College football

2017 Preview:
American Conference

Predicted order of finish

1 South Florida
2 Temple
3 Cincinnati
4 Central Florida
5 East Carolina
6 Connecticut

1 Houston
2 Navy
3 Memphis
4 Tulsa
6 Tulane

champion Houston

East Division

#23: South Florida | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Bulls won 18 games over the last two seasons and returns much of that core this fall. Leading the way is senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, who should be a dark horse Heisman contender after accounting for 42 total scores in 2016. Flowers will have a new backfield mate after running back Marlon Mack left for the NFL, but the Bulls have a couple of talented options, including redshirt freshman Elijah Mack and senior D'Ernest Johnson. New coach Charlie Strong should help a defense that surrendered 31.6 points a game last fall. USF returns nine starters on this side of the ball, including standout tackles Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, along with linebacker Auggie Sanchez. The Bulls are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and could be favored in all 12 regular season games.

#25: Temple | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Owls are the defending back-to-back champs of the division, but this team has a new coach (Geoff Collins) and returns eight overall starters. Quarterback Philip Walker and defensive end Haason Reddick leave big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball. While the losses are heavy, Collins isn't inheriting an empty cupboard. Running back Ryquell Armstead is a rising star, the receiving corps is one of the best in the conference, and the defense has plenty of young talent to prevent much of a drop in production. Behind first-year coach Scott Frost, UCF was one of the nation's most-improved teams last fall.

#88: Cincinnati | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Cincinnati has missed out on a winning record just twice since 2006, with one of those coming last season (4-8). New coach Luke Fickell certainly knows the terrain thanks to extensive ties to the state of Ohio as an assistant with the Buckeyes. A fresh start under Fickell should provide a spark for this team, and Cincinnati still has a solid core of talent. With Ohio State transfer Torrance Gibson likely to redshirt, Hayden Moore and Ross Trail will battle for the starting quarterback job. In addition to finding a quarterback, the defense needs to take a step forward after giving up over 400 yards per game in 2016.

#93: Central Florida | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Behind first-year coach Scott Frost, UCF was one of the nation's most-improved teams last fall. The Knights went from 0-12 in 2015 to 6-7 in 2016, and Frost should be able to build on his debut thanks to nine returning starters on offense. Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton needs to take the next step in his development, but UCF is loaded at the skill positions, and the line should improve with three returning starters. UCF's defense is also in rebuild mode. The Knights return only four starters - all in the front seven. Alabama transfer Shawn Burgess-Becker is a name to watch in the secondary.

#103: East Carolina | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
East Carolina is relying on three graduate transfer – quarterback Thomas Sirk, running back Tyshon Dye and end Gaelin Elmore – for improvement after finishing 3-9 in coach Scottie Montgomery's debut in 2016. UConn hired a familiar face (Randy Edsall) to lead the program after dismissing Bob Diaco last season. Edsall won 74 games from 1999-10 and inherits a program with 13 returning starters for 2017. The hire of Rhett Lashlee to call plays should provide some immediate help for an offense that averaged just 14.8 points per game in 2016. While the offense may struggle, the defense should be a strength.

#115: Connecticut | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
UConn has a new defensive coordinator in Billy Crocker and lured back Randy Edsall to be head coach. He has a big task on his hand to turn around an ffense that averaged an FBS-worst 14.8 points per game last season, and replacing three key players in the defensive secondary. Long-term, he'll try to rebuild a program -- one that he once took from FCS obscurity to the Fiesta Bowl -- and turn it back into a conference contender. Not this year.

West Division

#15: Houston | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Despite coach Tom Herman leaving for Texas, Houston is still equipped to win the league title. Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen is eligible at quarterback, and tackle Ed Oliver is among the nation's best defensive players. Assuming new coach Major Applewhite has a smooth transition into the full-time job, a schedule that features home games against Memphis and Navy could be the difference in a tight division.

Navy's 10 returning starters are the fewest of any team in the West Division. However, coach Ken Niumatalolo will ensure little drop off. Quarterback Zach Abey gained valuable experience late last season and now steps into the full-time role. Abey can lean on a strong backfield tandem of fullback Chris High and running back Darryl Bonner, along with one of the league's top offensive lines. The Midshipmen do have a few holes to fill on defense with just five returning starters.

#33: Memphis | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Memphis should be explosive on offense thanks to the return of quarterback Riley Ferguson and one of the league's top receiving corps. The biggest concern for the Tigers is on defense, especially in a secondary that returns only one starter. Coach Mike Norvell's team won't have to play USF in crossover play but does have road trips to Tulsa and Houston.

#48: Tulsa | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Golden Hurricane have thrived under coach Philip Montgomery, but this team has a few significant personnel concerns to address. Quarterback Dane Evans expired his eligibility, and redshirt freshman Luke Skipper and sophomore Chad President finished spring locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. Additionally, top receivers Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson must be replaced, and the defense suffered a few key losses in the front seven. SMU and Tulsa could be two of the league's more entertaining teams to watch in 2017 – and both are potential sleepers to watch in the division title picture.

SMU is loaded with potential on offense in coach Chad Morris' third year on campus. The Mustangs are led by All-America candidate Courtland Sutton at receiver, while 1,000-yard rusher Braeden West leads the way on the ground. In order for SMU to challenge the top teams in the West, improving the defense is a priority. The Mustangs gave up 36.3 points per game last fall. The schedule isn't too daunting, as UConn, Cincinnati and UCF are the three crossover games with the East, and Tulsa visits Dallas in late October.

#113: Tulane | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Green Wave finished 4-8 in coach Willie Fritz's debut last year but lost four games by 10 points or less. Tulane should feature one of the league's top defenses, and the offense will take a step forward behind new quarterback Jonathan Banks. The former Kansas State signal-caller is a perfect fit for Fritz's offense, and this unit will benefit from another offseason to work in this scheme.

2017 Preseason Ranking

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