2013 AAC Football Simulated Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2013 AAC Football Simulated Preview

We simulate the American Athletic Conference football season

WhatIfSports.com
August 22, 2013

Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create the 2013 American Athletic Conference Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 19th. What you see in the AAC Predictions table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.

AAC Predictions
TeamWLOverall Record
Louisville539-3
Cincinnati538-4
Rutgers447-5
UCF446-6
Connecticut446-6
Houston446-6
Memphis446-6
SMU445-7
Temple356-6
South Florida355-7

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For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.


Louisville

Teddy Bridgewater

How hot is Louisville these days? So hot that anything less than a perfect 2013 season will be viewed as a disappointment.

The Cardinals are one of the fastest surging programs in America. In just the past year, they've captured the Big East, shocked No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl and forged an agreement to join the ACC in 2014. Heady times indeed in the ‘Ville. Best of all, the victories—on and off the field—may have been setting the table for the season ahead.

Louisville has a head of steam. It has talent as well. The head coach and the star quarterback return, Charlie Strong for his fourth season and Teddy Bridgewater for his third, respectively. Strong has done a magnificent job of raising the overall talent level and changing the climate from the ill-fated Steve Kragthorpe era. He has been a transformational figure in every sense of the word. Bridgewater gives the Cardinals their first Heisman candidate in years, a foundational leader who has already begun to attract the attention of NFL scouts.

The Cardinals will start 2013 with few glaring holes, the by-product of losing just 11 letterwinners, including three from the D, from a squad that went 11-2 in the prior year. So what will the expectations be for a school with so many returning veterans? It's a little hard to quantify, because Louisville has one year left to serve in the Big East, er, American Athletic Conference. The Cards should be favored in every game, most by double-digits. Oh, and the only Top 25 opponents they'll face during the regular season will be the ones from the AAC that get hot and temporarily slip into the back end of the rankings.

Louisville has in many ways become West Virginia, when Rich Rodriguez was on the sidelines. It's not only the class of the conference formerly known as the Big East, but it also has the right mix of big league talent and navigable schedule to be considered a darkhorse candidate for the BCS National Championship Game. It's going to take an upset to defeat these upwardly-mobile Cardinals, with the formidable coach-QB combo of Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater. With no marquee regular season games until it joins the ACC, though, can Louisville earn enough respect by becoming more than just a really good team from a really mediocre conference?

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 Louisville Cardinals
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Ohio Bobcats6930-23
2Eastern Kentucky Colonels9551-8
3@Kentucky Wildcats6024-21
4FIU Golden Panthers7930-20
6@Temple Owls7227-20
7Rutgers Scarlet Knights6725-21
8UCF Knights6729-24
9@South Florida Bulls7628-18
11@Connecticut Huskies6227-22
12Houston Cougars6629-22
13Memphis Tigers7729-20
15@Cincinnati Bearcats5125-24

Cincinnati

Brendon Kay

Cincinnati remains one of college football's best-kept secrets, but hardly by choice.

The Bearcats have won at least a share of four of the last five Big East titles, a fact known by about nine people outside of the Queen City. And not much more inside of it. Their last three leaders now coach at Michigan State, Notre Dame and Tennessee, while their current one, Tommy Tuberville, has held jobs at Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech. Yet, Cincinnati has made about as much of a splash as a leaf on a pond, especially in the era of realignment.

Maintaining last year's 10-win level, which included three losses by no more than a touchdown, will require the new men in charge to tinker and tweak with both sides of the ball once the personnel is learned. The offense needs to decide on a quarterback between Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux, and then give that guy some weapons with which to work. The D has holes on the first and last lines of defense. The linebackers, though, could be the nastiest in the AAC now that all-star Greg Blair received a sixth year of eligibility and former Florida State mega-recruit Jeff Luc is eligible to play.

Since 2006, Cincinnati has gone 65-26, despite using four different head coaches to get there. Yet, the Bearcats still get about as much respect as a three-yard plunge. Tuberville is unfazed by the challenges ahead pertaining to perception or the more substantive on-field stuff. He just wants to keep Cincy on a winning path, wherever that might take the school.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 Cincinnati Bearcats
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Purdue Boilermakers5323-23
2@Illinois Fighting Illini6825-20
3Northwestern State Demons9547-8
4@Miami (OH) RedHawks8529-16
6@South Florida Bulls6726-20
7Temple Owls6423-18
8Connecticut Huskies6425-21
10@Memphis Tigers6324-21
11SMU Mustangs6726-20
12@Rutgers Scarlet Knights6325-21
13@Houston Cougars7128-20
15Louisville Cardinals4924-25

Rutgers

Gary Nova

The Scarlet Knights are about to embark on their final year in the Big East, now the American Athletic Conference, a relationship that began more than two decades ago. Over the past eight seasons, the football program has reached new heights by appearing in seven bowl games, producing a spate of NFL players and gaining regional, if not national, respect. Yet, that goal of capturing a league title, and the marquee bowl berth that comes with it has eluded Rutgers.

In 2006, the Knights delivered a signature upset of Louisville on national TV, yet lost two of their next three games to send the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl. And then last Nov. 29, with a BCS bowl berth resting on the outcome, Rutgers squandered a second-half lead at home to Louisville, which rallied for the 20-17 win that sent it to the Sugar Bowl. It was a lost opportunity, one that'll haunt Rutgers for some time.

The decision last fall to join the Big Ten was a no-brainer for Rutgers, a landmark event on the timeline of the school's athletic history. For the University, it'll be a monumental win on so many levels, from finances to exposure. But victories on Saturdays are going to be harder to come by; Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska didn't appear on the schedule in the past.

This season might be the Scarlet Knights' best chance for a while of playing in a BCS bowl game, though Louisville is fittingly standing in the way. If Rutgers is going to leave its old league with some hardware on the moving truck, it'll need to address issues on both sides of the ball. Just 10 starters are back from last year's 9-4 squad, including four on defense. The offense is searching for consistency, specifically out of QB Gary Nova and RB Savon Huggins, who's taking over for 1,000-yard rusher Jawan Jamison. The D, meanwhile, is putting out APBs for leaders and playmakers now that DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene, S Duron Harmon and CB Logan Ryan are all trying to make NFL rosters.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Fresno State Bulldogs4723-24
2Norfolk State Spartans9546-8
3Eastern Michigan Eagles7929-18
4Arkansas Razorbacks3921-24
6@SMU Mustangs6926-20
7@Louisville Cardinals3321-25
9Houston Cougars5626-23
10Temple Owls6324-18
12Cincinnati Bearcats3721-25
13@UCF Knights5823-21
14@Connecticut Huskies5722-19
15South Florida Bulls5724-20

UCF

Blake Bortles

Tassels in Orlando are being moved from the right side of the mortar board to the left. UCF has graduated from Conference USA.

Not long after moving from the MAC to Conference USA in 2005, the Knights dreamt of membership in an even bigger league that would match its aspirations and first-rate facilities. The program bided its time, won two of four league championship game appearances and established a reputation for success as a mid-tier program. The circumstances have been far less than ideal, but the Big East finally extended an offer at the end of 2011.

UCF is set to begin life as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the now watered-down and rebranded Big East Conference. Yeah, the Knights are in a better place, with a chance for more exposure, but their new home has suffered foundational damage from realignment. The automatic BCS bowl berth that comes with winning the league has just a one-year expiration date.

Head coach George O'Leary has now been in charge of the Knights for a decade. His teams have won at least 10 games three times in the last six years, including last season. UCF copped the East Division, and closed out the year with a Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl rout of Ball State.

Under O'Leary, UCF has typically used a surly defense to help overcome the deficiencies of the offense. This season, however, the Knights are undergoing a noticeable personality change. The offense will challenge to become the AAC's best, while the defense adapts to life without many of last season's top performers.

Blake Bortles is well on his way to becoming the most polished quarterback in program history, a next-level talent who has only just begun to tantalize scouts. The supporting cast is surging ahead, with RB Storm Johnson and WR Breshad Perriman, in particular, poised for breakout years. The defense won't be bad. Never is. It's just less likely to spearhead victories this season.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 UCF Knights
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Akron Zips8031-21
2@FIU Golden Panthers5828-23
3@Penn State Nittany Lions3621-28
5South Carolina Gamecocks2919-27
6@Memphis Tigers5325-23
8@Louisville Cardinals3224-29
9Connecticut Huskies5023-22
11Houston Cougars5328-26
12@Temple Owls6024-20
13Rutgers Scarlet Knights4221-23
14South Florida Bulls6125-22
15@SMU Mustangs5725-23

Connecticut

Paul Pasqualoni

If Paul Pasqualoni can't turn things around in 2013, his career as a head coach will likely be over.

When UConn signed Pasqualoni two year ago, he appeared to be an odd choice to succeed wildly successful Randy Edsall. Still does. Pasqualoni inherited a program that capped a four-year run of eight-win seasons by appearing in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl as the Big East champs. And he's piloted that program into a ditch of mediocrity with back-to-back 5-7 campaigns.

The Huskies have squandered the goodwill and the budding reputation as an up-and-comer that they'd methodically corralled under Edsall. Two subpar years at a basketball school will have that effect on a football program. Pasqualoni will enter his do-or-die season with new coordinators on both sides of the ball, T.J. Weist on offense and Hank Hughes on defense. Each of the new coaches faces very tough challenges in 2013.

Weist must deal with a perennial problem in Storrs, a stale and necrotic offense that lacks the presence at quarterback to challenge defenses downfield. The 2012 version of the Huskies ranked 118th in FBS scoring at a mere 17 points per game. Erratic QB Chandler Whitmer is back for a second chance at bringing balance to an attack that will again be spearheaded by the running of Lyle McCombs.

Defense is rarely a problem at UConn, but losing four all-stars to the NFL could change that constant this year. New coordinator Hank Hughes is searching for a few more playmakers to go along with star LB Yawin Smallwood. More than anything, this team needs someone it can count on to chase down the quarterback now that DE Trevardo Williams has graduated. The return to health of veteran end Jesse Joseph will be a much-needed infusion of proven talent this year.

UConn is ordinary again. The program has been out of the bowl picture for the last two years, and it was left without a prom date during the most recent shifts in conference realignment. If Pasqualoni can't change the course of the Huskies in 2013, the administration will almost certainly move in a different direction at the end of the regular season.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 Connecticut Huskies
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Towson Tigers9544-8
3Maryland Terrapins4819-20
4Michigan Wolverines3319-25
5@Buffalo Bulls6224-19
7South Florida Bulls6723-19
8@Cincinnati Bearcats3621-25
9@UCF Knights5022-23
11Louisville Cardinals3722-27
12@SMU Mustangs5423-21
13@Temple Owls6323-20
14Rutgers Scarlet Knights4119-22
15Memphis Tigers5622-21

Houston

Tony Levine

Houston is on the precipice of a new era. And it couldn't have come at a better time.

The Cougars are hoping to regroup after last season's 5-7 collapse, a poor encore from the 13-1 campaign in the prior year. They're beginning life in a new league, the American Athletic Conference, with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Oh, and to help christen all of the newness in Houston, the University is building a state-of-the-art facility that's set to open in 2014.

Little went right for second-year head coach Tony Levine in his debut as the successor to Kevin Sumlin in 2012. Levine just appeared somewhat out of his league. But changes have been both promised and delivered. Doug Meacham was lured away from Oklahoma State to help tweak an offense that regressed last fall. Houston is a school that's been defined over the years by the play of its quarterbacks, from David Klingler and Andre Ware to Case Keenum most recently.

Meacham's main priority will be to get David Piland right or else find someone else capable of getting the job done at quarterback. The junior was a disappointment in 2012. But he's surrounded by too much talent at the skill positions, including RB Charles Sims and a slew of good receivers, to repeat last season's mediocrity.

Gibbs' D? Well, it'll be a work-in-progress. The unit that struggled badly last year to stop opponents is now being forced to replace seven starters. The Cougars are fast, attacking … and vulnerable, especially against big and physical opponents who can grind out yards on the ground. The bare-knuckles AAC could be a tall order for this group. Gibbs wants to turn his kids loose, allowing them to do what they do best, without having to think too much. Houston will get after it, which will result in sacks, takeaways and still too many blown plays.

It's only Year 2 for Levine, but it's a huge one nonetheless for him. The change in conference and the construction of a $100 million facility will bring more attention to the program. And the reconfigured staff is expected to produce immediate results on both sides of the ball. Last year was an unexpected bump in the road. This year, Houston hopes to return to college football's small-conference fast lane.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 Houston Cougars
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Southern University Jaguars9548-9
2@Temple Owls5526-25
4@Rice Owls5226-24
5@Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners5329-27
7Memphis Tigers5226-23
8BYU Cougars3520-26
9@Rutgers Scarlet Knights4223-26
10South Florida Bulls5224-22
11@UCF Knights4626-28
12@Louisville Cardinals3322-29
13Cincinnati Bearcats2820-28
14SMU Mustangs4526-27

Memphis

Jacob Karam

The Tigers suffered through the anticipated growing pains that accompany a new staff and a thin roster, yet closed out the 2012 season with their first three-game winning streak in more than four years. But can the beleaguered program stay hot as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the league formerly known as the Big East?

Yeah, the old Big East is a shell of its former self, but it'll still feature more landmines for second-year head coach Justin Fuente and his assistants. Heck, Memphis was failing to compete in Conference USA, last posting a winning mark in 2007. And at least for this year, the AAC features Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati.

Although the Tigers are still enduring a severe talent gap compared to their competitors, the team scored 98 more points than it did in 2011, and allowed 57 fewer. At a school like Memphis, it counts as progress. Not only will the holdovers be better acclimated to the coaches, their systems and their philosophies, but the 2013 edition is flush with veterans. In fact, no unit was hit especially hard by graduation.

The offense is welcoming back last season's steady quarterback, Jacob Karam, top two rushers, Brandon Hayes and Jai Steib, and six of the top seven receivers. The O-line, though, will miss all-star Jordan Devey, leaving sophomore Taylor Fallin with sizable shoes to fill at left tackle.

Considering its recent track record of imploding, the D performed remarkably well for coordinator Barry Odom. The unit will once again take its lead from a front seven that looks very Big East-like. Linemen Martin Ifedi, Terry Redden and Johnnie Farms, in particular, will help mask some of the program's deficiencies in the secondary.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 Memphis Tigers
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
2Duke Blue Devils5725-22
3@Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders5726-24
4Arkansas State Red Wolves5022-24
6UCF Knights4523-25
7@Houston Cougars4723-26
8SMU Mustangs5123-23
10Cincinnati Bearcats3621-24
11UTM Skyhawks9542-9
12@South Florida Bulls5823-20
13@Louisville Cardinals2320-29
14Temple Owls5822-20
15@Connecticut Huskies4421-22

SMU

June Jones

Head coach June Jones has done a fine job in five years on the Hilltop, turning a program in disrepair into one that's appeared in four consecutive bowl games. The postseason and SMU haven't exactly been familiar bedfellows since the program was whacked with the NCAA's “Death Penalty” in 1987. Still, there's a growing undercurrent that Jones has hit a wall in Dallas, taken the program about as far as it's going to go. Maxed out.

By Jones' fifth year at Hawaii, his previous employer, he'd guided the Warriors to four seasons of at least nine wins and a lot of gaudy numbers through the air. By Year 9, he had the school playing in the Sugar Bowl. The coach has yet to win nine games at SMU. The 2012 edition, in fact, needed to rally for bowl-eligibility, though it capitalized by roughing up Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl, 43-10. And the offense has been stale. Painfully and inexplicably stale.

The uneven performance of the Run N' Shoot, Jones' calling card, has been the central reason why the Mustangs remain in neutral. Sure, the quarterbacks still sling it all over the field, but not with nearly the same efficiency that Timmy Chang or Colt Brennan did on the islands. The fact that SMU has ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense just once under Jones has been a shocking display of futility.

During the offseason, Jones hired assistant Hal Mumme, the venerable offensive mad scientist. Mumme will tinker with the playbook, but most of his attention will go in the direction of QB Garrett Gilbert, the underachieving Texas transfer who played poorly in his SMU debut. If the Mustangs are going to elevate beyond the ordinary in 2013, the senior quarterback will have to play far more efficiently, particularly as the program faces a tougher slate as one of the new members of the American Athletic Conference. And especially since the defense is undergoing significant changes in the front seven.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 SMU Mustangs
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Texas Tech Red Raiders1920-30
2Montana State Bobcats9543-9
4@Texas A&M Aggies1116-33
5@TCU Horned Frogs1717-29
6Rutgers Scarlet Knights3120-26
8@Memphis Tigers4923-23
9Temple Owls5322-21
11@Cincinnati Bearcats3320-26
12Connecticut Huskies4521-23
13@South Florida Bulls5121-21
14@Houston Cougars5527-26
15UCF Knights4323-25

Temple

Jalen Fitzpatrick

No, Al Golden is not returning to N. Broad Street. But the Owls may have found the next best thing.

When Golden accepted a promotion to Miami in December of 2010, many around Philadelphia felt as if Matt Rhule was the only logical successor. Heck, he was an up-and-coming assistant under Golden who had witnessed what was required to breathe life into a dying program. The Owls administration passed, opting instead to hire Steve Addazio, who has since moved on to Boston College. Enter Rhule, who now gets his chance to prove that he shouldn't have been passed over two years ago.

Rhule is from Pennsylvania, and played linebacker for Penn State during the 1990s. He still owns the home he bought when he was a Temple assistant, before taking an O-line position with the New York Giants. He's a good fit for this challenging position. His job will be to recapture the magic that Golden birthed. And he'll have to do it against a tougher schedule than his mentor faced. The Owls are beginning their second season in the Big East, now known as the American Athletic Conference.

The new staff inherits a 4-7 team that does not boast a lot of ready-made talent. Of last season's seven All-Big East performers, just one, LB Tyler Matakevich, is still an Owl. Oh, and the youthful squad will also be adjusting to new systems, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Long gone is Addazio's run-oriented spread, replaced by a pro-style attack that'll lean more on the pass. The new direction has meant some shifting of personnel, such as former starting quarterback Chris Coyer to H-back, and one-time TE Cody Booth to left tackle. The biggest beneficiaries of the philosophical change figure to be underrated WR Jalen Fitzpatrick and QB Connor Reilly, a spring headline-maker.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 Temple Owls
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Notre Dame Fighting Irish1816-27
2Houston Cougars4525-26
3Fordham Rams9541-9
5@Idaho Vandals8126-15
6Louisville Cardinals2820-27
7@Cincinnati Bearcats3618-23
8Army Black Knights6624-18
9@SMU Mustangs4721-22
10@Rutgers Scarlet Knights3718-24
12UCF Knights4020-24
13Connecticut Huskies3720-23
14@Memphis Tigers4220-22

South Florida

Willie Taggart

South Florida, rich in many of the resources of a potential darkhorse program, came up lame over the last two seasons, costing head coach Skip Holtz his job. Despite residing in a fertile recruiting territory, enjoying quality facilities and playing in a watered-down Big East, the Bulls were just 6-16 against FBS opponents and 2-12 in league games since 2011. A change at the top was inevitable.

Enter Willie Taggart, one of the hottest young coaches in America. Make that very young. Taggart is only 36 years old, yet he's hardly green. In fact, he earned this promotion on the heels of an improbable three-year stint at his alma mater, Western Kentucky, leading the Hilltoppers to FBS competitiveness with back-to-back 7-5 seasons. Two games over .500 at WKU, by the way, is akin to going 10-2 at most other schools.

Taggart's boundless energy and fervor has been warmly received so far in Tampa, by locals, prospective recruits and administrators. He's been a welcome departure from Holtz, possibly a more measured and controlled version of Jim Leavitt, USF's only other head coach. Taggart is also a Harbaugh disciple, not a bad thing to be these days, having played for Jack and coached with Jim. And he's every bit as competitive as Jim or John.

Taggart's first year as a Bull will be all about learning his personnel and spreading his brand, inside and outside the confines of Raymond James Stadium. Impatient by nature, the coach might have to tap the brakes a bit in his debut. South Florida, a perennial sleeper choice in the preseason, isn't likely to sneak up on anyone in 2013. While the cupboard isn't bare, it won't take a search party to find a can of soup either. From the team that went 3-9, not a single All-Big East performer returns. The backfield is starting over. Both cornerbacks have graduated. And a new punter and kicker must be mined. In other words, USF is rebuilding.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2013 South Florida Bulls
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1McNeese State Cowboys9542-6
2@Michigan State Spartans2516-26
3Florida Atlantic Owls6523-19
5Miami (FL) Hurricanes2120-30
6Cincinnati Bearcats3320-26
7@Connecticut Huskies3219-23
9Louisville Cardinals2318-28
10@Houston Cougars4722-24
12Memphis Tigers4220-23
13SMU Mustangs4921-21
14@UCF Knights3922-25
15@Rutgers Scarlet Knights4120-24

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Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jwestrich@whatifsports.com.

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