Football spring practice is here in the American Athletic Conference. What are the key spring storylines?
American Athletic Conference 6 Spring Football Storylines
6. Second Spring for Chad Morris at SMU
Morris and his Mustangs took their lumps in 2015, routinely getting routed. But it represented the foundation on which a future is being built.
SMU used a swath of young players last year, all with an eye toward being more competitive this season. Morris has a detailed plan for success, as well as the buy-in of his kids. He also harbors some emerging stars, such as QB Matt Davis, WR Courtland Sutton and DE Justin Lawler. However, progress will be unattainable if the Mustangs are unable to make strides on defense after allowing 45.7 points per game.
5. UConn Has Ingredients to Be Sleeper
If returning starters and letterwinners are barometers for success, the Huskies have a shot to be this year’s Temple in the American.
UConn leaned forward in Bob Diaco’s second season in Storrs, earning a postseason game for the first time in five years. It was an important step that could continue in 2016, with the Huskies welcoming back the majority of their starters. Once again, D won’t be a problem. If QB Bryant Shirreffs and the offense can lug even a little more of the weight, UConn is capable of threatening out of the East Division.
4. Life After Keenan Reynolds
It’ll be impossible to replace LB Tyler Matakevich at Temple. No one in the American, though, has bigger shoes to fill than Reynolds in Annapolis.
Reynolds is an all-timer, by Navy’s or anyone’s standard, so his successor will face inordinate scrutiny. Fortunately for the Midshipmen, they’ve got a veteran waiting in the wings. Senior Tago Smith has played in 14 career games, including a couple of starts, while serving as Reynolds’ caddy the past two seasons. Plus, Navy QBs receive a ton of practice reps, so Smith might not be floored by the responsibility of supplanting a legend.
3. Building Continues at South Florida
Now that the switch has finally turned on in Tampa, the Bulls are determined to fill the potential East Division void if Temple and Cincinnati slip.
South Florida awoke from its slumber in 2015, and not a moment too soon. The team finished second in the division, ending for now any speculation about Willie Taggart’s future. Even better, the backfield of Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack headlines an experienced roster ready to compete for a title. After ending last year on a 7-2 run, USF is poised to take another big step forward later this fall.
2. Can Memphis Endure Without Its Two Leaders?
The Tigers have won 19 games over the last two seasons, even flirting with New Year’s Six bowl contention early last November. But this is a different squad now that Justin Fuente is leading Virginia Tech and QB Paxton Lynch is auditioning for pro scouts.
Memphis was symbolic of a league flush in upstarts a year ago. However, there’ll be new front men working to prevent a marked decline, head coach Mike Norvell and a yet-to-be-determined quarterback. Norvell will be choosing between five players, none more compelling than Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College transfer Riley Ferguson, whose career began across state in Knoxville.
1. Everyone’s Chasing Houston
The American has a clear frontrunner this offseason, a program with the talent and the momentum to carry the league banner to a national audience in 2016.
The Cougars are more than just the defending conference champs. They’re the American’s buzziest program, the byproduct of capping a 13-win season with a Chick-fil-A Bowl upset of Florida State. Houston is not without roster vacancies, which will create a competitive atmosphere this spring. Still, with QB Greg Ward and head coach Tom Herman back, the Cougs are targeting another league title and marquee bowl invitation.