Ranking every football coach in the AAC from 1-12 ahead of the 2018 season

The CBS Sports staff has ranked the coaches of the American Athletic Conference from best to worst based on their own sets of criteria, ranging from on-field success to future potential within the league entering the 2018 season to who we would want to hire if we were an athletic director looking for a new leader.

From veteran head coaches like Charlie Strong, who is leading the third team in his career, to relative newbies like Josh Heupel, each has his own positives and negatives to consider.

As we creep toward the 2018 season, let's take a look at our full slate of rankings.

2018 AAC football coach rankings
1
Ken Niumatalolo: You were expecting someone else? Niumatalolo has averaged 8.3 wins in 10 full seasons as Navy's coach with an appearance in the 2016 AAC Championship Game to boot. Even though Navy was a longtime college football Independent, Niumatalolo feels kind of like the godfather of AAC coaches. 

Mike Norvell: A hot coaching name just a couple of years ago, Memphis has capitalized on his promise. Norvell is 18-8 in two seasons and took the Tigers to the AAC Championship last season where they came up just short against UCF.  Norvell is already considered one of the top coaches in this conference, and after signing a five-year extension in December, could contend for the top spot in a few years -- if he doesn't move on to another job. 
3
Charlie Strong: Given the opportunity to take over a winning team, Strong continued the tradition. Though the Bulls didn't realize their goal of an AAC title, a 10-2 record with two close losses is nothing at which to scoff. Though Strong doesn't have quarterback Quinton Flowers this year, transfer Blake Barnett may provide immediate help. Another successful season in Tampa and the Texas disaster should be firmly behind Strong for good. 
4
Willie Fritz: A program builder, plain and simple, Fritz is a darn good one at that. He's worked his way up the coaching ladder and had Tulane literally inches away from bowl eligibility last season. A breakthrough in Year 3 should move him up the rankings next year, but for now, he remains one of college football's best coaching secrets. 

Sonny Dykes: The move to SMU was one of the coaching carousel's best "fits." He's an Air Raid guy who inherits an offense ready to put up more video game numbers in 2018. Though Dykes couldn't get it done at Cal, his time at Louisiana Tech from 2010-12 is reason for optimism that he'll pick up where coach Chad Morris, now at Arkansas, left off. 
6
Philip Montgomery: He would've be higher on the list this time last year, but that's what a 2-10 season will do for you. This season could be tough as well. There's still a lot of youth in the two-deep and the road schedule is challenging to say the least. But even a few steps forward would be a positive sign for the Golden Hurricane. 
7
Geoff Collins: Here's your sleeper for coach of the year. The Owls went 7-6 in Collins' first year but were a much better team in the second half of the season. Quarterback Frank Nutile returns after providing a spark late last year, and there's a solid core coming back on defense. Temple should be your surprise team to watch in 2018.  
8
Major Applewhite: There's a wait-and-see vibe with Applewhite as he enters his second full season in Houston. However, he has one of college football's most dominant players -- defensive lineman Ed Oliver -- and an exciting quarterback in D'Eriq King. Given the talent Applewhite has available, there's plenty of room for him to move up (or down) these rankings. 
9
Randy Edsall: It feels easy to forget that Edsall once took UConn to the Fiesta Bowl. Even though it was eight years ago, that still counts for something, right? Maybe a shred of hope of what the Huskies could be again some day? For now, though, Edsall is in full rebuilding mode and his last head coaching gig at Maryland was a disappointment. 
10
Luke Fickell: The downside is Fickell's debut as Cincinnati's coach was a dud. The upside is he brought in the top recruiting class in the conference, per 247Sports Composite rankings. Considering that the program was in rough shape when he took over, 2018 might be more like Year 1 for Fickell. 
11
Josh Heupel: This is Heupel's first head coaching job. The good news for him is the Knights are primed to make another run at a New Year's Six bowl appearance. Having a quarterback helps, too, and McKenzie Milton is right up there with the best of 'em. 
12
Scottie Montgomery: The third-year coach is 6-18 and the Pirates were shockingly bad last year -- so bad that there's little hope for the future. The school's decision to fire Ruffin McNeill three years ago remains one of college football's most egregious war crimes in recent memory. 
CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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