Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.
ICYMI Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:
2021 AAC Preseason Power Rankings
- Cincinnati: The Bearcats were the group of 5 representative in the New Year’s Six Bowl game last year and they gave Georgia all they could handle in that one. They lost their defensive coordinator to Notre Dame and some talented players, but they have QB Desmond Ritter back who is the reigning AAC offensive player of the year (2,286 passing yards, 592 rushing yards, 31 total TD in 2020) to go along with a stout defense that is far and away the best in the conference. In looks like Luke Fickell might have the best group of 5 team again this year. Non-conference matchups @ Indiana and @ Notre Dame will be fun to watch.
- UCF: The Golden Knights lost their head coach to Tennessee but may have upgraded when fired Auburn coach Gus Malzahn fell into their laps. I guess it depends on how hard Gus wants to work, but I’m sure he’ll be glad to get away from the constant hot seat and schedule that has Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M on it every year. They have plenty of talent to work with on offense as QB Dillion Gabriel is back (3,570 passing yards and 32 TD in 2020) along with stud WR Jaylon Robinson (979 yards and 6 TD). The question will be if they can get enough stops defensively as they are 91st in the nation in terms of returning defensive production and have a secondary that Phil Steele rated 9th in the conference.
- Memphis: Memphis is only one year removed from a NY6 Cotton Bowl appearance. This year they will have to replace veteran QB Brady White but have a lot of playmakers returning at other offensive positions like WR Calvin Austin and TE Sean Dykes. They have 16 returning starters and should be right in thick of things in this conference. They might be a team that gets better as the year goes on once their new QB gets more comfortable.
- SMU: SMU is near the bottom of returning production including the loss of All-AAC QB Shane Buechele and TE Kylen Granson. But they still have WR Reggie Roberson Jr. who was having a monster season before suffering a season ending injury and added transfer QB Tanner Mordecai from Oklahoma. Sonny Dykes knows how to coach offense and I think the Mustangs might surpass expectations a little bit this year.
- Houston: It’s time for HC Dana Holgorsen to start to get things going for the Cougars. In 2019 they played a brutal schedule and he ended up trying a strategy where they red-shirted a ton of players to try and keep them eligible for another year. Last year they got crushed by covid and never could really get going. They have Clayton Tune back at QB and a couple stud defensive linemen. This could be a big year for Holgorsen in his 3rd year with the program.
- Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane may have been a little worse than their record indicated last year as they went 4-2 in games decided by single digits. They are losing their QB Zach Smith and will most likely look to replace him with Bearded Bettors favorite Davis Brin. They have some really good weapons coming back in Keylon Stokes, JuanCarlos Santana, and Josh Johnson but I think Tulsa will take a little step backwards in 2021.
- Tulane: The Green Wave put up a top 40 offense in 2020 according to Bill Connelly’s SP+ plus with a true freshman QB in Michael Pratt. We know that Willie Fritz teams are going to run the ball and they have their two running backs and four offensive linemen returning. The offense shouldn’t be a problem but the defense is losing everyone. Their ceiling is probably #3 or #4 in the conference but the AAC is tough so they have their work cut out for them.
- East Carolina: ECU has ten starters back on both offense and defense but they are still a relatively young team since their roster was full of underclassmen in 2020. They might still be a year away but this could be a key growth year for Mike Houston’s squad. AAC Rookie of the year is back in RB Rahjai Harris and freshman QB Holton Ahlers should continue to progress after showing some real nice flashes at times last year.
- Navy: The Midshipmen lost by about a billion points on opening night to BYU after Ken Niumatalolo decided not to have his players hit during training camp as a Covid precaution. That game set the tone for what would end up being a very tough season for Navy. They have what looks like it could be a solid defense returning but QB remains a mystery and it is critical that they find someone to run that triple option for them. That offense just doesn’t go without the right guy at QB.
- South Florida: The Bulls were another team that was very inexperienced last year. They have some young talent and might have a solid defense but I don’t know where they find much on offense right now.
- Temple: 2020 doesn’t really count for Temple. They weren’t allowed to even scrimmage until almost October. Their season was delayed and once they finally were allowed to play they only had about 45 scholarship players available. They ended up needing to start a 5th string walk-on at QB in their finale. Not surprising they were 1-6 with all that going on. They added some transfers in the offseason to try and patch things up, but they’ve still got a long way to go.