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Round Table: AAC Preseason Rankings

Jeff and Drew discuss The American’s preseason poll results

NCAA Football: Temple at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The American Athletic Conference’s Football Media Day is underway, and off the top, we have the preseason poll results. It was tight, but the UCF Knights were picked third, although they were tied with top-picked Houston for the most first-place votes:

Fun fact: We had a ballot this year! The conference asked me — Jeff — to submit a ballot, and Drew and I collaborated on the final ballot before sending it in.

To start, we each gave one another our initial ballots and then worked out one final ballot that was sent to the conference office. Here’s how that looked in comparison to the final results:

2022 AAC Preseason Poll

Place Drew's First Poll Jeff's First Poll Jeff/Drew's Submission Final AAC Poll
Place Drew's First Poll Jeff's First Poll Jeff/Drew's Submission Final AAC Poll
1 Houston SMU Houston Houston (7)
2 UCF Houston UCF Cincinnati (10)
4 Cincinnati Tulane ECU SMU
5 Memphis Cincinnati Cincinnati Memphis
6 ECU South Florida Memphis ECU
7 Tulane ECU Tulane Tulane
8 Tulsa Memphis South Florida Tulsa
9 South Florida Navy Tulsa South Florida
10 Navy Tulsa Navy Navy
11 Temple Temple Temple Temple
First-place votes in parentheses

Not bad. So here’s a quick Round Table as we discuss how we arrived at our predictions and The American’s overall results:

First, how did you each fill out your initial rankings?

Jeff: I always start as an agent of chaos and then get talked back into reality. I liked SMU having Cincinnati and Houston at home even despite having a new coach, and I liked Houston’s schedule not having Cincinnati or UCF. I’m also big on QBs, so I would have put UCF in first place were it not for the QB position not being settled yet. That’s also the reason why I had Cincy so low to start out, and Tulane relatively high. But mostly I go out of my way to avoid blatant homerism.

Drew: You first have to look at last year and see where things ended. Then, you look forward to who stays, who comes in, and who is gone. There are some wild card factors like the schedule or coaching changes that have to be accounted for too. I’ve been accused of being a non-fan, but that’s because when I do stuff like this, I leave the fandom at the door and try to be objective. On my initial rankings, I picked everyone outside of 2-4 correctly, so I think the process works.

Where did you disagree the most?

Jeff: A few places. I think South Florida could surprise some people. They had a number of one-score losses they could chalk up to inexperience (BYU, Tulsa, Houston, UCF) but Drew convinced me they just aren’t talented enough. I also tried to advocate for Tulane because of their QB and also because they also dropped four one-score games you could chalk up to bad luck.

Drew: Jeff had some odd picks, but I put my foot down against South Florida being sixth. I also think he sold Memphis short. Seth Henigan is a gunslinging quarterback and while we did not get to see him play at UCF due to injury, showed a lot of talent and potential. He made the FWAA Freshman All-American Team.

Thoughts on the final rankings?

Jeff: I think it’s pretty clear that there’s a top four (Houston, SMU, Houston, and UCF) a squishy middle (Memphis, ECU, Tulane), and then everyone else. The conference may very well come down to just four games on the schedule:

  • Oct. 1: SMU at UCF
  • Oct. 22: Cincinnati at SMU
  • Oct. 29: Cincinnati at UCF
  • Nov. 5: Houston at SMU

There’s a possibility for one of the bottom seven to surprise everyone. I think that might be ECU or Tulane, depending on QB play.

Drew: I like my original rankings better, but this is a team game. I think we hit home the fact that four teams — UCF, Houston, SMU, and Cincinnati — are real contenders and as Jeff highlighted above, SMU plays all three while Houston only plays one. The schedule played a role in the rankings. We both feel that Cincinnati has lost too much while Houston, SMU, and UCF have not. Considering where we put Cincinnati, you can say we cost them the number one spot overall.

Who could be the surprisingly good team that exceeds their final ranking?

Jeff: I think the league’s media are way under-valuing ECU. Holton Ahlers is now a fourth-year starter and they were a few bad breaks from going 10-2. If Ahlers can stay healthy, I would not be surprised to see the Pirates get the benefit of some of those breaks this season.

Drew: I’m high on the Memphis Tigers. Seth Henigan is a year older and redshirt sophomore Brandon Thomas will be in the backfield with him. The Tigers likely would have beaten UCF last year if they weren’t down to their third-string quarterback. They were all about the 50-50 ball. Four of Memphis’ six wins and six losses were by one score or less, including a win versus Mississippi State. Jeff is spot on with ECU too. They’re a bigger dark horse because they haven’t been taken very seriously in recent years. That’s a mistake.

Who could be a surprisingly bad team that drops way below their ranking?

Jeff: Cincinnati. They’re going to be mad at me for saying this but Desmond Ridder meant so much to them last year. They have a transfer QB from Eastern Michigan coming in to take his place. They also lost a lot of guys off of that defense — six Bearcats went to the NFL, including Sauce Gardner. We are going to find out exactly how good of a coach Luke Fickell is this season.

Drew: I’m going to go out on a limb and say SMU just to be different. There is always a degree of uncertainty when a new coaching staff comes in. Rhett Lashlee has been a coordinator for many years and finally is in charge. Does he have the right players? Will the system be embraced? Does he have enough depth in case something goes wrong? It’s always tougher to answer these with a new staff. SMU will play at UCF this season.

Last question: Are you buying, selling, or holding UCF in third place?

Jeff: (Jim Kramer voice) BUY, BUY, BUY! Once the QB situation is settled, people are going to see the full range of Gus Malzahn’s offense. It will be nice having Cincy and SMU at home this year.

Drew: Buy. UCF has a great revenge tour setup. They get every team they lost to at home. That includes Cincinnati and SMU and neither school will be a pushover. UCF does have to play Memphis and ECU on the road, which could be dangerous.