Four schools packed up from Conference USA and emigrated to the old Big East, now re-named the American Athletic Conference. While none of the four look ready to challenge Louisville for conference honors, all four could have some fun in their new home this year, as TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage looks at the quartet of emigrant programs…
Central Florida: Headed up by George O’Leary, UCF has been a successful program, winning conference championships and playing for the C-USA title a year ago. They might get there over time in the American Athletic, but right now the problems of a young defensive line, two freshmen in the secondary and no senior starters on defense at all are going to be a big hindrance.
The positive? If junior quarterback Blake Bortles keeps developing, his got his top three receivers back, and three returnees up front to protect him, to the Knights can still win enough games to stay competitive.
SMU: June Jones has turned this team into consistent bowl participant. Even last year, when a 6-6 season was kind of a disappointment, the Mustangs turned around and hammered what had been a good Fresno State team in their bowl matchup.
Jones’ reputation is that of a passing guru, but last year’s success was built on the running of Zach Line, who is now gone, as is most of the offensive line. Senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert has to cut back on the mistakes that have plagued him in his career. Defensively, this team should be good against the pass, less so against the run.
Houston: David Piland is another veteran quarterback who has to stop an erratic strain in his play. If he does, the Coogs can make some noise. They have a veteran offensive line, a 1,200-yard rusher in Charles Sims and experienced receivers.
Even if all goes well though, “make some noise” might not translate into many wins, because the defense is exceptionally green, with five underclassmen starting.
Memphis: This was one of the worst programs in college football as recently as 2011, but they won four games in the first year under head coach Justin Fuente. Just as significantly, they closed the season with three straight wins. There’s vets back in both lines and a returning quarterback in Jacob Karam. We’ll see how they adjust to the higher level of play in the American Athletic, but things definitely got moving in the right direction in 2012.
While none of these teams are realistic threats to Louisville for conference supremacy, or even Cincinnati for the role of prime challenger, all have feasible hopes of a bowl game and Central Florida and SMU at least have the track records that suggest they might sneak as high as third place in this revamped 10-team league.
I’d look for both UCF and SMU to play good football in the second half of the season and possibly be a spoiler in the league race, while Houston and Memphis end up a little bit shy of bowl eligibility.