelphia. From the East, they will have East Carolina (home), Connecticut (road), and South Florida (home). They will have road games against Memphis and Houston during, but should be in contention to win The American in their first season.

2. Houston Cougars

Houston will be under the control of Tom Herman after Tony Levine was fired following a 7-5 regular season in 2014. Herman has no prior head coaching experience, but he helped coach the trio of quarterbacks at Ohio State (Braxton Miller, JT Barrett, and Cardale Jones) in 2014 that culminated in the National Championship victory. The importance of the quarterback spot in the modern game cannot be understated.

Herman will have five starters back on offense. Wide receiver turned quarterback Greg Ward Jr. threw for 2,010 yards with 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while Adam Schulz and Kyle Postma will also have a chance to win the starting QB spot. Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson are both back at running back, which will help out the QB. Farrow ran for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns while Jackson ran for 610 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ward even ran for 573 yards and 6 touchdowns as the third leading rusher. The top two receivers are gone, which will put Demarcus Ayers (33 catches for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Steven Dunbar (20 catches for 286 yards) in line to take over at receiver. The offense put up 29.8 points and 414 yards in 2014, but may do slightly worse with a new coach in 2015.

The defensive side of the ball will have six starters back, but the losses are heavy in the front six. Only one defensive lineman (BJ Singleton) and linebacker (Steven Taylor) return. The strength for the defense will be the secondary with four starters returning from a unit that allowed 200 yards passing and only 55.8% completions against them a season ago. Adrian McDonald finished 2014 with 75 tackles (third on the team) and 5 interceptions while being named to the AAC 1st Team. There will be some struggles in the front six, but the secondary should help the defense perform solidly overall.

Houston will have an easy opening week test against Tennessee Tech before a road game against Louisville. They face Texas State at home after a bye week and Vanderbilt will also come to town on Halloween (Oct. 31) to round out the non-conference portion of their schedule. In conference, Houston faces Central Florida (road), Cincinnati (home), and Connecticut (home) from the East division. Houston will face both Memphis (Nov. 14) and Navy (Nov. 27) at home and that could be the difference to win the AAC West.

3. Memphis Tigers

Memphis made a massive jump in year three of Justin Fuente’s tenure in 2014. After going 7-17 in his first two years, Fuente led Memphis to a 10-3 record in 2014 and looks to continue that momentum this year.

In 2014, the offense produced 36.2 points and 427 yards per game with nine starters returning. In 2015, there will be eight starters returning led by quarterback Paxton Lynch. Lynch threw for 3,031 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He also ran for 321 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. The top running back from 2014, Brandon Hayes (949 yards and 5 touchdowns), is gone, but the combination of Jarvis Cooper, Sam Craft, and Doroland Dorceus will try to replace him. That trio will have four starters back on the offensive line to help lead the way. 2014’s top receiver is also gone (Keiwone Malone with 45 catches for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns), but his numbers are not too much to replace. Mose Frazier had 47 catches for 405 yards and 3 touchdowns while Tevin Jones caught 33 passes for 442 yards and 3 touchdowns. Memphis should be able to put up around the same numbers they did in 2014.

Memphis’ biggest concern is the defense with only three returning starters. The three starters back, Ernest Suttles, Jackson Dillon, and Reggis Ball, will be leading their respective units. Suttles, a sophomore defensive lineman, will be joined by Latarius Brady and Mike Edwards. Dillon finished with 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss at the hybrid linebacker spot in 2014. Ball will be back at free safety as the top returning defensive back. After giving up only 19.5 points and 350 yards per game in 2014, the Tigers can expect a modest rise in those numbers with as much inexperience as they have.

Memphis will open the season against FCS Missouri state before back-to-back road games against Kansas and Bowling Green. Their final non-conference game will be at home against Ole Miss on October 17. In conference, Memphis will face Cincinnati (home), South Florida (road), and Temple (road) from the East. The deciding games will take place in the span of a week with a home game against Navy (Nov. 7) and a trip to Houston (Nov. 14). Memphis has a chance to win The American’s West division, but at the very least can expect a bowl appearance.

4. Tulane Green Wave

Tulane has been through some tough times since the turn of the century. Between 2003 and 2012, Tulane did not make a bowl game, nor did they have a winning season. Curtis Johnson ended that streak in 2013 with an appearance in the New Orleans Bowl, but lost 24-21 to UL-Lafayette. Tulane fell to 3-9 last year and Johnson will be looking for a bounce back year in 2015.

Nine starters are back for the Green Wave on offense in 2015 including quarterback Tanner Lee. As a freshman last year, Lee threw for 1,962 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Fellow freshman running back Sherman Badie is also back after running for 688 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he will also be joined by Lazedrick Thompson (533 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Dontrell Hilliard (452 yards and 3 touchdowns). Two of the top three receivers are gone while Teddy Veal returns after 40 catches for 381 yards and a touchdown in 2014. Terren Encalade finished with 20 catches for 235 yards and the receiving group should do better as long as the quarterback play is better. The offense struggled in 2014 putting up only 16 points and 347 yards per game, but those numbers should improve in 2015.

The defense will have seven starters back after giving up 28.4 points and 388 yards per game. Three of the defensive linemen return including Royce LaFrance. LaFrance had only 34 tackles last year, but recorded six sacks and 5 tackles for loss. It is rare to mention Bob Marley in a football article, but his grandson Nico Marley is back at linebacker. Nico Marley recorded 82 tackles (second on the team), 0.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and an interception while being named to the AAC’s 3rd Team last year. Two starters are back in the secondary in Parry Nickerson and Darion Monroe. Nickerson had 51 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 6 interceptions while Monroe had 73 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The defense should be able to improve on their 2014 numbers.

Tulane has a rough opening to the season with a home game against Duke and a road game versus Georgia Tech before FCS Maine visits in the third week. They face Army on the road November 14 to close out their non-conference slate. Tulane will face Central Florida (home), Temple (road), and Connecticut (home) from the East division. The tough schedule for Tulane also includes conference games against Houston, Navy, and Memphis. Tulane will be better in 2015, but the schedule makes it tough for them to reach another bowl game under Johnson.

5. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Todd Graham led Tulsa to three double digit win totals between 2007 and 2010 before leaving for Pittsburgh and then Arizona State. Bill Blankenship took over in 2011 and led Tulsa to 8 and 11 win seasons in his first two years before everything unhinged, going 5-19 his last two years. Enter Philip Montgomery for his first year in 2015.

Offense was not too much an issue for Tulsa, as they averaged 24.7 points and 413 yards per game in 2014. This year, Tulsa will have 10 starters back on offense with the only replacement being at left tackle. Dane Evans threw for 3,102 yards with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while undoubtedly looking for Keevan Lucas again. Lucas had 101 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Also back are running backs Zack Langer (801 yards and 4 touchdowns) and James Flanders (456 yards and 1 touchdown). Even with a new coach/system in place, Tulsa will be putting up some points in 2015.

The defense was a mess in 2014 for Tulsa. Despite having eight starters back, they gave up 39.3 points and 487 yards to opposing offenses. Six starters return this year with three on the line. Derrick Alexander was a monster in 2014 with 42 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles en route to making the AAC’s 2nd Team squad. Linebackers Craig Suits (81 tackles, 1 sack, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a pick) and Trent Martin (64 tackles, 1 sack, and tackles for loss) are also back. The front seven will need to better because there is only one starter back in the secondary. Safety Michael Mudoh was the top tackler for Tulsa last year with 113 stops while also intercepting two passes. The defense should not be giving up nearly 40 points and 500 yards a game in 2015.

Tulsa will face Florida Atlantic at home followed by road trips to New Mexico and Oklahoma to start the year. After opening AAC play at home to Houston, they will face UL-Monroe at home as well to finish their non-conference schedule. What hurts Tulsa in conference is that they will be facing the trio of East Carolina (road), Central Florida (home), and Cincinnati (road) from the East and those three are in contention to win the division. Tulsa should have a better season, but still have a tough road ahead of them in 2015.

6. SMU Mustangs

SMU was taken over in 2008 by June Jones and he did a great job leading the Mustangs back to a bowl game in his second season in 2009. They won that game with ease against Nevada 45-10 and Jones followed that up with three more bowl in a row (3-1 in those games). After being blown out by a combined score of 88-6 in the first two games of 2014, Jones resigned while SMU crashed to a dismal 1-11 record. Chad Morris takes over after several seasons in charge of the explosive Clemson offense.

There is no other way to talk about SMU’s offense in 2014 other than to say it was putrid. They put up only 11.1 points and 269 yards per game. Nine starters are back in 2015 and the quarterback duties will likely not be split up between three players. Matt Davis took all of the top reps in spring after throwing for 855 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions last year. Davis also ran for 613 yards and 4 touchdowns, which makes him a dangerous dual threat QB. The duo of Prescott Line and Daniel Gresham will battle it out at running back, but the top running back in 2014 was Line with 256 yards and 4 touchdowns. Two of the top three receivers are gone while Darius Joseph (54 catches for 379 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Deion Sanders Jr. (son of former NFL player Deion Sanders; 23 catches for 188 yards) will be likely to take over starting spots. The entire offensive line returns, but will have to learn new schemes. It is safe to say that SMU will be putting up better numbers in 2015 with Morris in charge.

The defense has seven starters returning from a unit that gave up 41.3 points and 499 yards per game in 2014. Three starters will return on the defensive line, but they surrendered 236 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry in 2014. Linebacker Jonathan Yenga recorded 65 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss in 2014 and he will anchor his unit. Three starters are back in the secondary led by Darrion Richardson. He had 69 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and an interception. SMU really cannot get much worse than their 2014 performance.

SMU will face Baylor and North Texas at home before a road game at TCU in the third week. James Madison will visit in the final weekend of September before SMU kicks off their conference slate. SMU has a brutal AAC schedule having to face the likes of East Carolina, South Florida, and Temple from the East in addition to the five other teams from their division. SMU will be better, but may finish with double digit losses again.

Overview

Much like the AAC’s East division, the West is also wide open. Any one of three teams – Navy, Houston, or Memphis – look solid enough to claim the title. Tulane will be close to bowl eligibility while Tulsa should fare better in 2015. SMU is in rebuilding mode, but Chad Morris is pointing them in the right direction. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Navy

2. Houston

3. Memphis

4. Tulane

5. Tulsa

6. SMU

AAC Championship Game

We predicted that Temple would win the AAC East on Tuesday and Navy will capture the West division. What a matchup that would be to see if it does indeed happen. Here, we will call for Navy to win the AAC West and the AAC Championship Game in their first ever season in a conference.

Check back on Tuesday, July 28 for a double release preview of the Sun Belt Conference as well as the FBS Independents.