#24 Louisville
#21 Pittsburgh
12:00 pm, September 26
#5 Florida
Ole Miss
12:00 pm, September 26
#23 Kentucky
#8 Auburn
12:00 pm, September 26
Iowa State
TCU
1:30 pm, September 26
West Virginia
#15 Oklahoma State
3:30 pm, September 26
Mississippi State
#6 LSU
3:30 pm, September 26
#22 Army
#14 Cincinnati
3:30 pm, September 26
Florida State
#12 Miami (FL)
7:30 pm, September 26
#16 Tennessee
South Carolina
7:30 pm, September 26

2020 American Athletic Conference Football Preview

Check out the CSD preview for the American Athletic Conference’s 2020 season in this loaded preview, featuring in-depth coverage of everything you need to know about all 11 teams, projected records based on thousands of computer simulations, the projected all-conference team, awards, and more!

The league has announced that it plans to play the normal eight conference games and that its teams are allowed to play up to four non-conference opponents. Additionally, the conference has scrapped divisions for the 2020 season.

Projected Standings

Over the past few years, the AAC has distinguished itself as head and shoulders above every other G5 conference in college football, and without UConn dragging it down (the Huskies left the conference this year), you could have made a convincing argument that the AAC was a better top to bottom conference than the ACC. The conference, now with an uneven 11 teams, will move to a no divisions format for 2020, but the same three main contenders remain: Memphis, Cincinnati, and UCF

1. Cincinnati

Head Coach: Luke Fickell
2019 Record: 11-3 (7-1 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 8.6 wins, 1.4 losses (6.6 wins, 1.4 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 19 Austin Peay
Sept. 26 Army
Oct. 3 USF
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 at Tulsa
Oct. 24 at SMU
Oct. 31 Memphis
Nov. 7 Houston
Nov. 12 East Carolina
Nov. 21 at UCF
Nov. 28 at Temple

11 years after Cincinnati was heartbreakingly close to an appearance in the BCS National Title Game, the Bearcats may actually have a shot to do it again in 2020. In 2009, a Brian Kelly-led Cincy team finished the regular season undefeated and #3 in the BCS rankings (back before the playoff), and for an hour or so, the Bearcats looked to be poised to take the #2 spot until then-#2 Texas rallied back to beat Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. Then, conference realignment hit. The Big East dissolved, and the Bearcats, a successful program, got left at the altar by the ACC, falling into G5 obscurity, where no team will ever compete for a top-four spot. UCF had back-to-back undefeated seasons and finished eighth in 2018. Unless… In a year with only three power conferences, could an undefeated G5 champ make the dance? The answer? Probably not. But maybe. I don’t think it’s impossible anymore, and if any team can do it, it will be Cincinnati. The Bearcats come into 2020 ranked 13th by the AP voters among teams playing football. In 2018, when UCF finished 8th, the Golden Knights were preseason #21, a 13 spot climb.

Now into why I think this team, not Memphis or UCF, is the banner flyer for the G5 in 2020. It starts, quite simply, with the defense. The UC defense is the best in the G5 by a significant margin, and in a conference known for teams with greats offenses and little defense, that can be a difference-maker. 15 of the top 17 tacklers are back from an already great group, including S Ja’Von Hicks (five interceptions) and awesome veteran edge rusher Myjai Sanders. On offense, the Bearcats probably aren’t as good as Memphis or UCF, but they’re solid. QB Desmond Ridder is a dual-threat QB that has struggled with accuracy but can make plays with his feet. The offensive line looks great, and the Bearcats add in highly touted Alabama transfer Jerome Ford at runningback. This will be an awesome team, the fact they’ll face Memphis, UCF, and one of the two again in the AAC title game (if they can get there) makes an undefeated year unlikely, but if the Bearcats can make it that far, it might be a tough sell for the CFP committee to leave them out.

2. UCF

Head Coach: Josh Heupel
2019 Record: 10-3 (6-2 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 7.4 wins, 1.6 losses (6.5 wins, 1.5 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 19 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 26 at East Carolina
Oct. 3 Tulsa
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 at Memphis
Oct. 24 Tulane
Oct. 31 at Houston
Nov. 7 OPEN DATE
Nov. 14 Temple
Nov. 21 Cincinnati
Nov. 27 at USF

Last year’s UCF team might’ve actually been better than either of the Golden Knights team that finished the regular season undefeated thanks to a much-improved defense, but some bad luck and injuries meant that Josh Heupel’s squad ended up finishing 10-3. After going 25-1 over a two-year span, that may be a little disappointing, but that is an incredible three-year stretch for any program, especially a G5. QB Dillon Gabriel is back from that squad, as is 2017/18 star QB McKenzie Milton (23-0 as a starter in those two years), one of my favorite players in college football history, although the brutal leg injury that cost UCF back-to-back undefeated years might keep Milton out for a while.

RB Adrian Killins is gone, the top returner there is slotback-style utility man Otis Anderson (726 yards, five touchdowns). The awesome WR duo of Bentavious Thompson and Greg McCrae returns, and the much improved 2019 defense returns 11 of their top 12 tacklers, including one of the best secondaries in all of college football. This will be an awesome team yet again, and another undefeated season (and potential CFP berth, as mentioned in the Cincinnati preview) isn’t out of the question.

3. Memphis

Head Coach: Ryan Silverfield
2019 Record: 12-2 (7-1 AAC)
Averaged Projected 2020 Record: 8.1 wins, 1.9 losses (6.1 wins, 1.9 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 Arkansas State
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 18 Houston
Sept. 26 at UTSA
Oct. 3 at SMU
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 UCF
Oct. 24 Temple
Oct. 31 at Cincinnati
Nov. 7 USF
Nov. 14 at Navy
Nov. 21 OPEN DATE
Nov. 28 at Tulane

2019 head coach Mike Norvell may be gone to Florida State, but for a team losing their head man, a lot of continuity remains from 2019’s excellent team. Kevin Johns is back at Offensive Coordinator, 4,000-yard passer Brady White is back at QB, and new head coach Ryan Silverfield (OL Coach in 2019) was a “promote from within” hire. The Tigers boasted a top-ten offense in America last year, and not only does White return, but his #1 pass-catcher: 1,200-yard receiver Damonte Coxie is back as well. There is some bad news though, as RB Kenneth Gainwell, perhaps the best player on the team, opted out of the season due to concerns over COVID-19 as four of his family members have passed away due to the virus, a completely understandable decision that was bigger than football.

Focusing on the football for now, though, Gainwell was amazing, but there is an interesting couple of replacements in highly touted Auburn transfer Asa Martin and JUCO All-American Kalyn Grandberry. On defense, the Tigers have been bad for a while but took a big step forward in 2019 despite some obvious weaknesses upfront. Silverfield has brought in former Colorado HC Mike McIntyre to run the defense, and McIntryre returns 14 of the 17 top tacklers from last year’s group, including almost all of the secondary, a group highlighted by All-AAC corner TJ Carter.

The loss of Gainwell hurts, for sure, but this is still a top 25 level team that will threaten for an AAC title.

4. SMU

Head Coach: Sonny Dykes
2019 Record: 10-3 (6-2 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 8.4 wins, 3.6 losses (5.2 wins, 2.8 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 at Texas State
Sept. 11 at TCU
Sept. 19 at North Texas
Sept. 26 Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 3 Memphis
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 16 at Tulane
Oct. 24 Cincinnati
Oct. 31 Navy
Nov. 5 at Temple
Nov. 14 at Tulsa
Nov. 21 Houston
Nov. 28 at East Carolina

Last year, Sonny Dykes brought in a boatload of new talent to try and turnaround the Mustangs after a tough 5-7 year one. And… it worked. Led by a Texas transfer at QB, Shane Buechele, the Mustangs doubled their win total from five to ten, and they shouldn’t take much of a step back in 2019. Buechele returns, as does his top target, Reggie Roberson, along with stud TE Kylen Granson and four of five starters on the line. This will be one of the best offenses in all of college football. My only concern is the backfield, where the top two depart, but a new OC, former Appalachian State RB coach Garrett Riley, should help carry the group, led by sophomore TJ McDaniel, to at least a solid year.

On defense, it’s a different story. The group really struggled last year, and the one bright spot, the pass rush, loses almost everyone with Turner Coxe and Delano Robinson the only returners in the front seven. In the defensive backfield, star corner Ar’mani Johnson is back leading a group that gets everyone back but struggled at times in 2019.

The offense will be dynamite, but the defense will have a tough go of things, and in a top-heavy conference like the AAC, one loaded with awesome offenses, that’s deadly. SMU would probably be favored over all but four G5 teams in college football. The problem? Three of those four are in the AAC. A title game trip feels unlikely.

5. Navy

Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
2019 Record: 11-2 (7-1 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 5.5 wins, 4.5 losses (4.3 wins, 3.7 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 7 BYU
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 19 at Tulane
Sept. 26 Temple
Oct. 3 OPEN DATE (maybe at Air Force)
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 at East Carolina
Oct. 24 Houston
Oct. 31 at SMU
Nov. 7 Tulsa
Nov. 14 Memphis
Nov. 21 at USF
Nov. 28 OPEN DATE
Dec. 5 OPEN DATE
Dec. 12 Army (in Philadelphia)

In 2019, star QB Malcolm Perry was Navy’s top returning passer. And their top returning rusher. And their top returning receiver. He’s gone now. Yikes. To call Perry a utility player would be an understatement and after an awesome 11-win 2019, the Midshipmen are likely in for a pretty massive step back in Perry’s absence. Luckily for Navy, the entire receiving corps and a pair of inside backs, Jamele Carothers and Nelson Smith, who combined for 1,305 yards and 21 TDs in 2019, both return. On the outside, speedy CJ Williams (90 passing yards, 298 rushing yards, 210 receiving yards in 2019) looks to be the man, and at the QB spot, sophomore Perry Olsen will step into Perry’s big shoes. Monster tackle Billy Honaker is back to anchor down a line that loses a lot, but Navy is used to turnover upfront, so I don’t see that as a huge issue. A lot is gone from the defense, but star LB Diego Fagot returns. Fagot was excellent in the pass rush and in coverage last year, and he’ll be a difference-maker on this team. I worry about the secondary a little, but the pass rush should still be strong and take some of the pressure off of the DBs. While I do expect a significant step back with the loss of Perry, this should be a winning team again.

6. Houston

Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen
2019 Record: 4-8 (2-6 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 5.3 wins, 4.7 losses (3.9 wins, 4.1 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 18 at Memphis
Sept. 26 North Texas
Oct. 3 OPEN DATE
Oct. 8 Tulane
Oct. 16 at BYU
Oct. 24 at Navy
Oct. 31 UCF
Nov. 7 at Cincinnati
Nov. 14 USF
Nov. 21 at SMU
Nov. 28 Tulsa

Year one under new head coach Dana Holgorsen for Houston did not go as planned. An offensive genius at HC, monster QB D’Eriq King leading the offense, it was supposed to be a great year, but it just never came to be. King ended up redshirting, and he’s now transferring to Miami. The new guy at QB is Clayton Tune. Tune threw for 11 touchdowns and nine picks in seven games of action in 2019; he can make some crazy throws, but he’s a liability in terms of giving the ball away. The Cougars do return four of five starters on the line and an excellent receiving corps, but I don’t see the passing game being much more than “alright” this season. The rest of this team? It’s tempting. Holgersen redshrited a lot of good players last year, and a boatload of transfers and JUCOs are eligible to play, making this one of the toughest teams to get a read on in 2020.

The defense is highlighted by the monster edge duo of Payton Turner and David Anenih, and a bevy of transfers join the secondary. This will be an agressive, attacking defense that could get burned but will put plenty of pressure on opposing QBs. The tons of new faces, especially on defense, make this a tough year to predict, but I’ll settle around .500, with a winning season slightly more likely than a losing one.

7. Tulane

Head Coach: Willie Fritz
2019 Record: 7-6 (3-5 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 5.4 wins, 5.6 losses (3.1 wins, 4.9 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 at South Alabama
Sept. 19 Navy
Sept. 26 at Southern Miss
Oct. 3 OPEN DATE
Oct. 8 at Houston
Oct. 16 SMU
Oct. 24 at UCF
Oct. 31 Temple
Nov. 7 at East Carolina
Nov. 14 Army
Nov. 21 at Tulsa
Nov. 28 Memphis

Tulane head coach Willie Fritz is a former Georgia Southern guy, so naturally, this is one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in the country. The spread option style and strong defensive play made for a dangerous combo last year, but QB Justin McMillan, and his two top receivers, are gone from last year’s 7-6 squad. In comes Southern Miss transfer Keon Howard at QB. Howard is an unproven commodity, and was pretty bad in his limited appearances at USM, but for Tulane to secure another winning season, he needs to be at least servicable. If he can, RB Amare Jones and the rest of the awesome rushing attack will take care of the rest.

The Green Wave also bring in a pair of highly touted recruits in former Oklahoma WR Mykel Jones and FSU DB Kyle Meyers. On defense, a lot returns from what was one of the better defense in the conference last year. Edge rusher Patrick Johnson is back after dealing with injuries in 2019, and some JUCO transfers as well as the aforementioned Meyers add some more talent to the group. This should be a solid team that will flirt with another winning season, but the massive hole at QB worries me enough to say that I think a step back is inevitable.

8. Temple

Temple: Rod Carey
2019 Record: 8-5 (5-3 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 2.7 wins, 5.3 losses (2.7 wins, 5.3 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 19 OPEN DATE
Sept. 26 at Navy
Oct. 3 OPEN DATE
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 USF
Oct. 24 at Memphis
Oct. 31 at Tulane
Nov. 5 SMU
Nov. 14 at UCF
Nov. 21 East Carolina
Nov. 28 Cincinnati

Temple has been a P5 coach machine over the past few years. Three former Temple head ball coaches: Matt Rhule, Geoff Collins, and Manny Diaz all took power five jobs within the past few years, and new coach Rod Carey looks to be on that same path. The Carey-coached Owls had an awesome defense, a physical offense, and beat two power five teams and a great Memphis squad, winning eight games when all was said and done for 2019. Due to an inconsistent offense, though, the high highs were matched with low lows, including a 16-point loss to Buffalo, and blowout losses to SMU, UCF, and North Carolina.

Back for the Owls is QB Anthony Russo, who took a step back last year (54%, 21 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) but was still servicable. The line and the receiving corps will take some hits, but a few P5 transfers will look to fill up those gap instantly. The main ball carrier in HC Rod Carey’s run-first system will by sophomore Re’Mahn Davis (936 yards, eight touchdowns), but the Owls will need a real #2. On defense, awesome edge rusher Quincy Rcohe (13 sacks) is off to Miami. The Owls do add in a P5 transfer, Manny Walker (Wake), but Roche will be near impossible to replace. Even outside of Roche, the defense is decimated, with just two starters back. Depth will be a massive issue, and with the defense undergoing a major retooling, I expect a step back.

9. Tulsa

Head Coach: Philip Montgomery
2019 Record: 4-8 (2-6 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 2.4 wins, 7.6 losses (2.0 wins, 6.0 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 at Oklahoma State
Sept. 19 OPEN DATE
Sept. 26 at Arkansas State
Oct. 3 at UCF
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 Cincinnati
Oct. 23 at USF
Oct. 30 East Carolina
Nov. 7 at Navy
Nov. 14 SMU
Nov. 21 Tulane
Nov. 28 at Houston

We’re getting into crunch time for Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery (25-37). After an awesome 10-3 year in 2016, the Hurricane have won just 14 games over the past four seasons. Last year’s team was the best of that stretch, close to making a bowl and beating UCF, but it wasn’t good enough.

QB Zach Smith is back after a shaky year. Smith can chuck it deep, but he puts way too many balls into contested coverage, and his nine interception mark would have been much higher against better corners. Also back are the top receiver, Kylon Stokes (1,049 yards and six touchdowns) and both runningbacks that received significant playing time. The line was bad but also incredibly young in 2019, and should be much improved, as should the offense as a whole

The defense is a different question. Edge rusher Trevis Gipson and corner Reggie Robinson II, the two best players from Tulsa’s 2019 D, are both gone, along with five of the top six tacklers from last year’s 395 YPG defense. As much as the offense will take a step forward, the defense will take an even bigger step back. This may be a tough year.

10. USF

Head Coach: Jeff Scott
2019 Record: 4-8 (2-6 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 3.1 wins, 7.9 losses (1.8 wins, 6.2 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 The Citadel 
Sept. 19 at Notre Dame 
Sept. 26 at Florida Atlantic 
Oct. 3 at Cincinnati 
Oct. 10 East Carolina 
Oct. 17 at Temple 
Oct. 23 Tulsa 
Oct. 31 OPEN DATE
Nov. 7 at Memphis 
Nov. 14 at Houston 
Nov. 21 Navy
Nov. 27 UCF 

In 2016, USF had one of the best offenses in the country and went 11-2. The year after, the Bulls won double-digit games again, finishing 10-2. In 2018, they started 7-0. Things were looking up for Charlie Strong and company. It didn’t last long. USF has gone 4-14 since, Strong was fired, and now in comes Jeff Scott to try and salvage a flailing program. The former Clemson offensive coordinator doesn’t have a lot to work with, USF, especially on offense, was awful last year, but I like the hire, it might just take some time.

Sophomore QB Jordan McCloud had some major problems in 2019, and Scott brought in UNC transfer Cade Fortin to challenge him, a decision I certainly approve of. The receiving corps and the offensive line are both bad, and 2019 RB Jordan Cronkite, one of the few bright spots on a bad offense, is gone. Three of the top five tacklerrs are gone on defense, including USF’s best player last year, edge Greg Reaves. The back of the defense looks good, though. The secondary was real good in 2019, and Devin Gil, a Michigan transfer, spruces up a linebacking corps that was solid already. As a whole, the defense should hold up their end of the bargain, but the offense is a huge drop-off from the highs of 2016. This will be a rebuilding year, but there is plenty of potential to look forward to for USF fans.

11. East Carolina

Head Coach: Mike Houston
2019 Record: 4-8 (1-7 AAC)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 2.3 wins, 6.7 losses (1.6 wins, 6.4 losses AAC)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 19 OPEN DATE
Sept. 26 UCF
Oct. 3 at Georgia State
Oct. 10 at USF
Oct. 17 Navy
Oct. 24 OPEN DATE
Oct. 30 at Tulsa
Nov. 7 Tulane
Nov. 14 at Cincinnati
Nov. 21 at Temple
Nov. 28 SMU

Elsewhere this team might struggle, but QB Holton Ahlers, WRs CJ Johnson and Tyler Snead, and a ton of receiving depth make up a monster passing attack for the Pirates heading into 2020. The offensive line struggled last year, but ECU brings in a pair of ACC transfers to add in some talent. Speedy sophomore Demetrius Mauney looks to be RB1, and Arkansas transfer Chase Hayden looks to be solid as well. On defense, tiny but dangerous CB Ja’Quan McMillian is the best player on what is a weak side of the ball. LB Xavier Smith is also back after leading the team with 81 tackles last year, and the Pirates will also add in some more power five transfer to improve a group that was one of the worst in the country in 2019. Going from two FCS games in 2019 to zero in 2020 means the win total will probably go down, but this will be an improved team, and one that is still young, meaning a bowl trip in 2021 may be in the cards.

AAC Title Game Pick: Cincinnati over UCF

All-AAC Team

QB – Shane Buechele, SMU
RB – Gerrid Doaks, Cincinnati
RB – Jamale Carothers, Navy
WR – Damonte Coxie, Memphis
WR – Reggie Roberson Jr., SMU
TE – Kylen Granson, SMU
C – Dylan Parham, Memphis
OL – Cole Schneider, UCF
OL – Jaylon Thomas, SMU
OL – James Hudson, Cincinnati
OL – Parker Boudreaux, UCF

DL – Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
DL – Elijah Ponder, Cincinnati
DL – Kenny Turnier, UCF
DL – Ifeanyi Maijeh, Temple
LB – Zaven Collins, Tulsa
LB – Diego Fagot, Navy
LB – Patrick Johnson, Tulane
DB – Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
DB – Richie Grant, UCF
DB – Ar’Mani Johnson, SMU
DB – Antwan Collier, UCF

Most Appearances By Team:

Cincinnati – 5
UCF – 5
SMU – 5
Memphis – 2
Navy – 2
Tulane – 1
Temple – 1
Tulsa – 1

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Shane Buechele, SMU
Defensive Player of the Year: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Coach of the Year: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Freshman of the Year: RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Newcomer of the Year: OL James Hudson, Cincinnati
Game of the Year: Cincinnati @ UCF (Novermber 21)
Sleeper Team: Tulane

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