Hawaii and California played Friday night, but we’re officially less than one week away from the first full slate of the 2016 college football season, so that means it’s time to make some final predictions.
You know, something you haven’t already read 100 times.
Instead of predicting the win-loss totals for each team in the American Athletic Conference East Division, wouldn’t it be more fun to be cynical and predict teams’ first losses?
That’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Just days away from opening kickoff across the United States (as opposed to Australia), here’s when every AAC East team will lose its first game this year:
Cincinnati (2-0) vs. Houston, Sept. 15
Out of its six losses in 2015, Cincinnati’s early-November matchup at Houston happened to be the closest. Despite losing by an average of 20.4 points in all five other losses, the Bearcats kept this one close, falling short on their final drive and losing 33-30.
This time around, Houston will be coming off games against No. 3 Oklahoma and then Lamar before heading to Nippert Stadium in Week 3. The Cougars, who are ranked (No. 15) in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time since 1991, are easily the top Group of Five team in the country and have an opportunity to reconstruct the College Football Playoff picture on day one of the new season.
Cincinnati has been one of the nation’s best teams at home over the years, which is the reason why it will once again be a close game — but the result will be the same.
Connecticut (1-0) at Navy, Sept. 10
With 16 returning starters (tied for 12th in the FBS), UConn is poised to become bowl eligible in back-to-back years for the first time since 2009 and 2010. Still, Navy — even without all-world quarterback Keenan Reynolds — will compete for the AAC West title with Houston and should be able to keep the Huskies’ offense in check for a second straight season.
UConn has about eight or nine “winnable” games on its 2016 schedule. This is one of them, but the Midshipmen are 14-3 at home over the last four years and will be difficult to beat.
East Carolina (1-0) vs. N.C. State, Sept. 10
ECU is 3-1 in its last four matchups with Power Five programs from the Carolina states — including a 42-28 win at N.C. State in 2013 — but with one of the least experienced teams in the FBS and an entirely new coaching staff (different schemes, culture, etc.), it will take some time before the Pirates find their groove and become consistently competitive again.
If this were 2017, I’d say the Pirates would have a much better chance to win on the road against a middle-of-the-pack ACC opponent this early in the season. However, with inexperience and the coaching transition will come growing pains, especially against a Wolfpack team that is likely headed for its third straight bowl game.
USF (3-0) vs. Florida State, Sept. 24
Last season, Florida State was 128th in Phil Steele’s experience chart — and still won 10 games and played in a New Year’s Six bowl. With nearly its entire core back, including arguably the best offensive line in the country and the ACC’s top defensive line, it’s easy to see why the Seminoles are ranked No. 4 to start the 2016 season.
USF will not roll over. Last year, the Bulls held their own and forged a tie (7-7) with the ‘Noles at halftime on the road before ultimately losing, 34-14. I expect the overall result to be the same, but don’t be surprised if this one is still within reach entering the fourth quarter.
Temple (2-0) at Penn State, Sept. 17
Even without some big-time playmakers, including linebacker Tyler Matakevich, Temple could have the AAC’s best defensive unit. Throw in a favorable conference schedule, and that automatically turns the Owls into a legitimate threat to win the East for a second straight season.
Turn back the calendar to one year ago, and you’ll recall a convincing win at home over Penn State in which the defense collected 10 sacks and held the Nittany Lions to 183 yards of total offense. That doesn’t mean Temple will put on a repeat performance.
In reality, Penn State is 39-4-1 against Temple all-time, securing a 31-game win streak from 1952 through 2014. With this one being in Beaver Stadium, that trend is likely to continue in Week 3.
UCF (1-0) at Michigan, Sept. 10
Scott Frost was an excellent hire, and UCF will contend for championships and play in meaningful bowl games in no time. Heck, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think the Knights can reach that six-win mark this fall, even after finishing with a goose egg in the win column eight months ago.
Week 2 will not offer any indication that the Knights are on the right track.
Michigan, pre-ranked inside the top 10 for the first time in four years, will field one of the NCAA’s strongest defenses in 2016. That doesn’t bode well for a UCF team that is coming off an 0-12 record; has a new coach with an extremely complicated offensive system; and is set to play in front of a crowd of 110,000-plus in the second week of the season.
This one can and will get ugly.