Preseason Power Rankings: American Athletic Conference

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:

Mountain West
MAC
Sun Belt
Conference USA

2022 AAC Preseason Power Rankings

  1. Houston: It was hard not to put Cincinnati at #1 considering they made the college football playoff last year but they lost a lot from that team. This year I think Houston is the G5 team that has the best chance to make a New Year’s Six Bowl. 2021 was head coach Dana Holgorsen’s 1st normal season with the Cougars (2019 they redshirted a ton of players after 4 games & 2020 they missed a ton of games because of Covid) and they went 11-1, before losing to Cincinnati in the conference title game, but rallied to beat Auburn in their bowl game. They avoid Cincinnati & UCF on their regular season schedule, so the table is set for them to have a great regular season. Their offense scored 35.9 ppg last year in Holgorsen’s air raid system and they return 6 starters and added several key transfers. QB Clayton Tune is back, coming off an impressive 3,546 yard, 30 TD season as well as his top target Nathaniel Dell. Dell is a stud, coming off a 2021 season where he had 90 receptions, 1329 yards, and 12 TD which included a 152 yard effort in the conference championship game vs Cincinnati. Their starting RB McCaskill tore his ACL in the Spring, but they have a couple transfers from TTU & USC and in that system they should be able to find a RB to plug in without slowing them down much. The defense was nasty last year allowing only 302 ypg, 20.4 ppg, and recording 45 sacks. The future move to the Big 12 allowed Houston to increase their football budget and double DC Belk’s salary to entice him to stay around. His DLine looks strong again this year and they should be able to have another really strong pass rush. There is a lot of optimism for the Cougars this year.
  2. Cincinnati: The Bearcats reached the mountain top for a G5 program by making the college football playoff in 2021. Luke Fickell has built a really strong program in Cincinnati but he will have his work cut out for him as he loses his conference MVP QB Ridder, stud RB Ford, top WR Pierce, DE Sanders, LB Beavers, and Stud NFL DBs Gardner & Bryant. They are a strong, deep team that recruits well but that is still a ton for a G5 team to replace. They return a total of 13 starters this year, and the strength of the team will be the offensive line that returns all 5 starters. The QB battle will be between EMU transfer (who started with Cincy) Ben Bryant & highly touted recruit Evan Prater. They should be okay replacing Ford at RB with LSU transfer Corey Kiner coming in. They did add a 1K receiver from Hawaii in the transfer portal who hopefully be able to help the offense. The defense returns only 5 starters, but did add the MAC player of the year in Miami (OH) LB Ivan Pace. Overall this is still a really strong team that could end up winning the conference. But with all the production they lost, I’m calling for them to take a (slight) step back in 2022.
  1. UCF: Gus Malzahn lost his starting QB Dillion Gabriel to injury after just 3 games in his first season as the Golden Knights head coach. While true freshmen QB Mikey Keene played solid (for a freshman) guiding the team to a 7-3 record while completing 64% and having a 17-6 TD-INT ratio it was clear the team missed Gabriel. The offense went from scoring 44.6 ppg & gaining 554 ypg in 3 games with Gabriel to only 28.1 ppg & 357 ypg without him. Gabriel has transferred to Oklahoma, but Keene is back with a year of experience under his belt along with Ole Miss transfer QB John Rhys Plumlee who is a very solid running threat. The offense has Phil Steele’s #1 RB unit, #1 Rec Unit, and #2 OL unit in the AAC so they should be back to putting up big numbers. The defense returns 9 of their top 12 tacklers and have Phil Steele’s #1 ranked secondary in the conference. UCF is an impressive 30-2 at home the last 5 years and gets Cincinnati at home this year. They will have something to say about who ends up winning the conference this year.
  1. SMU: It’s become a trend for SMU over recent years to start fast and then kind of limp to the finish line at the end of the season. It was more of the same last year, they started fast but then the schedule got tougher and they ended up with an 8-4 record that is solid, but a little below where they we’re hoping. Their bowl game got cancelled and HC Sonny Dykes left for TCU. Former SMU OC Rhett Lashlee was brought in to take over and he will continue to run the air raid at SMU. Having been on the staff as recently as 2019, he is familiar with SMU and some of the players on the roster. Former OU QB Tanner Mordecai is back, coming off a 3628 yard, 39 TD debut season with SMU. Highly touted QB Preston Stone will compete with him as the coaches believe he could be a future star. They also added 5-star RB transfer Caman Wheaton from Alabama. Like usual the offense will have plenty of firepower. The concern for SMU typically is the defense. While they do have 7 starters back, is that unit ready to make a jump to keep the team from always having to rely on outscoring their opponents?
  1. Memphis: In 2021 Memphis scored 30.1 ppg which was the lowest they’ve had since 2013. That makes sense considering a true freshman QB was forced into action. Despite being a freshman, Hennigan played solid throwing for 3322 yards & a 25-8 TD-INT ratio. He should be improved this year having a year of experience and an offseason under his belt. They also added Northern Illinois transfer RB Jevyon Ducker who was the MAC Freshmen of the year in 2021. Similar to SMU, the offense should be the strength of the Memphis Tigers. The defense is where more questions are. They lose 6 of their top 10 tacklers from 2021 but did add LB transfers from Syracuse & Charlotte. They brought in a new offensive & defensive coordinators so we will see if the new coaching staff can have a positive impact.
  1. East Carolina: ECU is a team that has been steadily improving in its first three seasons under HC Mike Houston. Last year the team finished a respectable 7-5 (5-3) with 3 of their losses being to bowl teams by 3, 4, and 7 points. They we’re +107.4 ypg in AAC play (3rd best in the conference). On paper this looks like a team that is right on the cusp of breaking through and making some louder noise in the AAC. They return 15 starters, including dual threat QB Ahlers, RB duo of Mitchell & Harris, & a veteran OLine. They are a team that knows their identity on offense. They run a lot of 2 TE sets, have a mobile QB, a strong OL, and want to run the ball down your throat. The defense returns 8 starters and will likely continue to improve under Houston even in a conference with lots of tough offenses to try to slow down.
  1. Tulane: It was a disappointing 2-10 season in 2021 for Tulane who played a tough conference schedule (missing both 1-win teams) and had non-con games against Ole Miss & Oklahoma (which was moved from Tulane to Norman due to a Hurricane). They replaced every offensive assistant except for the TE coach, so this will be QB Michael Pratt’s 3rd OC in 3 years. He has shown potential though and has his top 2 RB & top 2 WR back. The new OC Svoboda has had a lot of success at the D2 level and will run a West Coast style offense which should be a good fit for their personnel. In total, the Green Wave have 18 returning starters (9 on each side of the ball). The defense showed improvement throughout the year and ended up being #2 in the AAC in total defense in the 2nd half of the season. With 9 starters coming back they will look to build off that momentum. I think this is a bounce back year for the Green Wave.
  1. Tulsa: Tulsa started the 2021 season 1-4, but rallied to go 6-2 in their last 8. They finished the season +36.4 in ypg (#4 in the conference). This year they return only 12 starters (6 on each side of the ball) and lose 6 all-conference players. QB Davis Brin is back along with his top 2 WR in Stokes & Santana. Brin is coming off an up and down season in which he led the nation with 16 INT. The offensive line lost 4 starters. Typically high turnover QB’s and inexperienced offensive lines don’t mix well. The defense lost their defensive coordinator to TCU and return only 6 starters. I think this will be a bottom half of the conference team in 2022.
  1. USF: The Bulls we’re a disappointing 1-7 in the AAC last year, averaging -97.3 ypg. This year they do return 19 starters (the highest in the conference). 10 of those starters are on offense – a unit that averaged only 23.1 ppg & 350 ypg in 2021. New OC Trickett will try to pick up the pace and Baylor QB Gerry Bohanon was a nice get for them in the transfer market. The defense really struggled in 2021 surrendering 34.6 ppg & 471 ypg. They also have 9 starers back and a new DC Shoop who will switch to a 4-2-5 defense. With lots of money going into the facilities and plans for a new on campus stadium underway, the seat will get pretty hot for HC Scott if they don’t make a bowl this year. In this conference, it seems like a longshot to me that they will.
  1. Navy: Navy went 4-8 last season to make it back-to-back losing seasons for the Midshipmen (though they did rally to beat a strong Army team in the season finale). They return only 11 starters this year, the fewest in the conference. Their triple option offense struggled, scoring only 20.1 ppg & 282.2 ypg. QB Tai Lavatai took over the starting job during the season and does return for the 2022 season. They will need him to jump start the offense because the overall offensive production wasn’t enough last year. The bleed the clock style of offense can be effective against some of the high-powered offenses in this conference because you are able to keep them on the sidelines for long periods of time and limit possessions – but that only works if you are moving the chains consistently. The defense loses many starters as well including All-AAC LB Diego Fagot. The service academies always play hard and sometimes can be hard to predict, but on paper this looks like another down year for Navy.
  1. Temple: It got pretty brutal for Temple in 2021. They lost their last 7 games by 34.2 ppg & 225 ypg before firing HC Carey. They brought in a new HC Drayton but this definitely looks like it will be a rebuilding year for him. They return 7 starters to an offense that averaged only 19.9 ppg & 348 ypg last year. They do have former Georgia QB D’Wan Mathis who actually started for them in 2020 before Stetson Bennett took over. He was pretty beat up last year, but maybe can make good on some of the potential he had out of high school. The defense allowed 27.5 ppg & 397 ypg and it probably would have been worse if they didn’t lose so many blowouts where teams took their foot off the gas in the 2nd This team has a long way to go.

5 thoughts on “Preseason Power Rankings: American Athletic Conference

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