NCAA Football 2017 Season
AAC West Preview
The race to win the AAC West Division is crowded at the top. Houston, Navy and Memphis each have a strong argument for the No. 1 spot, while Tulsa and SMU aren’t far behind. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
Head coach Mike Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente — who guided the Tigers to back-to-back bowl games before departing for Virginia Tech — left off. Memphis ranked 14th nationally in passing offense (304.4 ypg), 15th in scoring offense (38.8 ppg) and 28th in total offense (463.7 ypg) and played in a third straight bowl game.
The Tigers should set a school record by playing in a fourth straight postseason game. Norvell returns eight starters on offense with multiple weapons at running back and receiver. The defense will be a question mark, particularly with an overhaul in the secondary. Still, Memphis won 17 games over the past two years with a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the AAC.
Getting swept by service academy rivals Air Force and Army cast a dark shadow over an otherwise successful 2016 season. You can bet that coach Ken Niumatalolo has put increased emphasis on recapturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Navy’s defense, which was porous last season, is expected to be vastly improved. But they may need to win some games early while a young, inexperienced offense settles in. The Midshipmen have posted winning records in 13 of the last 14 seasons. There is no reason to believe that remarkable run of success won’t continue in 2017.
For two years the Houston program conducted business under constant speculation over the future of Tom Herman, who became the school’s third coach in the last nine years to leave for a more high-profile job. New head coach Major Applewhite, Herman’s offensive coordinator for the last two years, signed a five-year deal with the hopes that he can keep the Cougars relevant on the national scene.
The schedule is more manageable this year. The Cougars play three key AAC West Division rivals (SMU, Memphis and Navy) at home. A second league title in three years likely hinges on progress of the offense — namely Kyle Allen at quarterback and the development of a consistent running game.
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
After winning six games in his first year, head coach Philip Montgomery overwhelmingly exceeded expectations in 2016 by delivering a 10–3 record and a second-place finish in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division, completing the turnaround from the 2–10 season that preceded his hiring.
To continue rebuilding the program and establishing the Hurricane as perennial contenders in the league, Montgomery will have to do his best coaching job given the high turnover, particularly from an offense that carried the team in the previous two seasons. If the defense can dramatically ramp up its performance despite relying heavily on youth, Montgomery will become only the second coach in program history to make bowl appearances in three consecutive seasons.
In his third season, head coach Chad Morris has SMU positioned for success. After going 2–10 in 2015, the Mustangs were on the verge of bowl eligibility at 5–5 last season, but they lost the final two games to South Florida and Navy.
Morris has made big inroads in changing the program’s culture with dramatic leaps in recruiting, depth and overall performance. Tweaks in the power spread scheme, including a faster pace, bolstered the offense, which ranked 55th nationally last year (427.3 ypg). Mobility at quarterback, or better protection for Ben Hicks — if he wins the job — will be needed. The defense also must take another step forward after ranking 103rd nationally a year ago.
Tulane Green Wave
Tulane should be more competitive now that head coach Willie Fritz and his players are familiar with each other. Simply getting his quarterbacks to know when to pitch or run on options proved challenging a year ago, when Tulane beat UConn in its finale to avoid its first winless conference season since it left the SEC in the 1960s.
Being more competitive, however, won’t necessarily translate into more wins. Not only do the Wave play in the far more difficult West Division of the AAC, but they must also face USF, the overwhelming favorite in the East. And don’t forget about a game at Oklahoma. Anything close to a .500 record would be a great accomplishment.