Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
In its last season as an automatic-qualifying conference, the American Athletic Conference boasts a top-10 team in Louisville and new faces including UCF, Memphis, SMU, Temple and Houston.
Will one of the newcomers step up and contend for the title? Can Louisville run the table, catch some breaks and play for the BCS National Championship? Is the conference title a foregone conclusion for the Cardinals?
Check out our preview for the American Athletic Conference.
Memphis head coach Justin Fuente.
Coming off of a 4-8 season in which they won three straight to close it out, the Memphis Tigers head to the artist formerly known as the Big East with a bowl game in their sights.
They won't get it.
Paxton Lynch, a 6'6', 225-redshirt freshman, beat out senior Jacob Karam for the starting quarterback job for the Tigers. Karam was solid last season at quarterback, completing 64.2 percent of his passes (176-of-274) for 1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and three picks. That's a rather high bar set for Deltona, Fla. native Lynch, a former 2-star prospect in the 247Sports.com composite.
Seniors Brandon Hayes and Jai Steib comprised a decent committee at running back last season, but one of them needs to step up and become a star.
The defense wasn't terrible last season, finishing 51st in the country in total defense (383.6 YPG). Defensive end Martin Ifedi and nose tackle Johnnie Farms are back and can keep the Tigers in games.
But with tougher competition in the new American Athletic Conference, consistency will be more myth than reality.
Prediction: 2-10 (0-8 AAC)
Houston QB David Piland
Houston's offense returns nine starters, but one player who isn't there will make a big difference in the Cougars' 2013 outlook—running back Charles Sims.
With Sims gone to West Virginia, it'll be up to junior quarterback David Piland (2,929 yards, 16 TDs) to keep this offense cooking after it finished last season with the nation's 15th-best offense (479.2 YPG). Veteran wide receivers like Deontay Greenberry and Dewayne Peace will certainly help him out.
The Cougars will score, but they may not be able to stop anybody.
First-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs has his work cut out for him. He inherits only four returning starters from a defense that finished 118th in the country in total defense a year ago (483 YPG).
It's going to be a rough transition year for second-year head coach Tony Levine.
Prediction: 4-8 (1-7 AAC)
Temple LB Tyler Matakevich
Matt Rhule enters his first season as the Owls' head coach looking to solve one big question right off the bat: What can be done to fix the defense?
Only four starters are gone off the crew that finished 92nd in total defense a year ago (436.7 YPG). The good news is that the Owls are strong at linebacker with sophomores Tyler Matakevich (101 tackles) and Nate Smith (75 tackles, 3.5 sacks), and senior Levi Brown should be a beast in the middle of that defensive line.
The Owls need a quarterback. Sophomore Connor Reilly won the job in fall camp, but he has never thrown a collegiate pass. The Owls may need to rely on inexperienced running backs Kenny Harper and Jamie Gilmore.
The defense will improve and keep the Owls in games. That offense is going to be inconsistent, though.
Prediction: 6-6 (3-5 AAC)
SMU head coach June Jones
It seems like only yesterday when June Jones was leading the Hawaii Warriors to the Sugar Bowl, and now he's led the SMU Mustangs to four straight bowl games—a school record.
Garrett Gilbert (2,932 yards, 15 TDs, 15 INTs) showed why he was a big-time recruit at times last season, but he was far too inconsistent to lead his team into contention in the tougher American Athletic Conference. Zach Line was solid at running back over the last three seasons, but he's gone and the ground game may be in the hands of his younger brother (Prescott) in 2013.
SMU picked off 21 passes a year ago, and essentially the entire secondary returns. That helps. But five players from last season's front seven which finished 15th in the country in rush defense (117.92 YPG) are gone.
The Mustangs will get back to a bowl game and keep the streak alive, but it will be stressful.
Prediction: 6-6 (5-3 AAC)
UConn RB Lyle McCombs
If you're looking for a sleeper out of the AAC, give UConn a look.
The defense is good enough to keep the Huskies in games. If running back Lyle McCombs can become reliable again—like he was when he rushed for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman All-American in 2011, they can absolutely put themselves in position to move up the AAC bowl pecking order.
Head coach Paul Pasqualoni needs to find some kind of offense, because junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer (2,664, nine TDs, 16 interceptions) isn't nearly consistent enough to lead the Huskies into contention.
Linebacker Yawin Smallwood and defensive end Jesse Joseph will keep them in games, but somebody has to step up.
Prediction: 7-5 (5-3 AAC)
South Florida head coach Willie Taggart
Willie Taggart inherits a South Florida team that has been inconsistent since 2007, but the cupboard is far from bare in Tampa.
Notre Dame transfer defensive end Aaron Lynch has superstar written all over him. He had 33 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks for the Fighting Irish in 2011. He and senior defensive end Ryne Giddins present the conference's top pass rush. That can filter through an entire defense, and it may have to this season.
The Bulls managed an FBS-worst two interceptions last season, and that won't cut it.
The quarterback spot is a point of concern for Taggart. Sophomore Matt Floyd beat out senior Bobby Eveld and Penn State transfer Steven Bench for the job as the Bulls began preparation for the opener. If Floyd can take the job and run with it, Taggart's team will contend.
Prediction: 7-5 (5-3)
UCF RB Storm Johnson
If you're looking for offensive firepower, look no further than UCF.
The Knights enter the season with junior Blake Bortles at quarterback (3,059 yards, 25 TDs, seven INTs), junior Storm Johnson at running back (507 yards, four TDs) and essentially their entire wide receiving corps intact. Johnson may get a challenge this season from sophomore Cedric Thompson and freshman Will Stanbeck
Linebacker Terrance Plummer, defensive back Brandon Alexander and safety Clayton Geathers are good enough to force opposing offenses into mistakes. With the pieces head coach George O'Leary has on offense, that's all the Knights need.
Prediction: 7-5 (5-3 AAC)
Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Having a veteran quarterback, a veteran offensive line and a star at wide receiver is generally a recipe for offensive success. That's exactly what Rutgers has with junior Gary Nova taking snaps, four returning starters on the offensive line and Brandon Coleman (718 yards, 10 TDs) outside.
Nova will have to be more stable considering 14 of his 16 interceptions in 2012 came after Game 6, but he has the supporting staff to do it.
The Scarlet Knights have to reload on defense, but new defensive coordinator (and former linebackers coach) Dave Cohen has talent to work with in senior linebacker Jamal Merrell (83 tackles), senior defensive end Jamil Merrell (10.5 TFLs) and potential star defensive tackle Darius Hamilton.
Rutgers will get a big win over Louisville, but it will stumble to the Florida schools and at SMU.
Prediction: 8-4 (5-3)
Cincinnati QB Brendon Kay
Quarterback Brendon Kay was pretty solid down the stretch for Cincinnati last season, going 4-1 as a starter and passing for 1,250 yards and nine touchdowns.
First-year head coach Tommy Tuberville has weapons around Kay to work with, including senior wide receiver Anthony McClung (539 yards, 2 TD) and electric running back Ralph David Abernathy IV (707 total yards, 7 TD).
Not a bad foundation in Year 1.
The linebackers are strong with senior Greg Blair and Florida State transfer Jeff Luc in the mix.
It seems like it's a foregone conclusion that Louisville will stay atop the division, but keep an eye on the Bearcats.
Road trips to USF and Rutgers, coupled with a home loss to UConn, will cost the Bearcats a shot at the AAC title even though they'll top Louisville in the final week of the season.
Prediction: 9-3 (5-3 AAC)
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
A Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback, a proven head coach with a contract extension and a former offensive MVP of the BCS National Championship Game at running back have Louisville as the odds-on favorite to win the American in its final year before a jump to the ACC.
But the Cardinals are thinking bigger.
An undefeated season is the goal for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, head coach Charlie Strong, former Auburn running back Michael Dyer and fellow running back Dom Brown.
The Cards have firepower.
In addition to those stars, the Cardinals boast receiver Damian Copeland and a defense that features senior safety Hakeem Smith and linebacker Preston Brown.
Chasing a conference title is much different from running the table, and these Cardinals will stumble along the way to Rutgers and at Cincinnati. An AAC title and another BCS bid is a nice consolation, though.
Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 AAC)