Q: Is the AAC No. 1 in the Group of Five?
It’s not much of a consolation for the remnants of the Big East plus all of the transfers from Conference USA, but for now being considered the “best of the rest” league is the American’s No. 1 goal. It’s between the AAC and the Mountain West, but there aren’t a lot of head-to-head match ups to go by — Boise State at UConn and Tulsa at Colorado State — so the key for the AAC is how its teams fare against the Power 5 schools. There are 21 of those games, and if AAC teams can come close to breaking even, it would certainly boost the league’s credibility.
Q: Who’s the top team among the C-USA newcomers?
East Carolina was the most consistent winner in C-USA, and with quarterback Shane Carden returning to guide an offense that was eighth in the country in scoring last season (40.2 points per game), the Pirates have far more firepower than fellow AAC rookies Tulane and Tulsa. That potent offense is going to be needed because the defense is replacing seven lost starters. Early games against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina will be a test, but look for the Pirates to win at least one of them.
Q: Will Central Florida take a tumble?
The Knights were last year’s underground success story — beating preseason favorite and ACC-bound Louisville on the road early on as part of a 10-game winning streak that culminated with a 52-42 victory in the Fiesta Bowl. But much of that success was due to quarterback Blake Bortles, whom neighboring Jacksonville made the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft. Also, six of UCF’s victories were by one score. The defense is solid, but for anything close to a repeat of last season’s success, the ball is going to have to keep bouncing the Knights’ way.
Q: Will Munchie Legaux make a comeback?
Everybody’s certainly pulling for the former Karr quarterback, who gained an extra year of eligibility at Cincinnati after suffering a gruesome leg injury that ended what was to have been his senior season last September. But he’s still not fully cleared to play, and former five-star recruit Gunner Kiel, a transfer from Notre Dame, earned the starting job in the spring. Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville would love to get Legaux some playing time when Cincy visits Tulane on Oct. 31. But Legaux’s starting days appear over.
Q: Is expansion coming?
In the ever-changing world of realignment, this will be the AAC’s only season as an 11-school entity. Navy joins as a football-only member next year, meaning a split into division play and a conference championship game. But Commissioner Mike Aresco isn’t shy about how much current-independent BYU would bring to the league and he hasn’t closed the door on Massachusetts, which is leaving the MAC after the 2015 season. BYU would be a football-only member but UMass would likely come aboard in all sports, boosting the league’s Eastern presence.