The American Athletic Conference is currently hosting its media days in Newport, Rhode Island. The festivities include fun activities like a golf outing and a lobster eating contest, but what I wait for is the preseason media poll. Well, it came out this morning and there were a couple of surprises. Here is the list in its entirety with first place points received in parantheses followed by total points:
1. Cincinnati (17) - 311
2. UCF (7) - 296
3. Houston (6) - 268
4. East Carolina - 262
5. SMU - 158
6. USF - 157
7. Memphis - 133
8. Temple - 105
9. UCONN - 98
Tulane - 98
11. Tulsa - 94
I have to be honest, I expected to see Cincinnati come in at #2. Cincinnati returns 16 starters and UCF returns 17. It looks like the loss of Blake Bortles was enough to sway 17 media members to pick UC. UCF has 9 returning starters on defense including the Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP from last year in linebacker Terrance Plummer. Plus with their victory over Baylor last year, I assumed there would be substantial media hype about them this year... in this case I was somewhat wrong.
Regardless of my thoughts before today, the media believes in UC, and that is huge. UC has historically been overlooked year after year in both football and basketball. With UC being picked #1, that tells me that Cincinnati is gaining national respect as a football school (I won't use powerhouse... yet). Bearcat fans should know not to put too much stock in these preseason polls. They are usually good at identifying the top and bottom half of schools, but the individual rankings can get pretty off.
The AAC writeup touts Cincinnati's recent historical success in winning at least nine games six times in the last seven years. They go on to highlight Eric Lefield on offense and Silverberry Mouhon on defense, both deservedly so.
With a 100+ point drop after ECU, the media clearly sees a top four followed by the rest of the field. UC could lose to any of the other top four, except of course UCF because they don't play each other this year... again.
At #3, Houston is a scary team. They led the country in forced turnovers last year, with a ridiculous 43, and have returning AAC Rookie of the Year John O'Korn. ECU comes in at #4. They boast an impressive offensive duo in quarterback Shane Carden and wide out Justin Hardy. Carden was last year's Conference USA MVP and was called a Heisman candidate by conference commissioner Mike Aresco earlier this year. I think having a Heisman candidate on a predicted fourth-place team really speaks well for the conference. Fortunately for us, we have both ECU and Houston at home this year. We play ECU on a Thursday night, which is usually a blast (at least it was at Nippert), and Houston is the final game of the season.
Unfortunately, we will likely have a repeat of the basketball season from last year. This time, instead of a dominant top five, there will be only four. Many of the teams toward the bottom have been making moves recently (e.g. UConn hiring Notre Damn defensive coordinator Bob Diaco as new head coach), which is exciting for the rest of us. Should be a great year and I can't wait to get this season started.
-Daniele "Da" Bologna