The AAC heads into its third year of existence and, after adding Navy, it will have and East and a West Division, which is a good thing considering last season Memphis (10-3, 7-1), Cincinnati (9-4, 7-1) and Central Florida (9-4, 7-1) split the conference crown three ways.
That trio is expected to be in contention of the AAC title once again as the Bearcats were the preseason favorites to win the conference with 22 votes and were followed by the Tigers (5), Cougars (2) and the Knights (1).
Quarterback Gunner Kiel lived up to the hype last season as the former top QB recruit and Notre Dame transfer led the AAC with 31 touchdown passes and was second in the conference with 3,254 passing yards as a sophomore. The return of Kiel, along with his top seven wide receivers, is a big reason the Bearcats were the preseason favorites to win the AAC.
In 2014, the Tigers had their best season in 40-plus years as they went 10-3 (7-1) to snag a piece of the conference crown. Quarterback Paxton Lynch threw for 3,031 yards and 22 TDs as a freshman and was named the All-AAC second-team quarterback. Lynch should only get better in Year 2, but the preseason favorites to win the West Division must find a way to replace eight defensive starters.
3. Central Florida
Central Florida has won two consecutive AAC championships and have gone a combined 15-1 in league play over the past two seasons. The Knights lost some firepower on offense with the departure of wide receiver Breshad Perriman, but the return of RB William Stanback, a veteran offensive line and second-year QB Justin Holman ensures UCF will challenge for its third straight ACC crown.
4. East Carolina
It’s true, the Pirates have quarterback questions after sophomore starter Kurt Benkert suffered a season-ending knee injury. However, ECU has plenty surrounding talent at the other offense positions to ease the transition of starting QB Blake Kemp. On the defensive end, ECU returns tackling machine Zeek Bigger, ball-hawking corner Josh Hawkins and athletic OLB Montese Overton.
After going 8-5 (5-3) last season Houston fired head coach Tony Levine and brought in Tom Herman, the offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer and defending national champions Ohio State. With the return of speedy junior QB Greg Ward Jr., and a defense led by an experienced secondary, the Cougars will be a tough out this season.