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American Athletic Conference Preview: With No Bortles and Bridgewater, League Newcomer East Carolina and Cincinnati Will Vie For Supremacy

(Image courtesy of CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com)
(Image courtesy of CHUCK LIDDY — [email protected])

 

Thanks Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater leaving for the NFL, could American Athletic Conference newcomer, East Carolina and pre-season favorite, Cincinnati be the next teams to beat?

Bortles of Central Florida and Bridgewater of Louisville—now a new member of the Atlantic Coast Conference—would be drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings in the 2014 NFL Draft, indirectly creating a proverbial vacuüm for conference supremacy as the AAC is as wide-open as any conference in college football.

With the conference formerly known as the Big East is about to go into it’s second year, do not sleep on the potential for a team to emerge out of obscurity to secure a at-large birth in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

For the 2014-15 season, the AAC will have playmakers such as Cincinnati wideout Shaq Washington, East Carolina wideout Justin Hardy, Houston wideout Deontay Greenberry, Houston quarterback John O’Korn, UCF running back William Syanback and Temple quarterback P.J. Walker on offense.

On defense, the AAC will be sure to lean the names of UCF defensive back Jacoby Glenn, Memphis defensive end Martin Ifedi, Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich and Tulsa defensive back Michael Mudoh.

Team and Player to Watch For: QB Shane Carden, East Carolina, WR Shaq Washington, Cincinnati: The one player and team to watch out for is the aforementioned Carden and the East Carolina Pirates. A 6’3, 221-pound senior, Carden put up 4,000+ total yards and 43 total touchdowns in Conference USA.

Will a new conference slow him and a team that averaged close to 41 points a game? Not likely.

In beating UNC, NC State and Southern Miss last year, Carden could be a sleeper candidate for the Heisman if he leads East Carolina to wins on the road against South Carolina and Virginia Tech and at home vs. UNC(again).

Washington, a 5-9, 174-pound senior slot receiver from Cincinnati has the potential to be a dynamic all-purpose playmaker, as he caught 78 passes for 783 yards and one touchdown. the Cleveland-area native(Maple Heights), also threw one touchdown and averaged 13.4 yards as a rusher on the ground.

In four games last year, Washington recorded double-digit receptions.

Depending on how Cincinnati sorts out their situation at quarterback in Muchie Leagux and Notre Dame transfer, Gunner Kiel, Washington could garner some serious national attention.

Game To Watch: East Carolina at Cincinnati (11/13/14) In a mid-November game that is expected to be cold, windy and possibly full of snow on banks of the Ohio River, East Carolina’s high-powered offense will tangle with the Cincinnati Bearcats in a game that will likely decide the AAC conference title.

If ECU is able to put points early on the road, then the Pirates will stamp their ticket an at-large birth in the College Football Playoff against the pre-season conference favorite Bearcats that boast all-league players in Washington, center Deyshawn Bond, offensive tackle Eric Lefeld and defensive end Silverberry Mouton.

Per cincinnati.com, the Bearcats return 16 starters with the forementioned Bond(Rimington Award), Washington(Biletnikoff Award), Mouton(Lombardi Trophy) and Lefeld (Outland Trophy) being named to pre-season watch lists.

Expect to up-and-down high-scoring affair in the Queen City.

Prediction: East Carolina defeats UC, secures at-large birth in College Football Playoff.

Thanks to the UCF 52-42 upset over Baylor in the now-defunct—thankfully—BCS Championship Series, the schedule-makers must have really liked what they saw from the AAC in scheduling some interesting non-conference matchups such as Cincinnati-Ohio State, East-Carolina-South Carolina, Tulsa-Oklahoma and UCF-Mizzou.

According to the official American Athletic Conference website, the AAC placed two teams in the top 15 of the final AP and USA Today polls, while the league was one of just three conferences to produce two 12-win teams, joining the Big Ten and the SEC.

Additionally, the AAC had the most challenging non-conference of any league in 2014 including scheduled games against 10 teams that were ranked in the top 25 of last year’s final USA Today Coaches’ Poll (South Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Baylor, UCLA, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Duke, Vanderbilt) and additional games against BYU (three), Georgia Tech, Miami and Penn State.

The AAC continues that trend with UCF playing Penn State in Dublin, Ireland, follow by other intriguing regional and inter-sectional matchups such as UC-Miami(FL), USF-Wisconsin, UConn-BYU, UConn-Boise State, SMU-Baylor, SMU-Texas A&M, SMU-TCU and Memphis facing Pac-12 power UCLA and SEC contender Ole Miss on the road.

New name, new teams, same competitiveness week-in and week-out in the most underrated conference, that in it’s first year won the NCAA men’s and women’s national titles in basketball, a BCS bowl game and produced two first-round quarterbacks in Bortles and Bridgewater may just be the one to watch the most in 2014-15.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]

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