College football is set to commence its 2016 campaign in less than two weeks, so to kick off Inquisitr's football conference preview, here is a look at the American Athletic Conference.
The AAC had unprecedented success in 2015, its third year of existence, as eight teams made it to a bowl game and defending conference champions Houston Cougars picked up a New Year's Six postseason victory over Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Temple, South Florida, Cincinnati, UConn, Navy, Tulsa and Memphis were the other conference teams to go to a bowl game. Last season, AAC teams compiled an 80-74 record as Houston, Navy and Temple all reached double figures in victories.
Houston is the consensus favorite to repeat as champions as the Cougars return 2016 Heisman candidate quarterback Greg Ward Jr., along with several members of a defense that finished ranked in the top 20 nationally. USA Today selected Memphis as the Cougars biggest challengers for the top spot in the West, while South Florida and Temple are expected to battle for supremacy in the East.
The AAC has eight teams ranked among the top 80 FBS squads this year, though there also has been some turnover. Four of the conference's teams will have new coaches, including UCF, Tulane, ECU and Memphis.
1. Houston Cougars (13-1, 7-1 AAC last year). Houston was one of 12 FBS teams to average more than 40 points last season. More impressively, the Cougars were extremely well-balanced as they totaled 3,477 yards through the air and 3,301 yards on the ground.
Ward, along with Clemson's Deshaun Watson, was one of two quarterbacks to throw for over 2,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 in 2015. The 5-foot-11 senior threw for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 67.2 percent of his passes. He added 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns on 198 carries.
Ward will have plenty of weapons as senior wide receiver Chance Allen (56 receptions, 752 yards, 6 TDs) returns. He will also have the services of a pair of transfers, sophomore RB Duke Catalan (Texas) and junior WR Ra'Shaad Samples (Oklahoma State). Junior wide receiver Steven Dunbar (31 receptions, 382 yards, 6 TDs) and versatile senior Brandon Wilson are candidates for a breakout campaign.
Senior linebacker Steven Taylor (92 tackles, 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and 2 INTs) leads the defense. Freshman DT Ed Oliver, senior DT B.J. Singleton, senior DE Cameron Malveaux and Wilson are also players to watch.
Houston opens up the season at NRG Stadium against Oklahoma on Sept. 3. The Cougars' other tough games, according to The Comeback, will be home games against UConn (Sept.29) and Louisville (Nov. 17). In total, UH will play 12 regular season games with seven home games and five road games. The only non-FBS team on the schedule is Lamar.
2. USF Bulls (8-5, 6-2). USF won seven of its last nine games last year to qualify for its first bowl game since 2010. The Bulls have also doubled their win total in each of coach Willie Taggart's first three years and are 14-23 under him.
My News 13 reports that USF returns 93 percent of its offense, including junior signal caller Quinton Flowers and sensational junior running back Marlon Mack. Flowers is a dual-threat quarterback who compiled 3,287 yards from scrimmage and 34 touchdowns in 2015. He completed 59.1 percent (163-276) of his passes for 22 scores and eight interceptions. Mack ran for 100 yards in each of his last five contests and has reached the 1,000 plateau in both of his collegiate seasons. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder rushed for 1,381 yards on 210 carries for a 6.6 yard per carry average.
Senior wide receiver Rodney Allen led the Bulls' pass catchers with 45 receptions for 822 yards and nine touchdowns.
Defensively, USF returns seven of its top nine tacklers. Junior linebacker Augie Sanchez led the Bulls with 117 tackles and junior cornerback Deatrick Nichlos registered four of the team's 14 interceptions. Redshirt freshman defensive end Kirk Livingstone has also reportedly looked good this summer.