The competition is stiff for the 2017 American Athletic Conference Football title. Check out the best bet, value pick and viable long shot for the championship here.
The American Athletic Conference enters its third year in existence, arguably the top college football conference outside of the Power Five. Representatives are growing in talent and strength. In fact, it had more players selected in the most recent NFL Draft than the Big 12. Which team is likely to win the championship? Who is the best bet? Most viable long shot? We got ya covered.
Best Bet: South Florida (+30000 national title odds)
South Florida is the best bet of all AAC teams to sneak into a New Year’s Six bowl. New head coach Charlie Strong vows to run an up-tempo offensive that suits QB Quinton Flowers’ strengths. It is expected to be very similar to the one Willie Taggart employed before departing to Oregon. The AAC Offensive Player of the Year Flowers led the team to 42.8 points per game last season, fourth highest in college football. The wide receiving corps is deep despite leading target Rodney Adams graduating. All-time leading rusher Marlon Mack skipped his senior season for the NFL Draft. D’Earnest Johnson is expected to fill the void. Almost anyone will have success behind Flowers, who rushed for 1,530 yards and 18 TDs. Another 40-point plus game average is on the Bulls’ radar.
Expect the defense to improve under Strong. The unit returns seven of its top nine tacklers from last season. Strong made his name as D-coordinator at Florida and will attract some fresh talent from the Sunshine State. Staying healthy is key, as the Bulls lost senior defensive back Hassan Childs to an arrest and shooting, as well as the transfer of sophomore linebacker Malik Dixon. Brian Jen-Mary is the new coordinator and is rolling out a 3-3-5 scheme. It should play to the strengths of an experienced secondary.
Best Value: Houston (+50000 national title odds)
Last season’s offensive coordinator Major Applewhite was promoted to head coach after Tom Herman departed to Texas. Expectations are high. Houston president Renu Khator remarked to faculty in the offseason that the school will fire a coach for going 8-4. Was she joking? Maybe, maybe not. Tony Levine, the man in charge before Herman, went 15-9 in two seasons and was canned prior to his second bowl game. Ouch.
The Cougars lack depth but can hit double-digit wins if healthy. Former Texas A&M QB Kyle Allen is the man under center after sitting out last season due to the transfer. Allen is a long shot hoist the Heisman Trophy at +10000 odds. He needs one more wide receiver with Marquez Stevenson out for the year with a torn ACL. Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar are the primary targets.
The secondary is a question mark on defense with five players fighting for the corner positions, but the unit will be just fine in 2017. It rolled in the spring game and still has the tools to remain a top-30 outfit like last season. It allowed just 4.7 yards per play in 2016, 15th best among all schools.
The program is likely to regress with Herman gone, but it will occur slowly. This is the No. 1 team in the AAC over the last three seasons. The AAC West is strong. Memphis is loaded, Tulsa explosive on offense, SMU improving and Navy always tough with the run-option. Luckily, the Cougars have the Wildcats and Hurricane in Houston, making their pathway to the title game easier.
Best Long Shot: Tulsa (+125000 national title odds)
Tulsa is oozing with promise after going 10-3 SU and 8-4-1 ATS in 2016. This season will be Phillip Montgomery’s third in charge, the time when a program shows its true colors under a head coach. The offense is explosive, averaging 42.9 points per game against AAC foes in 2016. The defense is improving, particularly in the secondary where it has rolled over in recent years. Its two top tacklers, both linebackers, are gone and must be replaced.
At quarterback, it is a battle between Chad President and Luke Skipper. Each are dual-threat options. If one goes down with injury, Hurricane fans will feel at ease the other can take the reins confidently. The offensive line is stacked with center Chandler Miller, left guard Tyler Bowling and left tackle Evan Plagg poised to make first-team honors. They led the way for eight 300-yard rushing games last season. D’Angelo Brewer, the conference’s top running back, also returns.
Teams that put up big points are always dangerous in college football; couple that in a division with little depth across the board, and the Hurricane could storm the competition at a price.Bet On College Football Futures At SBR's Top Sportsbooks