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2020 AAC Betting Preview, Picks, Strategies



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American Athletic Conference
Football Betting Preview

Coaches Call

Entering its seventh year of existence, the American Athletic Conference remains the top Group of 5 League heading into the 2020 football season.

While the loop has struggled in bowl games, going 16-25 SU and ATS (2-11 SUATS versus greater than .666 foes), it continues to be a breeding ground for up-and-coming head coaches, including the likes of Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, Tulane’s Willie Fritz, Tulsa’s Phillip Montgomery and UCF’s Josh Heupel.

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Meanwhile, the 25 wins by Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo over Power Five or BCS Conference foes is still the most of all Group of Five schools.

Two head coaches make their AAC debut in 2018, including Memphis’ Ryan Silverfield and South Florida’s Jeff Scott – who both make their debut as a head coach at the FBS level.

Expect one or two of the aforementioned coaches to move on to a Power Five team in the near future, much like last year when Mike Norvell left Memphis for Florida State this season.

Talking Points

  • Danger ahead: since the AAC formation in 2014 the conference has struggled mightily in non-conference games following a SUATS loss, going just 19-38-1 ATS. And if they are visitors in these games they fall off the face of the earth, going 3-18 and 5-16 SUATS.
  • Since the formation of the conference in 2014, the best role for AAC teams has been on the road when coming off a win and facing a foe coming off a loss. It’s where teams in the conference stand 60-39 SU and 60-38-1 ATS overall.
The numbers following each team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.

AAC EAST

CINCINNATI

TEAM THEME: STANDING PAT

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 40
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *6 / Defense - 8
  • RPR - Total: 31 (53 Offense / 33 Defense)

When the Bearcats won the CUSA East division, it appeared that head coach Luke Fickell would be the next Group of Five head coach to land a Power Five job. Despite being heavily courted, he decided instead to return to the Queen City for some unfinished business. Armed with a hefty pay raise and heavy in returning starters and production, the Bearcats now have their sights set on capturing a CUSA crown.

Before they get there, though, they’ll need to start winning games in the stats, not just on the scoreboard. That’s because they got pushed around the field, going 6-8 ITS. The best recruiting class under Fickell this offseason (22 three and four-stars) should do the trick.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Cincinnati was ranked No. 130 (worst) in the nation in Most Penalties last season.

EAST CAROLINA

TEAM THEME: CHECK, CHECK AND CHECK

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 70
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *8 / Defense - 7
  • RPR - Total: 4 (8 Offense / 26 Defense)

First year head coach Mike Houston made inroads with the Pirates last season. Granted, they improved from three wins to four but a deeper probe shows more. Team scoring was up on offense and down on defense for the first time since 2013. They won a road game against an FBS opponent foe for only the second time since 2015. And they won consecutive home games for only the second time since 2014. So yes, Houston checked a few boxes last season.

He also features one of the top teams in overall Returning Production Rankings. Sure, they will face 8 foes that were bowl teams last season. But when you’re looking to become one yourself, it comes with the territory.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Pirates are 2-29 SU and 5-26 ATS against conference foes with a winning record since 2010.

TEMPLE

TEAM THEME: NEW RULE

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 97
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *7 / Defense - 4
  • RPR - Total: 95 (40 Offense / 123 Defense)

A lot has change since Matt Rhule put this program back on the map with a pair of 10-win seasons in 2015-2016, one of which includes the Owls taking a heavy dip in the recruiting wars, and it’s taken a toll on the team’s performance. Let’s see how Rod Carey’s first recruiting class does this season. Granted, it will take a Herculean task to pull the rug, but stranger things have happened.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Owls coach Rod Carey is 25-12 SU and 26-10-1 ATS as a visitor in his CFB head-coaching career.

UCF

TEAM THEME: PAY ME NOW OR PAY ME LATER

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 71
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *8 / Defense - 8
  • RPR - Total: 38 (61 Offense / 35 Defense)

It pays to be on the Knights’ coaching staff: HC Josh Heupel earns north of $2 million and has four years remaining on his contract. Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon became the highest-paid assistant coach among Group of 5 programs after pay bump from $300K to $1 Million. He also received a one-time $300K retention bonus. In addition, the Knights will pay their assistants $3.5 million this season while providing the coaches with automobiles or auto allowances and incentives for reaching targeted goals. To which we ask: Where do we sign up?

UCF is also a team that last season improved its offensive and defensive stats while slipping both SU and ATS. And you know how we feel about these teams.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Knights led the nation in first quarter points per game with 14.5 last season.

USF

TEAM THEME: BEAM US UP, SCOTTY

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 101
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *7 / Defense - 7
  • RPR - Total: 36 (57 Offense / 38 Defense)

Charlie Strong ... we hardly knew ye. With the celebrated hire of Strong lasting a mere three seasons, the Bulls move forward in 2020 behind Jeff Scott, former co-offensive coordinator at Clemson under Dabo Swinney. Scott, the youngest head coach in The American at 39, is widely recognized as one of the most respected coordinators and recruiters in the nation.

While his initial recruiting class was crimped by the coronavirus, having to work via webcam, he made up for it with a bevy of transfers. He also inherits a team ranked No. 36 overall by Bill Connelly in Returning Production Rankings. A season-ending four-game losing skid sealed the deal for Strong. It’s now Scott’s turn to pick up the pieces.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

New Bulls’ OC Charlie Weiss Jr. and DC Glenn Spencer held the same positions at FAU last season before they were dismissed by the Owls.

AAC WEST

HOUSTON

TEAM THEME: TAKE TWO

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 82
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *10 / Defense - 9
  • RPR - Total: 3 (42 Offense / 3 Defense)

There’s now way to hide it. The Dana Holgorsen project was a big bust last season. After jumping ship at West Virginia to become the highest-paid Group Of Five head coach when he signed a five-year $20 million contract laced with bonuses, Holgorsen became the first Power Five conference head coach in history to leave and take over a Group Of Five program. He knew he was in trouble when talented QB D’Eriq King played only four games before bailing out and transferring to Miami.

The 3rd best Returning Production team in the land, featuring 19 starters back, will have a huge chip on its shoulder. They’re also a “Mission Team” in 2020, which makes them ultra dangerous this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Houston surrendered more yards than they gained last season for the first time since 2012.

MEMPHIS

TEAM THEME: HERE WE GO AGAIN

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 67
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *6 / Defense - 8
  • RPR - Total: 29 (54 Offense / 29 Defense)

A school-record 12 wins last season paved the way for head coach Mike Norvell’s exit to Florida Sate, practically mirroring Justin Fuente’s four-year stay in Memphis before he bolted for Blacksburg. Enter Ryan Silverfield, an assistant coach all four years on Norvell’s staff and former six-year assistant with the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

QB Brady White returns after tossing for over 4,000 yards at 9.5 yards per attempt with 33 TDs and 11 INTs last season. With it the Tigers’ season win-total opened at 9, a lofty number for a rookie new head coach. Still, he inherits a deep squad loaded with experience that he knows inside out, including Heisman Trophy watch list star RB Kenneth Gainwell.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Tigers are 0-5 SUATS in their last five bowl games.

NAVY

TEAM THEME: TRADING SALVOS

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 126
  • Ret Starters: Offense - 6 / Defense - 8
  • RPR - Total: 87 (100 Offense / 58 Defense)

Not only is Navy coming off arguably its best season in school history, the Middies were the most improved team in the FBS in 2019, increasing a net +8 games over 2018. And the numbers spoke for themselves: No. 1 in Offensive Yards Per Rush; No. 3 in Red Zone Offense, No. 3 in First Down Defense, No. 4 in 4th Down Conversion Percentage and No. 4 in Fewest Penalties last season.

Trying to improve on a history-making season will be next to impossible, especially with the loss of star QB Malcolm Perry. But head coach Ken Niumatalolo is thrilled to have been able to retain DC Brian Newberry, who was heavily wooed by Mike Leach and Mississippi State. Anchors aweigh.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Midshipmen were the only team in the nation to improve their offense and defense over 100 YPG each last season.

SMU

TEAM THEME: TRANSFERENCE OF MAGIC

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 81
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *7 / Defense - 6
  • RPR - Total: 70 (35 Offense / 97 Defense)

In just two short years, Sonny Dykes has taken the Mustangs back to the halcyon days they enjoyed in the early 80’s, just prior to being placed on the infamous ‘death penalty’. Last season’s 10-win effort – their most since 1984 – made them the seventh-most improved team in the FBS in 2019, improving a net +4.5 games over 2018.

The magic started with 16 transfers, led by QB Shane Buechele, who keyed an offense that improved 12 points and 103 yards per game. Buechele’s back after tallying over 4,000 yards in the air and on the ground, good for 36 TDs. A winnable slate of non-conference games during the opening month of the campaign has Dykes anxious for more in 2020.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Head coach Sonny Dykes is 10-0 SU and 8-1-1 ATS at home versus sub .500 opponents.

TULANE

TEAM THEME: ON THE FRITZ

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 66
  • Ret Starters: Offense - 5 / Defense - 7
  • RPR - Total: 122 (126 Offense / 87 Defense)

Willie Fritz is right at the top of our favorite college football coaches list. He’s repeatedly shown the ability to make steak out of ground meat at every stop he’s made. That being said, we’re about to find out the depth of his coaching ability in 2020. With only eight teams sporting a lower Returning Production Ranking than the Wave, the margin of error is slim.

Fritz has improved teams at every stop of his career and six of his last nine teams have either been bowlers or participants in the FCS championships. More importantly, Fritz is 22-2 SU and 17-5 ATS against .333 or fewer opponents, meaning he chews up on teams he’s expected to beat. Remember that.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

Willie Fritz is 9-0 SU and 8-1 ATS in his career as a favorite of 3 or fewer points.

TULSA

TEAM THEME: AS THE WIND BLOWS

  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 113
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *9 / Defense - 4
  • RPR - Total: 75 (4 Offense / 124 Defense)

After going 10-3 in 2016 and then winning a scant two games in 2017, the Hurricane has been deliberate in inching its way back up the ladder with three and four-wins seasons thereafter. The good news for head coach Phil Montgomery is the arrival of QB Zach Smith from Baylor, who returns for his senior season after tossing for 3,279 yards and 19 TDs. The bad news is its top two playmakers on defense are gone.

Then again, a quick glance at Tulsa’s Returning Production Rankings finds them checking in at No. 4 overall on offense, but No. 124 on defense. Still, the Big Breeze needs to overcome a nasty string of 10 defeats the past three seasons in one-possession losses.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE:

The Golden Hurricane are 24-6-1 ATS in games in which they score 30 or more points, including 14-1 ATS as a dog.



  
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