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September 22, 2019

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Countdown to college football: Picking every AAC team’s win total

UCF

Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press

Central Florida head coach Josh Heupel watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati on Nov. 17, 2018, in Orlando, Fla.

The last time Central Florida lost an American Athletic Conference game, Lamar Jackson was in the middle of a dominant Heisman Trophy season. The most prominent coaches in the state of Florida were Jimbo Fisher, Jim McElwain, Mark Richt, and UCF’s own Scott Frost.

It feels like a lifetime ago, another lesson that college football moves fast — well it at least moves fast everywhere except the AAC. UCF’s dominance in the form of an 18-game win streak has made the league feel stagnant.

The Knights have only been favorites of less than a touchdown to one team in the AAC over the last two seasons, Memphis on three occasions, and have proceeded to go 13-5 against the spread anyway. They’ve won by an average of 20 points per game during the run.

UCF is again favored win a championship this year, but the gap isn’t as wide as their track record may suggest. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook offers the Knights at plus-250 (risking $1 to win $2.50) to win the AAC with Memphis (3-to-1), Cincinnati (4-to-1) and Houston (5-to-1) all nipping at their heels.

Talking Points sees the merit in one of those teams catching up to UCF. Read below to find out which one as the blog’s series handicapping the win total for every college football team continues. Picks are labeled in three confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. This is part five; here are the first four parts.

Central Florida

Total: 9 (over minus-120, under Even)

Last Season: 12-1 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread

Two-time defending conference Player of the Year McKenzie Milton remains out after his horrific leg injury suffered late last season, leaving quarterback duties to Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush. That’s just one of several reasons — including inexperienced lines on both sides of the ball — that UCF is almost sure to regress this season. But regressing by three games, when they’re currently favored in every contest, is stark.

Guess: Over 9 wins at minus-120

Cincinnati

Total: 7.5 (over minus-130, under plus-110)

Last Season: 11-2 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread

A program’s path to a peak is not always linear. There’s an inclination to declare the Bearcats as having arrived after making a seven-win improvement last year, but growing pains could just as likely persist in a post-outbreak year. Cincinnati did go 3-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown and tailed off near the end of the year.

Guess: Under 7.5 wins at plus-110

Connecticut

Total: 2.5 (over minus-120, under Even)

Last Season: 1-11 straight-up, 2-9-1 against the spread

No hyperbole: The Huskies were one of the worst teams ever last season. They got outgained by 3 yards per play and outscored by 337 points. Coach Randy Edsall has openly stated UConn is in a five-year rebuilding phase. This is only year three. Connecticut only projects to be favored in Week 1 against Wagner, and it was outgained in narrowly escaping Football Championship Subdivision opponent Rhode Island last year.

Guess: Under 2.5 wins Even money

East Carolina

Total: 4 (over minus-150, under plus-130)

Last Season: 3-9 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread

Mike Houston was one of the best under-the-radar coaching hires this offseason after he reached two of the last three FCS Championship games at James Madison. And departing coach Scottie Montgomery left plenty of decent talent, as he was an able recruiter who just struggled on gameday. East Carolina is due for some positive regression considering its minus-14 turnover margin and fumble recovery rate of 35 percent.

Play: Over 4 wins at minus-150

South Florida

Total: 6.5 (over plus-110, under minus-130)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 4-9 against the spread

A win-and-a-half shaved off of the Bulls’ win total since opening at as high as eight, and the cause is no mystery. This is a team that dropped six in a row to end last season, and still somehow wound up overrated. Quarterback Blake Barnett has yet to live up to the hype that initially landed him at Alabama — he had 12 touchdowns to 11 interceptions last year — and coach Charlie Strong’s recruiting rankings haven’t been as strong as many expected when he took the job.

Play: Under 6.5 wins at minus-130

Temple

Total: 6.5 (over minus-135, under plus-115)

Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread

Temple might have the best defensive front seven in the conference, including linebacker Shaun Bradley, but offense could be more of an issue. New coach Rod Carey wants to pound the ball but the Owls’ current personnel doesn’t jive with his preferred approach. There’s been action on the over, and Temple hasn’t endured a losing season in five years, but this might not be a seamless transition.

Lean: Under 6.5 wins at plus-115

Houston

Total: 7.5 (over minus-110, under minus-110)

Last Season: 8-5 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread

The Cougars might have the nation’s largest dichotomy between its two primary units. They’re going to be incredible offensively with quarterback D’Eriq King having Heisman upside and returning all of his top weapons. The defensive situation, on the other hand, is dire and presumably the reason this total has shifted down a half-win. The advantage of an offense this potent can be tough to quantify, though.

Guess: Over 7.5 wins at minus-110

Memphis

Total: 9.5 (over minus-125, under plus-105)

Last Season: 8-6 straight-up, 8-6 against the spread

Memphis has blown its last three games against UCF — including a pair in the last two conference championship games — leading many to believe the Tigers are incapable of besting the Knights. That’s short-sighted and silly — especially if they play this year. Memphis has the best roster in the league, yes including UCF, and ranks inside the nation’s top 10 for returning production by the S&P+ rankings.

Play: Over 9.5 wins at minus-125

Navy

Total: 5.5 (over plus-105, under minus-125)

Last Season: 3-10 straight-up, 4-8-1 against the spread

The Midshipmen have gotten worse in each of the last three seasons, bottoming out last year when they posted a minus-111 scoring differential for the year. Coach Ken Niumatalolo has been open about what went wrong last year and is adamant the academy has addressed the issues. The hurdle in Navy getting back to its normal, respectable level is the schedule, which leaves it only clearly favored in a Week 1 matchup with Holy Cross.

Lean: Under 5.5 wins at minus-125

SMU

Total: 6 (over minus-130, under plus-110)

Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

Out of nowhere, the Mustangs had one of the conference’s better defenses last year but that will be tough to maintain against the West Division’s elevated offensive attacks. Another unsustainable trait: SMU recovered 60 percent of fumbles last year. This might be a straight coin flip, as SMU figures to be in a load of close games with the rest of the AAC’s middle class.

Guess: Under 6 wins at plus-110

Tulane

Total: 5.5 (over minus-165, under plus-145)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread

Fear coach Willie Fritz, who now has a track record of overachieving in every season. He’s certainly more of a deterrent to betting against this team than the roster, which has some holes, most notably along the offensive line. The Green Wave have only beaten this win total four times in the last 20 years, so it’s hard to give such a big price.

Guess: Under 5.5 wins at plus-145

Tulsa

Total: 4.5 (over plus-110, under minus-130)

Last Season: 3-9 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

This is the season that will determine the future of coach Philip Montgomery, and luckily for him, it’s the one he’s built towards for the last three years. Baylor transfer Zac Smith steps in at quarterback to pair with a defense that took its lumps last season but gained invaluable experience. If Tulsa can survive playing Michigan State and Oklahoma State in two of the first three weeks, it should be more competitive than the last two seasons.

Guess: Over 4.5 wins at plus-110

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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