NEWPORT, R.I. – For the first time in American Athletic Conference football history, a champion will be determined on the field this season. And based on the preseason media poll released by the conference Tuesday morning, Cincinnati is a rather convincing favorite to raise the new trophy on Dec. 5.
The Bearcats received 22 of a possible 30 votes to win the league title in the preseason balloting of media representatives. Cincinnati was a near-unanimous selection to win the East Division as the Bearcats earned all but one first-place vote in the division.
A tighter race is projected for the West Division as Memphis edged Houston and Navy as the favorite to reach the championship game. The Tigers received 13 first-place votes and were just four points ahead of Houston and five points ahead of Navy in the balloting.
In the championship balloting, Memphis received five votes, Houston had two and UCF picked up one point.
The results of the poll were announced at the start of the league’s annual media day. We will have more coverage throughout today and the rest of the week.
Here’s a breakdown of the poll results, with a quick comment on each team. With Navy joining the AAC, the conference has 12 teams and, under NCAA rules, can hold a championship game.
Team (First place votes, Total points)
- Cincinnati (29, 179) – Cincinnati returns 15 starters from last year, including quarterback Gunner Kiel, who threw a league-leading 31 touchdown passes in 2014. Kiel has his top seven receivers back from last season and will be protected by an offensive line that has 76 career starts to its credit.
- UCF (1, 135) – The Knights are a combined 15-1 in two seasons of American Athletic Conference play and bring a 10-game winning streak at Bright House Networks Stadium into 2015. Head coach George O’Leary will look to replace the production of 14 starters lost, but will have two-time all-conference running back William Stanback to help lead the way.
- Temple (116) – The Owls could be poised for a breakout season under third-year head coach Matt Rhule, who has 19 returning starters, including 10 from a defense that ranked fourth nationally in scoring last season (17.5 ppg). LB Tyler Matakevich enters his senior year with 355 career tackles and could become just the seventh player in FBS history to register 100 tackles in a season four times.
- East Carolina (105) – The Pirates have made eight bowl appearances in the last nine years and will turn to some new faces at the skill positions in their bid for a ninth postseason bid in 10 years. Head coach Ruffin McNeill has a proven deep threat with wide receiver Isaiah Jones, who had 81 receptions for 830 yards and five touchdowns last season.
- USF (53) – Coach Willie Taggart has new coordinators on offense and defense and will have The American’s leading rusher from last season back in the fold. Marlon Mack rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a true freshman.
- UConn (42) – Coach Bob Diaco enters his second season in charge of the Huskies with several talented defensive players but many questions on offense, including quarterback, the line, and tight end. The Huskies have seven defensive starters returning, led by outstanding linebackers Marquis Vann and Graham Stewart.
Team (First place votes, Total points)
- Memphis (13, 153) – Memphis enters 2015 on the heels of its best season in more than 40 years. The Tigers went 10-3 overall, won a share of the American Athletic Conference title at 7-1 in league play and capped the year with a win against Brigham Young in the Miami Beach Bowl. Head coach Justin Fuente has 13 starters returning from last season, including quarterback Paxton Lynch,
- Houston (10, 149) – First-year head coach Tom Herman, the offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national championship team in 2014, finds a talented roster in place. The Cougars were 8-5 last season, including a win over Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl. Running back Kenneth Farrow registered a league-leading seven 100-yard games last season.
- Navy (7, 148) – Welcome to the Midshipmen. After 134 seasons as an independent, Navy is in a league for the first time. The Midshipmen were 8-5 last year, marking the 11th time in 12 years that Navy won at least eight games. Coach Ken Niumatalolo has one the nation’s top quarterbacks on his roster, as Keenan Reynolds enters his senior year with a chance to break Montee Ball’s NCAA record of 77 career rushing touchdowns.
- Tulane (74) – Coach Curtis Johnson fielded one of the youngest teams in the nation last year, but has 18 returning starters for 2015. The Green Wave had freshmen finish as the team leaders in rushing, passing, receiving and interceptions last season.
- SMU (59) – The Mustangs look to return to the postseason after a two-year absence as head coach Chad Morris makes his debut on the SMU sideline. Morris had been the offensive coordinator at Clemson and enjoyed a highly successful career as a high school coach in Texas. Quarterback Matt Davis emerged as the Mustangs’ starter last season and finished as the team’s leading rusher and passer.
- Tulsa (47) – The Golden Hurricane welcomes new head coach Philip Montgomery, formerly the offensive coordinator at Baylor. Montgomery finds 10 returning offensive starters in place, including wide receiver Keevan Lucas, who was second in The American in receptions (101) and receiving yards (1,219) last season.
*Text from AAC press release included in this story.