The 2017 college football season is less than three months away with media days starting in mid-July to kickstart prediction season among college football writers and analysts. The sportsbooks, however, don't wait for expert picks or preseason previews to start setting the expectations for the fall, releasing title odds and win totals throughout the offseason.
We're going to be making individual team picks for all of the Power Five conferences using the full 130-team FBS list released by the South Point Sportsbook earlier this month. Today, however, we are turning our attention to the American Athletic Conference.
South Florida -- 10 (Over): First- and second-year coaches are a theme in the AAC, so it makes sense that the projected conference winner has a first-year coach in Charlie Strong. The ex-Texas boss man inherits a wonderful, seasoned team built by Willie Taggart and led by quarterback Quinton Flowers. The Bulls should blow through nonconference play and the toughest games on paper vs. Houston and Tulsa are at home. There are a few tricky spots at UConn, at Tulane and at UCF that could get interesting, but overall the Bulls are built to grab a New Year's Six bowl spot.
Houston -- 8.5 (Over): Another team with a first-year coach (Major Applewhite), Houston should pick up where it left off because of the great shape the program was left in by its former coach (Tom Herman). Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen projects to start at quarterback and Duke Catalon, another transfer, is on the verge of a breakout year. Add in sophomore sensation Ed Oliver along the D-line, and the Cougars are stacked again. An intriguing nonconference schedule plus a pair of difficult road games at Temple and USF makes the under an attractive option. Ultimately, though, Houston has enough talent to hit the over.
Memphis -- 8.5 (Under): This was a tough call, so thank Vegas for that extra 0.5 after the 8. Memphis is a top-10 team in percentage of yards returning according to Phil Steele and the nonconference schedule should create a few win opportunities. Plus, Memphis misses out on playing South Florida. However, road games against Houston and Tulsa will be tough, and that's not including a nonconference game vs. UCLA. Overall the schedule is manageable, but those three games don't leave much room for error for the over/under. Memphis falls short of hitting the over, but it's razor thin.
UCF -- 7.5 (Under): Coach Scott Frost did an excellent job resurrecting the Knights from a winless season in 2015. The schedule isn't the most challenging in the AAC, but it has its hurdles. UCF gets Georgia Tech and Maryland in back-to-back weeks in nonconference play and November ends on a difficult note with games at Temple and then at home against South Florida. There's not a great feel from the prices, either (Over -110, Under -110). Like Memphis, it's close, but I'm going with the under by a hair.
Tulsa -- 7.5 (Under): Tulsa was a sneaky good team last season. Like, legitimately good. The Golden Hurricane came within nine points of finishing conference play undefeated and were only outmatched by Ohio State. But it's a new year, and lord have mercy, this offense has to replace a lot of production. Couple in a difficult schedule and this figures to be a step-back year for Tulsa. Long term, the program is in good condition under Philip Montgomery, but there are a lot of factors going against his team in 2017.
Navy -- 7 (Push): On one hand, there may not be an AAC team with a tougher road slate than the Midshipmen -- at Tulsa, at Memphis, at Temple, at Notre Dame and at Houston? Are you kidding me? Plus, there's always Air Force and Army. On the other hand, it's Navy, an already difficult team to prepare for in one week's time. I'm more inclined to take the under, but this is an experienced group and consistency has been this program's M.O.
Temple -- 7 (Under): Geoff Collins takes over for Matt Rhule, who departed for Baylor. The program is in good shape, but there are some major components lost on both sides of the ball, from linebacker Haason Reddick to running back Jahad Thomas and quarterback Phillip Walker. There are some difficult games right off the bat, too -- vs. Notre Dame, South Florida and Houston in September. Weather the storm and the Owls should go bowling. How this team builds in the second half of the season will determine its fate.
Cincinnati -- 5 (Push): First-year coach Luke Fickell has to put his stamp on the program, but the schedule right away isn't the worst thing to inherit. A road trip to Michigan feels impossible, but Austin Peay and Miami (OH) are certainly winnable. The AAC West draw of Navy, Tulane and SMU is doable, too. Overall, it could be a lot worse. Cincy really fell off at the end of the Tommy Tuberville era. Some new blood should re-energize this program. Contending for bowl eligibility in November would be a good start.
SMU -- 5 (Over): It has been a hell of a road for the Mustangs, but coach Chad Morris has things trending in the right direction. SMU, if nothing else, will be an absolute blast to watch offensively in Year 3 -- a typical time when programs get that extra bump. And if you haven't seen wide receiver Courtland Sutton yet, get on it. There are some difficult road games at TCU, Houston, Navy and Memphis, but the rest of the schedule is manageable. This is the year SMU gets back to a bowl game.
Tulane -- 4.5 (Over): I'm more bullish on the Green Wave than Vegas. This is my selection to be the AAC team who fouls up somebody's season. Consider me a Willie Fritz fan, and history shows he has Year 2 bump. South Florida and Houston come to New Orleans, and it wouldn't be surprising if Tulane trips up one of them. There is no shortage of difficult games on the schedule with Navy, Oklahoma and Memphis. There will definitely be losses, but I'm closer to putting this team on the verge of bowl eligibility given the number of young players who are coming back.
Connecticut -- 4 (Under): Playing three Power Five opponents in nonconference scheduling is usually a recipe for disaster, but Virginia, Missouri and Boston College isn't the worst UConn could do. If the Huskies can get even one win out of there, that would be a step. Randy Edsall has a tall task ahead of him, but he knows what it takes to win in Storrs -- which, by the way, is a documented Twilight Zone of sorts. It won't be pretty, but UConn can piece together three wins against, say, Holy Cross, East Carolina and one of the aforementioned Power Five opponents. The fourth one would have to be a major surprise.
East Carolina -- 2.5 (Under): Speaking of which, this warranted a double take. Almost a triple take. In the two decades that East Carolina has been in Conference USA and the AAC, the Pirates have won four or fewer games just four times. Three of them came during a particularly rough stretch in the early 2000s. Otherwise, this program has been a model of bowl eligibility and consistency. Getting Duke transfer Thomas Sirk at quarterback is a plus; when healthy, he's been an effective playmaker. However, losing Zay Jones at wideout hurts. A glance along the schedule shows a lot of good teams, or a lot of teams on the upswing. Year 2 for Scottie Montgomery projects to still be of the rebuilding variety.