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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 9

Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West's Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)
Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

We are entering the final weekend in October and there are some huge games on the horizon this week and beyond. For week nine the big games are #10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, #14 Florida at Georgia, #4 Washington at #17 Utah, #7 Nebraska at #11 Wisconsin, and #3 Clemson at #12 Florida State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (10/27 at 7:30 PM) –  This is a massive game for both teams as well as the Sun Belt title picture. Appalachian State sits at 5-2 overall and 3-0 in conference while Georgia Southern is 4-3 overall, but 3-1 in the Sun Belt.

Georgia Southern started the year 3-0 before three straight losses including a 27-26 loss to Arkansas State on the road. They rebounded to defeat New Mexico State last week 22-19 in what was their fourth straight road game.

Appalachian State had that excellent defensive game versus Tennessee to start the season and have only had one stumble and one hiccup since then. They were crushed at home by Miami (FL) 45-10 and played a thrilling 45-38  game at Akron, which they won. Their defense will have a test against the Georgia Southern triple option.

Both teams still have to face fellow Sun Belt contender Troy later this year. Appalachian State travels to play them on 11/12 while Georgia Southern faces them at home on 12/3. This game could make the Appalachian State-Troy game the Sun Belt decider if Georgia Southern cannot get the win.

2. Connecticut at East Carolina (10/29 at 12 PM) – This game will probably determine which team finishes at the bottom of the AAC East. Currently, Connecticut is at 1-4 in AAC play and East Carolina is 0-3.

Connecticut has been a tough customer this year in almost every game. However, they only have a 3-5 record to show for it with five of their games determined 8 points or less (2-3 record). East Carolina has not been so tough with just a 2-5 record overall and five straight losses. Only the loss at South Carolina (20-15) has been less than a touchdown with the other four losses all by 12 points or more.

This game also has potential bowl implications. A win for Connecticut would still keep their hopes alive with three difficult, but winnable games to end the season. A win for East Carolina would keep their bowl hopes alive, but still leave them a lot of work to do with Tulsa, SMU, Navy, and Temple to end the season. A loss for either team leaves zero margin for error the rest of the season.

3. Duke at Georgia Tech (10/29 at 12 PM) – Neither of these two squads will win the ACC Coastal, but they both have legitimate hopes for reaching a bowl game. And both teams need to win this game when looking at their final four games.

Let’s start with Duke’s final five games: Georgia Tech (away), Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh (away), and Miami (FL) (away). For Georgia Tech it is Duke, North Carolina (away), Virginia Tech (away), Virginia, and Georgia (away).

With Duke currently at 3-4, this win would put them at .500 and the Blue Devils would need two wins. Given their last four games, they would have to be two upsets, which are possible with this team, but would also be a very tall order. Georgia Tech would move to 5-3 with a win and they would need one win to reach a bowl game with Virginia their best chance to win.

4. Kentucky at Missouri (10/29 at 12 PM) – Here is a contest that could elicit quite a bit of offense. Missouri’s decent start to the season has completely dissipated with the defense giving up 44.3 points and 580 yards per game over their last three games. Kentucky’s offense put up 554 yards on Mississippi State in their 40-38 win last week.

Kentucky is in much better shape to make a bowl game with their 4-3 record. After Missouri, they will face Georgia, Tennessee (away), FCS Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). A win here and they are very likely to hit 6 wins this year at minimum. Missouri needs a lot of help sitting at 2-5, but a win here helps somewhat. They finish with South Carolina (away), Vanderbilt, Tennessee (away), and Arkansas.

5. Army at Wake Forest (10/29 at 3:30 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications. Army started 2016 quite well going 3-0 before losing back-to-back games on the road to Buffalo and Duke by a combined 10 points. They crushed Lafayette before last week’s blowout loss to North Texas at home 35-18. At 4-3 there are plenty of chances let for this team to get to 6 or 7 wins and this could be a game they can steal.

Wake Forest has been a surprise team this year and are currently at 5-2. Their losses have been to North Carolina State and Florida State on the road, but this defense has been good. Their hands will be full as their defense allows 119.3 rushing yards per game and will face Army’s top ranked rushing attack that averages 366.8 yards per game.

Army finishes the season with the trio of Air Force, Notre Dame, and Morgan State at home before the finale against Navy. If Army can steal a win here, they will be in solid shape. On the flip side, a win here for Wake Forest will put them in their first bowl game since 2011 when they lost the Music City Bowl to Mississippi State 23-17.

6. SMU at Tulane (10/29 at 4 PM) – Here is another potential basement battle (in the AAC West), but both teams still have a shot at making a bowl game despite identical 3-4 records.

SMU is coming off their blowout win at home over #11 Houston 38-16 and a close loss the week before on the road at Tulsa (43-40). SMU will be facing Memphis, East Carolina (away), South Florida, and Navy to end the season so a win against Tulane would still require an upset or two in order to become bowl eligible.

Tulane has lost two in a row against Memphis (24-14 at home) and Tulsa last week (50-27). Their final four games are Central Florida (away), Houston (away), Temple, and Connecticut (away). A win here and they would have a decent chance of beating both Central Florida and Connecticut to become bowl eligible, but those are both away games.

7. Boise State at Wyoming (10/29 at 7 PM) – The Mountain West’s Mountain division title could be on the line here. Both Boise State and Wyoming sit at 3-0 in conference play though a win could be far more important for the Broncos.

Boise State is 7-0 overall, but their last two games have not been easy. Two weeks ago they led Colorado State 28-3 with 5 minutes left in the game and held on for a 28-23 win. Last week’s game against BYU saw the Broncos commit 5 turnovers including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, but a fourth quarter rally and strong defense in the final 15 minutes saw them eke out a 28-27 win.

Wyoming is currently 5-2 overall and there is a distinct pattern to their wins: they score a lot of points. In each of their 5 victories they have put up at least 35 points while in their two losses they have averaged just 20.5 points. They may have to score 35 or more points if they want to win this game and take control of the Mountain Division.

A win here for Boise State would likely wrap up the division for them with four games to play. The Broncos face San José State, Hawaii (away), UNLV, and Air Force (away) in the final four games and it is difficult to see them losing more than one game, if they even lose any at all. The Broncos can still overcome a loss but would need help from Wyoming’s final four opponents: Utah State, UNLV (away), San Diego State, and New Mexico (away). That is possible, but the Broncos have their sights set on a possible big bowl game and they can only do that by winning out.

8. Middle Tennessee at Florida International (7 PM) – Both of these squads are part of the wide open C-USA East division race. Middle Tennessee stepped out of conference play to defeat the SEC East’s Missouri Tigers. Florida International lost their first conference game last week to Louisiana Tech at home 44-24.

Middle Tennessee looks like the better team on paper, but that is not where games are played. Their two losses are to Vanderbilt on the road (47-24) and Western Kentucky at home in double overtime (44-43). That loss to WKU has already put them a bit behind the Hilltoppers and MTSU still has to play UT-San Antonio, Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic. The UTSA game is clearly the most difficult, but they cannot overlook their road games.

FIU started 0-4 before winning three straight against Florida Atlantic, UTEP, and Charlotte. As previously mentioned, they lost to Louisiana Tech and the competition becomes harder with MTSU this week followed by Western Kentucky (away), Marshall, and Old Dominion (away) to end the season. FIU still has a chance to win this division, but it will not be easy and they must win this game.

Check back next week for the week ten 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

Week 8

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 6

Jamaal Williams (in white) and BYU will face Michigan State this week. Williams ran for 286 yards and 5 touchdowns against Toledo in week five. (George Frey/Getty Images North America)
Jamaal Williams (in white) and BYU will face Michigan State this week. Williams ran for 286 yards and 5 touchdowns against Toledo in week five. (George Frey/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 6

Week five provided three games featuring matchups between top ten teams and two of them were excellent with Louisville and Clemson topping off the action in an instant classic that the Tigers won 42-36. There are not as many big time games this week, but there are still some good ones to watch.

Let’s take a look at some of the under the radar games for week six. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

Edit: Tulane at Central Florida has been postponed until November 5 due to Hurricane Matthew.

1. Tulane at Central Florida (10/7 at 8 PM) – Tulane comes into this game on a two game winning streak while their two losses have been by a combined 10 points. The running game has nearly 2.5 times as many yards on offense than the passing game. Dontrell Hilliard (384 yards and 5 touchdowns), Josh Rounds (266 yards and 4 touchdowns), Johnathan Brantley (156 yards), Lazedrick Thompson (153 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Glen Cuiellette (125 yards) have all had a big part in the rushing attack. Terren Encalade has come alive in the receiving corps the last two games with 14 catches for 228 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Central Florida has also won two in a row and the offense has come alive with an average of 50 points per game in those two contests. The Golden Knights have a more balanced offense, but starting quarterback job is still up for grabs between McKenzie Milton and Justin Holman. Eight different players have recorded a rushing touchdown though Dontravious Wilson has the lion’s share with 7.

The offenses have come alive for both teams in the previous two games, which could lead to quite a few points. Both teams enter this contest at 3-2 and a win here would help both teams in their quest to make a bowl game. UCF went 0-12 last year while Tulane has only been to a bowl game twice in the last 15 years (2002 and 2013).

2. Iowa at Minnesota (10/8 at 12 PM) – Despite this being a nationally televised on contest (will be on ESPN2, if their schedule is correct), this probably does not strike a lot of people a major game this weekend. Iowa has not been very good in their last three games, which includes losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern and an ugly 14-7 win over Rutgers. The loss to Northwestern last week was probably most surprising (yes, even more so than the loss to NDSU) because they gave up 38 points to a Northwestern team that was very lethargic the first four weeks on offense.

Minnesota opened 3-0 and lost a heartbreaker against Penn State last week in overtime. The Gophers took a 23-20 in the final minute of the game only to see Penn State hit a 40 yard field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime. The duo of running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks (both had 100+ yards against PSU) along with quarterback Mitch Leidner will be looking to move the sticks against an Iowa team that has given up an average of 210 yards per game on the ground in the last three contests.

This game is big for both teams if they want to have a chance at winning the Big Ten West. Both already have a loss in conference play and still have to face Wisconsin and Nebraska later this year. This is basically an elimination game.

3. Air Force at Wyoming (10/8 at 3:30 PM) – Air Force comes into this game 4-0 with a win over Navy at home. Wyoming is 3-2 with losses on the road against Nebraska and Eastern Michigan, but the Cowboys are a much improved team since last year. Air Force has won four of the last five games on the road in this series as well.

Brian Hill has been a monster running the ball for Wyoming with 629 yards and 7 touchdowns this year (5.4 average per carry), but the key will be Josh Allen. In Wyoming’s two losses this year, Allen has 2 touchdowns against 6 interceptions, but in the three wins has thrown 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. He will need to be wary of throwing anywhere near Weston Steelhammer, who has 2 interceptions this year and led Air Force with 5 last season.

Both teams sit at 1-0 in the Mountain West with each team still having to go up against Boise State and in Wyoming’s case, they have to face San Diego State this year too. This could be a good game to watch.

4. Army at Duke (10/8 at 3:30 PM) – Army is 3-1 after an overtime loss on the road to Buffalo in week four while Duke could not back up their huge victory over Notre Dame on the road in week four. They lost last week to Virginia at home 34-20 and a bowl game looks out of reach for the Blue Devils now.

This is more focused on Army because a win here and they could open 7-1 going into the game against Air Force on November 5. After Duke, Army faces Lafayette and North Texas at home before a road game at Wake Forest on October 29. It will not be easy to go 7-1, but they can get closer with a win over Duke.

5. BYU at Michigan State (10/8 at 3:30 PM) – This game features two teams that are .500 or worse, which probably was not expected before the season. BYU sits at 2-3, but they have faced a tough gauntlet: Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, and Toledo. All of those teams were in a bowl game last season and the Cougars have been competitive in each of those games. Not a single one of their first five games has been decided by more than a field goal.

Michigan State started with a sluggish opening win over Furman before what was considered an impressive road victory against Notre Dame. The last two games for the Spartans have been disastrous with a big loss at home to Wisconsin 30-6 and then last week’s overtime loss at Indiana. BYU’s duo of Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams will have to like their chances after viewing the tape of the Michigan State-Indiana game.

6. Texas Tech at Kansas State (10/8 at 7 PM) – There are a lot of questions concerning this game. Will Texas Tech have Patrick Mahomes back? Can Kansas State shut down the Texas Tech offense, regardless of who is at quarterback? If Kansas State is leading late in the game again, can they close the game out?

Texas Tech is 3-1 with their lone blemish being the wild shootout in the desert where they lost 68-55 to Arizona State. They crushed an overmatched Kansas team last week with two different quarterbacks throwing four touchdowns apiece. As noted above, will Mahomes be back or will Nic Shimonek take over? It may not matter based on what we saw against Kansas.

The Wildcats are 2-2 with losses at Stanford and West Virginia. The game against the Mountaineers was particularly heart-wrenching because the Wildcats held a 16-3 lead after three quarters. They were stopping the West Virginia offense from getting any points time and time again only to see them score a touchdown. The Wildcats still had a chance to win, but Matthew McCrane missed a 43 yard field goal.

Kansas State will have the home field crowd behind them, but they will need to have another stellar defensive outing against a high powered offense.

7. UNLV at San Diego State (10/8 at 10:30 PM) – The Aztecs looked like a tough team to beat after three weeks, but last week sent them coming back to earth. They went on the road and got soundly defeated by South Alabama 42-24 with the offense converting just two of ten third downs.

UNLV sits at 2-3 with wins over Jackson State and Fresno State. Their losses have been to UCLA, Central Michigan, and Idaho. This game will be an excellent measuring stick for the Rebels to see how far they have come and how far they need to go. For San Diego State, they need to just continue giving the ball to Donnel Pumphrey, who has 750 yards and 8 touchdowns on 98 carries (7.7 yards per carry average). In addition, they need to work on their pass defense as they have struggled against the pass at times this year.

Check back next week for the week seven 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

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 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.