With 14 starters
returning from a team that went 11-2 and won the Allstate Sugar Bowl,
Louisville has been tabbed as the overwhelming favorite to win the first
American Athletic Conference football title in the conference's first preseason
The Cardinals received
28 of a possible 30 first-place votes and had 298 points in the preseason
voting of media representatives. Cincinnati received the other two first-place
votes and had 257 points. The top five teams in the preseason poll either won or
shared their league's regular-season championship last season.
Louisville claimed a share of its
second straight Big East title last season on its way to an 11-win season that
was capped by a 33-23 win against No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Charlie Strong's
Cardinals return 19 players who made at least one start last year, including
quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who enters the season on the short list of
preseason Heisman Trophy candidates. Bridgewater was the 2012 Big East
Offensive Player of the Year after he registered six games with at least 300
passing yards and two 400-yards games in 2012. Louisville was ranked No. 13 in
both major national polls to close the 2012 season.
Cincinnati went 10-3 last year,
won a share of the Big East title with a 5-2 conference record, and rallied
past Duke to win the Belk Bowl. The Bearcats, led by new head coach Tommy
Tuberville, have won four conference titles in the past five years and finished
last season ranked No. 22 in the final USA Today Coaches' Poll. The Bearcats
have an anchor on defense with the return of linebacker Greg Blair, who had a
Big East-leading 138 tackles last season, and return two quarterbacks who
started at least five games in 2012.
Rutgers was third in the
preseason poll with 240 points. The Scarlet Knights made history in coach Kyle
Flood's first year, claiming a share of their first conference title with a 5-2
finish in Big East play and a 9-4 overall mark. Flood will look to replace the
production of 11 players who were either drafted or signed by NFL clubs last
year, but is armed with depth on the offensive line, a big-play wide receiver
in Brandon Coleman (10 touchdown receptions in2012) and veteran quarterback
Gary Nova, who threw for 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns last year.
UCF was fourth in the
preseason poll with 210 points. The Knights went 10-4 overall and 7-1 in
Conference USA last year, winning the league's East Division title. UCF
defeated Ball State in the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl to cap the season. George
O'Leary and the Knights have hit double-digit wins three times in the last four
seasons and are positioned to do so again with the return of quarterback Blake
Bortles. Bortles, who was named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell
Award as the nation's top player, threw for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns last
USF was picked fifth in
the preseason poll. The Bulls are led by new head coach Willie Taggart, who
comes to Tampa after orchestrating a remarkable turnaround at Western Kentucky.
Taggart takes over a USF squad that went 3-9 last season, but returns a solid
defense. DeDe Lattimore is a preseason candidate for the Butkus Award as the
nation's top linebacker, while defensive end Aaron Lynch moves into the lineup
after earning Freshman All-America honors at Notre Dame in 2011.
Houston was tabbed sixth in
the preseason poll. The Cougars won at least 10 games in 2009 and 2011, but
look to bounce back from a 5-7 2012 campaign. Head coach Tony Levine has 10
offensive starters returning from a unit that averaged 32.4 points and 480
yards per game and will look to veteran linebacker Derrick Mathews (126
tackles, six sacks) to lead a young defense.
UConn was seventh in the
preseason poll. Paul Pasqualoni's Huskies return their starting quarterback and
running back, their top receiver and four of their five starters on the
offensive line from last year, but lost six starters from a defensive unit that
led the Big East in total defense a year ago. Linebacker Yawin Smallwood
registered 120 tackles to rank third in the Big East last year on his way to
first team all-conference honors.
SMU was eighth in the
poll. The Mustangs went 7-6 overall and 5-3 in Conference USA last year,
winning three of their last four games. SMU closed the season with a 43-10 win
against Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl, marking its fourth consecutive
postseason appearance. Coach June Jones has 11 starters returning, including QB
Garrett Gilbert, who threw for 2,932 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012.
Temple was picked ninth in
the preseason poll. The Owls went 4-7 overall as they returned to Big East play
in 2012. First-year head coach Matt Rhule will find 14 returning starters in
the fold for 2013, including linebacker Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich was the
Big East Rookie of the Year last season after he made 101 tackles as a true
Memphis was tabbed for 10th in the preseason poll. The Tigers bring a three-game winning streak into the 2013 season as Justin Fuente's squad went 4-8 overall. Memphis has 17 starters returning, including eight from a defensive unit that was the Conference USA leader in total defense in conference games.
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