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Around the AAC - Week 1

A look at the new QBs, new coaches and top games in the American Athletic Conference in week 1.

Maryland v Connecticut Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Beyond the Cincinnati vs UCLA game, there are 11 AAC games throughout the weekend, beginning on Thursday and ending on Sunday.

New Quarterbacks

UCF - Brandon Wimbush replaces McKenzie Milton, who will miss the entire season due to injury. Wimbush started all 12 games for Notre Dame in 2017 and 4 games in 2018 (the first three before being benched). Freshman Dillon Gabriel is also expected to see playing time.

Tulsa - Zach Smith takes over after sitting out 2018 due to transfer rules. In 19 games with Baylor, he threw 21 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, just under 3,000 yards an completing 55% of his passes

SMU - Shane Buechele transfers from Texas after an up-and-down career in Austin. He started 12 games as a freshman in 2016 during a 5-7 season. He threw 30 TD and 16 INT in his Texas career.

Coaching Debuts

Houston - Dana Holgorsen went 61-41 in 8 years at West Virginia, the last 7 as members of the Big 12. Holgorsen voluntarily left the Mountaineers for Houston, replacing Major Applewhite. Applewhite was 15-11 in two years but his tenure ended with a major thud losing the Armed Forces Bowl 70-14 to Army to end last season.

Temple - Rod Carey was 52-30 in 6 years at Northern Illinois. He made his debut in the 2013 Orange Bowl, where he replaced Dave Dorean, who left for NC State. Including that game, Carey was 0-6 with NIU in bowl games.

Temple initially hired Manny Diaz, but he left after two weeks to return to Miami

East Carolina - Scottie Montgomery was fired after winning 3 games each of his three seasons at ECU. He has been replaced by Mike Houston, who had an incredible run at James Madison, which included the 2016 FCS Championship.

Week 1 Games

Huge statement week for AAC with games against all five Power 5 conferences plus a pair of conference championship contenders in CUSA Sun Belt.

Houston @ Oklahoma

New Houston coach Dana Holgorsen debuts against an Oklahoma team he knows quite well from his tenure at West Virginia. Unfortunately, they know him even better as Holgorsen is 0-7 vs Oklahoma. This is a huge opportunity for a statement win for Houston and for the conference. Last time Houston played Oklahoma was 2016 and the Cougars won 33-23. D’Eriq King combined for 50 touchdowns last year (36 pass, 14 run). Oklahoma has made the CFB Playoffs each of the last two years with a Heisman Trophy QB who transferred in and this year’s QB is Jalen Hurts, who went 26-2 as a starter from 2016-2017 with Alabama.

South Florida vs Wisconsin

Entering year three of the Charlie Strong era, it’s hard to know what the Bulls are. They went 10-2 in 2017, with zero wins over “quality” teams. Last season’s team opened up 7-0 before losing their final 6. QB Blake Barnett was banged up in the second half of last season and he returns, healthy, and should improve. He was prone to turnovers, having thrown almost as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12). Wisconsin has the Doak Walker Award winner at RB, Jonathan Taylor, but also has a quarterback who is also prone to turnovers and mistakes, in Jack Coan.

Memphis vs Ole Miss

Memphis is the favorite to win the AAC West for a third straight year. Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard are both gone, but Patrick Taylor Jr. ran for 1,122 yards and 16 touchdowns and should perform even better with those two gone. Brady White returns at QB after throwing 26 TD and just 9 INT. Ole Miss is 11-13 the last two years and lost a lot of production from last year’s 5 win team, meaning Memphis is in a prime position to pull off a nice win over an SEC team. Memphis has won just once in the last 8 meetings with Ole Miss.

East Carolina @ NC State

ECU lost 58-3 last year to NC State but beat them as recently as 2016. ECU QB Holton Ahlers has gotten a lot of press in the pre-season. He was the 17th ranked dual threat QB in 2018 and got in 10 games as a freshman throwing 12 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions and running for 592 yards and 6 touchdowns. NC State loses a lot offensively include their 4,000 yard QB, two 1,000 yard WRs and Offensive Coordinator. Despite the transition, perhaps ECU could catch them off guard and, if not win, keep it competitive. It should definitely be closer than 58-3.

Tulsa @ Michigan State

Tulsa went 2-10 last season and I’m not sure 2019 will be much better. Coach Philip Montgomery is 21-29 overall in 4 seasons and just 5-19 the last two years with 3 AAC wins.

Tulsa running back Corey Taylor II recently declared “With the offensive line that we have, those are great guys, so 100 yards apiece (for Taylor and fellow running back Shamari Brooks), at least, and five (yards) per carry is pretty reasonable,” he said. Good luck with that, guys.

SMU @ Arkansas State

Sonny Dykes enters year two after a disappointing 5-7 season a year ago. They open up against an Arkansas State team that routinely finishes near the top of the Sun Belt and 2019 is projected to be no different. Unfortunately this team is dealing with tragedy, as coach Blake Anderson’s wife recently passed away. We’ll see if Arkansas State is focused and playing for their coach or if their heads are elsewhere with this awful situation weighing them down.

Tulane vs FIU

This is a really exciting Group of Five game. Tulane’s 7-6 record was their best season since 2013 and their Cure Bowl victory was their first bowl win since 2002. Willie Fritz has done a really good job of building Tulane into a competitive football team and some people have them pegged as a sleeper to watch in the AAC West. Justin McMillan is expected to handle all the QB snaps in 2019, after splitting time with Jonathan Banks last year. He has a solid weapon in Darnell Mooney at WR and two excellent RBs in Darius Bradwell (1,134 yards, 11 TD) and Corey Dauphine (785, 7 TD).

UCF vs Florida A&M

Josh Heupel had a successful 12-1 year in his first season as UCF head coach. Knights went undefeated for a second straight regular season but saw their 25 game losing streak come to an end in the Fiesta Bowl against LSU.

Knights win streak will no doubt continue heading into a stretch of the schedule that includes Florida Atlantic, Stanford and Pittsburgh before getting into AAC play.

Temple vs Bucknell

Temple opened last season losing to Villanova from FCS, so Bucknell should not be taken lightly. But a game against Bucknell is a good way to open the season with QB Anthony Russo, a potential NFL prospect, questionable for Saturday due to an injury. And the fact that they have a whole new system and coaching staff.

Navy vs Holy Cross

Last year was a difficult season for Navy, as the Midshipmen went 3-10, their worst season since winning 2 games in 2002. Opening the season at home against Holy Cross is a much better match up than last year’s opener at Hawaii. Navy should be able to get their run game going early and start to build some momentum as they get into better opponents. This team should be much improved from last year.

UConn vs Wagner

Huskies had the worst defense in the history of college football last season - this is not hyperbole, statistically they were the worst. They HAVE to be better, right?? Wagner went 4-7 each of the last two seasons and likely won’t pose too much of a threat to UConn. Huskies should savor the opportunity to win because it very well could be their only victory of 2019.