The AAC has been the top conference in Group 5 in the College Football Playoff era for six out of seven years, according to SP+. It has come closer to being the worst energy conference in the last two years than any other G5 organization.

Of course, the star power of the top teams is a reason – Cincinnati finished eighth last season, while UCF and Memphis finished 14th and 17th respectively in 2019 – but compared to the rest of the G5, the AAC doesn’t exactly produce a lot of dead weight either. Last year, only two teams finished in the top three, compared to four teams in the MWC and Sun Belt, five teams in the MWC and seven teams in Conference USA.

Will this still be the case in 2021? Looking at the bottom half of the AAC – the teams ranked 6th through 11th according to SP+ – there will still be a lot of discussion about the potential of Houston, Tulane and maybe ECU. But Temple, the United States and the Navy have more to prove than usual.

Throughout the summer, Bill Connelly will present a different Group 5 and Power 5 division each week exclusively for ESPN+, including all 130 FBS teams. Previews include predictions for 2020 and 2021, as well as a brief history of each team in a handy chart. So far, the series has covered USA East and West, MAC East and West, MWC Mountain and West and Sun Belt West and East.

Join the team: Temple, USF, Navy, ECU, Tulane, Houston.

What can we learn from a season where the lineup is constantly changing and the first line is never on the field intact? Not much, Temple hopes.

Forecasts for 2021

Expected SP+ rating : 119.

Input prediction: 3-9 (1-7)

  • He’ll probably win: Wagner (96% chance of winning)
  • Ratio: Akron (51%), Fleet (41%).
  • Possible losses: from USF (31%), Rutgers (25%), ECU (23%), Houston (20%), Boston College (17%), Memphis (14%), UCF (9%), Tulsa (9%), Cincinnati (1%)

* Probability of winning are the games where SP+ predicts a probability of winning by more than seven points, or about 65%. The losses are probably reversed, and the relative draws are all intermediate games.

2 Connected

The SP+ is not designed to start two deep and only sees a 1-6 team break through at 105 at Rod Carey Temple. A tight schedule can take away much of the attrition.

What we learned about the Temple in 2020

The constant casting changes are bad. No quarterback for the Owls has played in more than three games. Their best rusher played in the fourth round, and their best catcher played in the sixth round. Nine offensive linemen shot at least 70, and only one shot above .500. The defense has become more stable, but only slightly.

Such instability puts everyone to the test, and Temple has failed. The Owls started off with a win over USF and losses to Navy and Memphis, but things went downhill quickly after that. The average score of their last four games: For 38, temple 11.

The second one had potential. Despite huge problems almost everywhere, Temple ranked 47th in pass attempts and 23rd in completions. The pass rush was decent, the corners were good. Of course, it would mean more if the top two passing corners (Arnold Abiquette) and the top two corners in 2021 don’t get there.

What we have not learned about the Temple in 2020.

Is the translation portal the solution? As miserable as last season was, the overall experience can be positive, a lot of guys played decent minutes. Still, Cary felt a sense of urgency. From quarterback D’Van Mathis of Georgia to cornerbacks Cameron Ruiz (Northwestern) and Keyshawn Paul (UConn), he’s been pushing the transfer portal hard to boost the overall talent level and offset his own team’s transfer losses. It’s possible that as many as nine Owls transfers could start in 2021.

History of the temple in a graph

ESPN

  1. After a respectable career in Division II college football, which included the 1967 Mid-Atlantic Conference title, Temple recruited Wayne Hardin and promoted to Division I.
  2. Hardin led Temple’s best series, which culminated in a 10-2 victory in the 1979 Garden State Bowl. After his departure, Hardin was replaced by Bruce Arian.
  3. This constant downward spiral has led to several downward jumps: six different seasons with just one win between 1992 and 2006 and an 0-11 result in 2005. It was so bad that the Owls were banned from the Big East.
  4. The hiring of Al Golden in 2006 was the beginning of a turnaround. From 1-11 in 2006, he led the program to 9-4 just three years later.
  5. The Owls won 20 games, two AAC East titles and won their first conference championship in 49 years in 2016.

This could be a lost season for Temple….. But the Owls beat USF anyway. Jeff Scott’s first season with the Bulls was pretty forgettable in its own right.

Forecasts for 2021

Expected SP+ rating : 104.

Input prediction: 5-7 (4-4)

  • He’ll probably win: Florida A&M (79% chance to win), Temple (69%).
  • Relative subscriptions: in ecu (35%)
  • Probable losses : Houston (30%), Tulsa (24%), SMU (20%), Tulane (20%), BYU (15%), NC State (12%), UCF (10%), Cincinnati (6%), Florida (5%).

With only three opponents expected to rank lower than 70th, the ceiling for USF to win in 2021 is probably pretty low.

What we have learned about AAB in 2020

Not much good in there! In 2020, Scott played with almost everyone in the lineup due to selection and need – 44 attackers and defenders made at least 100 appearances in just nine games. It would have been nice to see some stars pop up, but few did.

Manager Bryce Miller was effective, linebackers Antonio Grier and Dwayne Boyles were solid values, and cornerback Daquan Evans was a solid cover man, but overall the product was terrible. USF was ranked 108th in the SP+ rankings, the worst ranking of his football life, and after Scott saw what his team had to offer, he decided to add nine potential new starters through the transfer portal.

The defense will probably go first. They ranked only 89th in defensive SP+, but strong linebackers and safeties prevented bigbacks. All key linebackers and safeties Mekhi LaPointe and Christopher Townsel are back, and Evans and Kansas State transfer Will Jones II could be a solid duo at CB. The line is experienced and the match against Thad Mangum is devastating against the run. Veterans coordinator Glenn Spencer could do things with this unit.

What we didn’t learn about USF in 2020

Is the crime redeemable. Charlie Weiss Jr.’s offense took advantage of the pace and threw a lot of horizontal passes to Miller and Omarion Dollison in the slot. It worked pretty well, but almost nothing else. Will that change with the addition of Miami quarterback Jarren Williams and a trio of Conference players? Is the return of nine starters really a good thing?

History of South Florida in a Chart

ESPN

  1. USF had its heyday in the early days of its existence: The Jim Levitt Bulls went 9-4 in 2006, started 6-0 in 2007 and ranked second in the AP poll before falling apart midway through the season.
  2. George Selvey (2006-09): 69.5 career TFLs and 29 sacks. He peaked in his second year, but still produced absurd career numbers.
  3. Levitt was fired in early 2010 for interfering in a player abuse investigation, and USF slipped first under Skip Holtz and then under Willie Taggart.
  4. Taggart won only seven of his first 28 games… …then won 18 of his next 22. Experience and a few offensive stunts paid off just in time. In 2016, USF won first place for the first time.
  5. Scott’s tenure began as badly as Taggart’s. Will he have a similar uptick in a year or two?

The lack of contact in practices has caused Navys slow start in 2020, and the lack of veteran QB play has caused the problems to continue into a 3-7 slump.

Forecasts for 2021

Expected SP+ rating : 100.

Input prediction: 3-9 (2-6)

  • Probably nobody wins.
  • Similar: at Temple (59%), Air Force (49%), ECU (47%), Marshall (42%).
  • Possible losses: Army (31%), SMU (30%), Houston (22%), UCF (17%), Tulsa (17%), Memphis (16%), Cincinnati (6%), Notre Dame (6%).

Navy won 70 points on SP+ the last two years and then lost 66 points. Without proven options, further increases are far from guaranteed.

What we learned about the Navy in 2020

Quality practice is important. Navy’s defense has improved from 114th to 53rd in defensive SP+ in 2019 under coordinator Brian Newberry, but has allowed 8.2 yards per game against BYU and 6.7 in its first seven games. The lack of physicality and contact in the workouts – which was intentional and well-intentioned with COWID-19 – has clearly dried up the field.

The defense has clearly recovered: Navy has allowed just 14.7 points per game and 4.1 yards per play in its last three games. Navy and TFL leader linebacker Diego Fagot is back, as are 12 of the 16 players who took over 200 snaps – a fantastic number of returns for a school that doesn’t use redshirts.

What we didn’t learn about the Navy in 2020.

When the next big QB option could come. Unfortunately, Navy lost all three of the aforementioned games in the postseason because the offense was extremely ineffective. Dalen Morris, Tiger Goslin and rookie Xavier Arline completed at least 130 snaps as QBs, but none of them could effectively run the option, and the converted line wasn’t much help. Navy suffered from more negative play than usual and constantly fell behind, hurting every attack but devastating the optional offense of Ken Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper.

With Morris gone and Goslin moving to the back seat, Arlene has the first spot. Veteran fullback Jameel Carothers and three veteran linebackers are back, but the slotback that is essential to the big game is yet to be proven. There is no guarantee of a significant rebound, although a return to the mean can do wonders.

Fleet history in a table

ESPN

  1. In 1945, the Navy fielded its best team the same year as the Army, arguably the best team in history. Navy lost to Army, tied with Notre Dame and beat all other 201-27.
  2. Roger Staubach in 1963: Success rate of 67% at 145.9. That’s the equivalent for 2021, so at least 85% completion and 250 assessments in 2021?
  3. After a slump in the late 1960s, Navy hired the great George Welch in 1973. He returned to bowling in 1978.
  4. Another historic drop, another brilliant hire: After an 0-10 loss in 2001, Navy hired option champion Paul Johnson. In 2003 they started bowling again.
  5. The last two years have been volatile: The Midshipmen were 20-7 in 2015-16, 3-10 in 2018, 11-2 in 2019 and 3-7 in 2020.

Mike Houston’s second year at ECU seemed like a waste of time…. until the end. Is a two-game comeback (to end a 3-6 campaign) enough to inspire real optimism?

Forecasts for 2021

Expected SP+ rating : 91.

Input prediction: 5-7 (3-5)

  • He’ll probably win: Charleston Southern (96% win probability), Temple (77%).
  • Relative pulses : USA (65%), South Carolina (55%), Navy (53%), Marshall (39%), and Tulane (39%).
  • Probable losses: at Houston (29%), at Memphis (22%), against Appalachian State (17%), at UCF (15%), Cincinnati (9%).

Veteran QB… 20 returning regulars… Five interesting task forces… If you want to talk to yourself at ECU, finally go on a cup run, be optimistic.

What we have learned about the ECU in 2020

There is potential. Despite a corps of young talent, quarterback Holton Alers has scored more than 140 points in five of his last six games. When he wasn’t in foul trouble, rookie RB Rajai Harris was hitting the rim hard and bringing speed to the field. WR C.J. Johnson’s catch percentage was 39% and his average was 21 yards per catch. Sophomore Tyler Snead was a fickle receiver, but a terrible one. Sophomore safeties Jireh Wilson and Shawn Dourseau combined for six TFLs, eight pass breakups and eight runs.

Players on both sides showed their potential and after a 1-6 start, ECU closed out the season by first neutralizing Temple’s offense 28-3 and then destroying SMU’s defense and winning 52-38.

What we haven’t learned about the ECU in 2020

If this potential flash is different from the previous one. ECU scored 43 points against Cincinnati and 51 against SMU in late 2019; Ahlers, Johnson and Snead were brilliant in both games. Optimism was high, but then ECU only rose from 93rd to 85th in the SP+ offense rankings. Meanwhile, the 2020 defense showed glimpses of growth, but only rose from 120th to 103rd place. The potential and possibilities are great, but at some point something has to come of it. ECU brings back most of last year’s production, but also many of the Pirates’ opponents.

After Ruffin McNeill retired after five wins in 2015, ECU had to make one false start after another to get back on track. Did the 2020 end show anything real, or was it just another two-game blowout?

South Carolina’s history in a chart

ESPN

  1. ECU won six times over eight games in 1972-79. In 1975 they lost head coach Sonny Randle to Virginia, replaced him with Pat Day and beat UVA 61-10.
  2. 1991 : Quarterback Jeff Blake and ECU won 11 games, defeated South Carolina, Syracuse, Pitt, Virginia Tech and NC State and ranked ninth in the AP poll.
  3. Two years before he ran for 2,006 yards for the Tennessee Titans, Chris Johnson had 1,951 yards and 23 points scored for ECU (8-5).
  4. In 2010, Ruffin McNeill hired 26-year-old Lincoln Riley to commit the crime. ECU won by double digits in 2013 and qualified for the AAC.
  5. After 5-7 failures in 2015, ECU panicked and fired McNeill. Since then, the Pirates have averaged 3.2 wins per year.

Tulane has been ranked in the top 60 SP+ twice in 22 years: 2019 and 2020. Willie Fritz breathed new life into a dormant program. Can he continue to propel the Green Wave up the list of top teams in the AAC?

Forecasts for 2021

Expected SP+ rating : 67.

Input prediction: 6-6 (4-4)

  • He’ll probably win: Morgan State (99% chance of winning), USF (80%).
  • Relative pulses : UAB (62%), at ECU (61%), Houston (57%), Tulsa (48%), SMU (43%), and Memphis (37%).
  • Probable losses: at UCF (27%), at Ole Miss (18%), at Cincinnati (18%), at Oklahoma (9%).

The Green Wave have extended their streak to one bowl in three years despite losing six of their last seven games in possession. With six important games on the schedule, it’s time to turn things around.

What we learned about Tulane in 2020

You can still run with the ball. Fritz’s offense is historically strong on the ground, and in 2020 Tulane could be the best runner since he took over. The back four – Stephon Haderson, Cameron Carroll, Amar Jones and Taje Spears – combined for 2,177 yards in 12 games (6.1 per rush), and despite a freshman quarterback (Michael Pratt) leading an inconsistent passing game, Tulane ranked 39th in offensive SP+.

Only Carroll and Spears return, but they were the most explosive of the group and will run behind a line that returns four starters. Center Sincere Haynesworth and fullback Corey Dublin are arguably the best blocking duo in the conference, and even with the change of coordinator – new Southern Miss coach Will Hall has been replaced by former Notre Dame OC Chip Long – all signs point to them being excellent on the field again. Pratt has more experience, and he brought back a top 5 receiver last year.

What we didn’t learn about Tulane in 2020

Can protection be a little less all or nothing? After Tulane dropped from 56th to 72nd in defensive JV+, Fritz replaced defensive coordinator Jack Curtis with Duke CB coach Chris Hampton. Hampton faces the challenge of keeping the Wave on the defensive side of the ball (44th in allowed passer rating) while limiting catastrophic misses. Tulane allowed 3.2 gains of 30+ yards (120th in FBS) and 5.0 passes of 20+ yards (122nd in FBS) per game.

Will they be able to maintain their destructive power while reducing the risks? Pitching aces Patrick Johnson and Cameron Sample are gone, but sophomore Carlos Hatcher has shown potential in a small sample size, and linebackers Dorian Williams, Nick Anderson and Kevin Henry are super active. Defenders Larry Brooks and Macon Clark are also disruptive, but the addition of former Colorado linebacker Derrion Rakestraw could be a game-changer in terms of preventing big plays.

Tulane’s history in a graph

ESPN

  1. Tulane, one of the top powers in the SEC, won its third league title under Henry Frnk in 1949.
  2. The Wave won just two seasons in the 1950s and won just three conference games in 1961-65. They took the hint and left the SEC after 1965.
  3. After Tulane hadn’t won a season in 15 years, it hired Tommy Bowden (who brought in coach Rich Rodriguez) and immediately improved to 7-4 in 1997 and 12-0 in 1998.
  4. The gains diminished when Bowden and RichRod left, but the excellent QB play continued: Wave QBs Patrick Ramsey (2002) and J.P. Losman (2004) were first-round picks.
  5. Tulane bowled once in 14 years before Fritz came along. They’ve done it three years in a row.

Houston fired Major Applewhite after an 8-5 campaign in 2018, but went just 7-13 in two years under Dana Holgorsen. Will there be a third year?

Forecasts for 2021

Expected SP+ rating : 69.

Input prediction: 8-4 (5-3)

  • He’ll probably win: Drama (93% win probability), UConn (89%), Temple (80%), Navy (78%), ECU (71%), USF (70%), Rice (68%).
  • Relative pulses : SMU (53%), against Texas Tech (51%), Memphis (47%), at Tulane (43%), at Tulsa (36%).
  • Probable losses: none

The Cougars have won three games by more than 16 points, lost four by more than 14 points, and have suffered just one shutout this year. SP+ suggests that could change with a potentially friendly but heavy list for 2021.

What we learned about Houston in 2020

Pace is important. There was a lot of race preparation and no real race in Houston in September. Four games were postponed or cancelled, and the Cougars didn’t see their first real action until the 8th. October.

Once on the field, they controlled the lesser teams, but had no strength against the good teams. They defeated three teams outside the top 50 SP+ by an average of 47-24, but lost to three teams in the top 30 by an average of 42-19. After another three weeks of rest, they lost an entertaining game to Memphis 30-27, then struggled against Hawaii in the New Mexico Bowl. It was a strange, disjointed season that offered no chance of consistency.

Cougars can push a compass. Without a strong blitz, Houston finished eighth in sacks thanks to the performances of David Annich and Derek Parish (combined: 14 TFLs, eight sacks). Both are back, and Holgorsen added a transfer from Missouri, Tre Williams. It must become a force again.

What we didn’t learn about Houston in 2020.

If the container was in use. Holgorsen redshirted key players and gave almost all playing time in 2019, it looked like a college football version of tanking. Combined with his aggressive use of the transfer portal, he created a surplus of top talent for UH, but the Cougars only won three games despite all the unique obstacles created for 2020.

With the team getting an extra year in 2021 and more transfers coming, the team will be even more talented. Quarterback Clayton Thune is experienced, 17 starters are back, and UH has more former mid- to high-level stars (or better) than anyone else in the G5. There are no top 50 teams on the schedule. No excuses… It’s time for Houston to go into surgery.

The history of Houston in a table

ESPN

  1. Bill Yeoman recorded his version of the fan thriller in 1964 and refined it until 1966. The Coogs have scored in the top five for four consecutive years.
  2. In 1968-74, UH received six invitations to KVN and the Cougars earned three AP top-10 finishes in their first four conference seasons (1976-79).
  3. UH’s running and kicking offense allowed Andre Ware and David Klingler to combine for 10,704 yards and 108 TDs in 1989-90! But the NCAA sanctions led to a rapid collapse….. when the Big 12 elected its members. UH is gone.
  4. After a dark period, UH has resurfaced with a fun and innovative attack. Led by Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, the Cougars won more than 10 games three times between 2006 and 2011.
  5. Houston went 13-1 under Tom Herman in 2015 and won the Peach Bowl. It looked like the Coogs were in a good position to get the long-awaited Big 12 bid, but the conference decided not to expand. Then Herman went to Texas.

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