Ryan Mayer

Welcome to Day 2 of our college football preview series for the 2018 season. If you missed the ACC on Day 1, head over here. Once again, we’re giving a quick overview of each team and their expected win total based on Vegas projections. What you do with that information is up to you. With that, we now jump into the American Athletic Conference, home of the (self-proclaimed) national champion UCF Knights.

If you’ve missed any of our other previews, check out the links below.

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East Division

UCF Knights-

(O/U 9 wins)

A 13-0 season, with a defeat of Auburn in the Peach Bowl, was enough for the Knights and their fanbase to claim a share of the national title. Repeating that feat will be a little more difficult. Gone is head coach Scott Frost (Nebraska) and impact defenders CB Shaquem Griffin (Seahawks) and DB Mike Hughes (Vikings). But the team did hire Josh Heupel, who will maintain a similar up-tempo style, and they bring back stud QB Mckenzie Milton. There are holes at receiver after two of their top guys left, but the offensive line returns a pair of All-AAC performers, and Milton’s experience, paired with the uptempo style, should keep the offense humming. The defense is the question, as they lose five starters, including their two biggest impact guys. Out-of-conference match-ups against UNC, FAU and Pitt, along with trips to Memphis and USF, will provide the biggest tests. Still, there’s a solid chance at double-digit wins. Over 9

South Florida Bulls-

(O/U 8.5 wins)

The Bulls were overshadowed by their Florida counterparts last season, but were equally entertaining to watch. Entering Charlie Strong’s second year at the helm, there’s likely to be a little step back, as most of last year’s top names are gone. QB Quinton Flowers, both RBs, WR Marquez Valdez-Scantling, three defensive lineman, LB Auggie Sanchez, nickel back Deatrick Nichols and safety Devin Abraham all depart. In their place will be plenty of new, talented names, as Strong pulled the second-best recruiting class in the conference. But, as with any young team, they’re likely to be better late rather than early in the season. Road dates at Houston and Temple, with Georgia Tech visiting early, has it looking like eight wins this year with a potentially dominant group in 2019. Under 8.5

Temple Owls-

(O/U 6.5 wins)

The Owls started last year 3-5 before winning four of five down the stretch, including dominant wins over Navy (34-13) and FIU (28-3). Geoff Collins enters year two with an experienced QB (Frank Nutile), who will have to deal with the loss of his top two receivers, but returns five other receivers in the top seven on the team in receiving yards last year. The Owls will have to hope they can keep their backs and offensive line healthier than last year, but both groups have multiple guys with starting experience. The defense is a bit more of a question, as they lost their top two DEs and three starters in the secondary. How Temple performs in their six away games (Maryland, B.C., Navy, UCF, Houston, UConn) will determine if they hit the over. Steal a couple of those? It could be a big year. Over 6.5

Cincinnati Bearcats-

(O/U 4 wins)

The good news for Bearcats fans is that the talent level is rising quickly, as Luke Fickell has signed the third-best (2017) and top (2018) recruiting classes in the conference in his first two years. The bad news? They’re still probably a year away from really contending in the AAC. Still, QB Hayden Moore returns, along with top receiver Jalil Lewis, and all of last year’s young LBs are back. The secondary needs to replace three corners, and the three senior safeties that are back defended just six passes last season. The schedule isn’t kind either, with trips to UCLA, Temple, SMU and UCF, along with home dates against USF and Ohio. But there’s enough experience to think they’ll be able to hit the over. Over 4

UConn Huskies-

(O/U 3.5 wins)

The Huskies improved on offense last year, scoring over a touchdown more per game (23.6 vs. 14.8), but their defense gave up a touchdown more (37.9 vs. 28.1), leading to a 3-9 record in Randy Edsall’s return. This season the Huskies will still be young, meaning it’s likely another year of build up before they can really make some noise. The schedule doesn’t help either, opening with UCF, out-of-conference games @Boise State, @Syracuse, and road trips to Memphis and USF are all likely losses. Combined with home dates against Cincy, SMU and Temple, and it could be another rough year before a step forward in 2019. Under 3.5

East Carolina Pirates-

(O/U 3 wins)

Good news? The defense literally cannot get worse (45 PPG allowed, last in FBS). The bad news? Breaking in a new QB, mostly new receivers (though senior Trevon Brown returns), and an inexperienced offensive line. Like UConn above, this is a young team that is likely to have growing pains before taking steps forward, particularly in an AAC that’s been tough in recent years. Outside of the opener against N.C. Central and (maybe?) home against UConn late in the year, ECU is unlikely to be favored in any of their other 10 games. The early stretch of UNC, @USF, @Va. Tech is brutal. Push 3

West Division

Memphis Tigers-

(O/U 8.5 wins)

The Tigers were explosive last season, averaging 45.5 PPG (2nd FBS), but struggled defensively, allowing 32.5 PPG (102nd FBS) largely due to a younger group of guys playing key roles. That could be reversed somewhat this year, as most of the defense is back, while the offense needs to find a new QB, replace top receiver Anthony Miller (Chicago Bears) and a new offensive coordinator (Kenny Dillingham replaces the departed Darell Dickey). The offense still has impact players like RB Tony Pollard and WR Damonte Coxie with an experienced line. If they can find a QB and the defense takes an expected step forward, the Tigers should push for the West Division crown once more. The Tigers benefit from their main competitor in the West (Houston) having to come to them and really face only two likely losses (UCF, @Missouri). Over 8.5

Houston Cougars-

(O/U 7.5 wins)

The Cougars are the big threat to Memphis, but the biggest story of the offseason surrounding this team was the hire of offensive coordinator Kendall Briles (son of disgraced former Baylor coach Art Briles). While Briles brings with him a more than controversial past, he also brings a track record of success on offense, something the Cougars need after scoring a touchdown less per game last year (28.2 vs. 35.8). QB D’Eriq King is back, but the top two receivers and top RB (Duke Catalon) are gone. So the offense has work to do, but the defense, and likely No. 1 2019 draft pick DT Ed Oliver can pick up the slack. Adding Ole-Miss transfer Deontay Anderson to that unit should help it improve upon last year’s 28.3 PPG allowed. Arizona, @Texas Tech and @Memphis are the likeliest losses on the schedule, but the stretch of USF, @Navy, Temple in late October, early November will be key. Over 7.5

Navy Midshipmen-

(O/U 7 wins)

One thing to always remember with the Midshipmen, Ken Niumatalolo has had one season with fewer than seven wins (2011) and eight with eight or more. So, with a returning star QB in Malcolm Perry (and another 1,000-yard rusher at QB in Zach Abey), the Midshipmen remain dangerous in the West. The defense, which cut down it’s points allowed from 31 to 26.3 last year, brings back seven starters and more depth. The Mids get Memphis, Temple and Houston in Annapolis, a place where they’ve been known to pull an upset or two. They should at least hit this line. Push 7

SMU Mustangs-

(O/U 6 wins)

Sonny Dykes brought in two new coordinators this offseason, Rhett Lashlee (OC) and Kevin Kane (DC), as he begins his first (full) season as head coach. With new guys running both units, it could take a few weeks to really get revved up. But the offense should be just fine, with third-year starting QB Ben Hicks, three returning running backs and an experienced line. The defense? Let’s just say there’s work to do, with most of the lineup consisting of sophomores/juniors after allowing 36.7 PPG last season. Still, the Mustangs should be able to push for another bowl, with Navy and Cincy both having to make trips to Dallas. Push 6

Tulane Green Wave-

(O/U 5.5 wins)

Willie Fritz is making a name for the Green Wave in recruiting, pulling in the third-best class in the conference this year. In his third season with the program, he has an experienced QB (Jonathan Banks), top RB (Darius Bradwell) and an experienced line. The defense is a question mark after allowing just under 30 points per game (29.2, 84th FBS) last year. Half of last year’s starters are gone from that unit, so the Green Wave could once again find themselves in track meets this year. The schedule does no favors in terms of stealing a bowl bid, with Wake Forest, Ohio State in the out-of-conference to go with the tough AAC slate. Fritz’s recruits could make for a big 2019, but may come up just short of bowl eligibility this year. Under 5.5

Tulsa Golden Hurricane-

(O/U 4 wins)

Like East Carolina, the defense can’t get much worse (37.5 PPG allowed, 121st in FBS) than it was last year. Sophomore QB Luke Skipper is likely to take the reins full-time this year, and with sophomore back Shamari Brooks behind him and an experienced line, the offense should be solid. On defense, most of last year’s group is back which could be good (more experience, in theory, better production) or bad (same guys that got torched) depending on your perspective. Overall, though, in a crowded AAC, Tulsa is likely to have a tough go of it with games @Texas, @Arkansas and hosting Sun Belt power Arkansas State on the schedule. Under 4