Memphis knocked off Cincinnati on back-to-back weekends to backdoor their way into an American Athletic Conference Championship. After a thrilling end to the AAC regular season in 2019, expect more of the same to be in store in 2020.
Arguably the most competitive of the Group of Five (G5) conferences, we’ve seen four different schools win the AAC title game since 2015. In fact, when you are making your AAC football predictions in 2020, it’s pretty tempting to pick a team that is yet to hoist the American Athletic Conference crown.
Did they forget that SMU went 10-3 in 2019 and that Shane Buechele is coming back for his senior year?
Navy is going to run the football effectively and play hard-nosed defense, and Houston is sure to boast a high-flying passing attack. Temple and Tulane fall into the “AAC sleeper” category, but a lot would have to come together for either the Owls or the Green Waves to make some serious noise.
What’s clear as day is that at least three teams will be tussling for supremacy in the AAC. I’ll now investigate each of those squads individually.
2019 Record: 10-3 (Won the Gasparilla Bowl)
Best Player: Dillon Gabriel, QB
Oh, what could have been. All three of the Knights’ losses in 2019 came by three points or less, although it was the third consecutive season in which UCF won double-digit games. Josh Heupel’s offense is loaded with speedy weapons, and Dillon Gabriel is one of my favorite Heisman Trophy sleepers in 2020.
The left-handed Hawaii native exploded as a true freshman, leading the Knights to more than 43 points and 540 yards (per game).
Look for this group to once again be a top-5 unit in the country, but how far this team goes in 2020 will ultimately come down to the defense. Fortunately, four of the five starters in the secondary are coming back, and Kenny Turnier is a big-time defensive lineman.
As long as Heupel and his crew can slide past the Tar Heels in the opening game at Spectrum Stadium, it should be smooth sailing to another 10+ win season. Keep in mind, this program went 25-1 from 2017-2018 and has quietly emerged as the most distinguished G5 team in America.
2019 Record: 12-2 (Lost in the Cotton Bowl)
Best Player: Brady White, QB
Mike Norvell has moved on to Florida State, but Ryan Silverfield inherits an offense that should be among the most consistent and well-balanced in the nation. Not only is Brady White back in the pocket after throwing for more than 4,000 yards last season, but so are his two biggest weapons.
Damonte Coxie (76 catches, 1,276 yards, 9 touchdowns) is a big-time wideout who has a bright future at the next level. Sleeping on Coxie because he’s playing in the AAC would be a mistake — he had an offer at Alabama and originally committed to LSU.
As electric as Damonte is, his production takes a backseat to running back Kenneth Gainwell. The First-Team All-ACC member was just a freshman in 2019, but more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs tells you that the dude is the total package.
A game at Purdue figures to be the only roadblock for the Tigers before they embark on AAC play. However, traveling to SMU and Cincinnati won’t be easy. It’d be natural to take a step back after winning 12 games and clinching a berth in the Cotton Bowl, but don’t expect Memphis to just suddenly fall off. +325 to win the American Athletic Conference is a pretty reasonable price.
2019 Record: 11-3 (Won the Birmingham Bowl)
Best Player: Ahmad Gardner, CB
Don’t count Cincy out just because they aren’t as explosive as the Knights or the Tigers on offense. This team runs the football exceptionally well, and all three of the four-star recruits headed to the AAC in 2020 will be playing at Nippert Stadium.
Coming off consecutive 11-win seasons and victories in each of their last two Bowl games, backing the Bearcats to win the American Athletic Conference is drenched in value.
It’s worth noting that their fairly benign schedule does have brutal test looming on September 26th and a tricky finish to end the regular season. Cincinnati strolls into the “Sea of Red” — one of the best college football stadiums and one of the toughest places to play in America — to face a Cornhuskers squad that should be sincerely improved. They end the year with road games at UCF and Temple.
Fortunately for the Bearcats, Luke Fickell is proving he’s one of the best coaches in America. After turning down the Michigan State job, look for a number of Power Five schools to target Fickell in 2021 after what should be another fruitful season in Cincinnati.
Who Will Win the AAC in 2020?
I’m tempted to endorse the Bearcats in my AAC football predictions for 2020, but then I recall the pedigree of Josh Heupel and UCF. I look at Dillon Gabriel and the depth on this roster and wonder if this team could conceivably run the table.
ESPN’s matchup predictor states that the Knights will beat the Tigers (in Memphis on October 16th) nearly 70% of the time, and you can argue that game is the most difficult test on Central Florida’s schedule.
An undefeated season in the American Athletic Conference likely won’t be enough to clinch a berth into the College Football Playoff, but it’ll be more than enough to allow bettors to cash their +110 ticket on UCF winning the AAC.
As a former Division I collegiate golfer, Michael Wynn loves writing about golf. He's also an expert in most of America's most popular sports, writing extensively for GamblingSites.com on football, basketball, and baseball.
Michael's a Las Vegas native and has been with the company since 2017.