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Conference Preview: AAC East

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No Mongols this time, I promise.

Hulk Hogan's Hulkamania Tour - Melbourne Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

In the two years since the AAC instituted divisions, the East has, surprisingly enough, run through Philadelphia. A Temple program that had been a doormat ever since joining the conference in 2012 came alive in now-Baylor head coach Matt Rhule’s third season with the Owls. Now, with four of the six teams having new coaches, who knows how the division could play out? Will someone else finally take over the division from the Owls? Well, probably.

Here are our previous previews for your perusing:

AAC West

C-USA

MAC

MWC

Sun Belt

Cincinnati Bearcats

After a rough 2016, going 4-8 and losing seven of the last eight, Cincinnati and Tommy Tuberville decided to part ways. Despite starting his tenure with back to back 9-4 seasons in 2013 and 2014, an unlucky year in 2015 precipitated last season’s total collapse. For a program that had been fighting tooth and nail to finally get back in to a power conference (the Big 12), 4-8 was an embarrassment. Now, Tubs has retired from football and is considering a career in politics joining ESPN’s broadcast team, and Cincinnati has hired a young, up-and-coming Luke Fickell to resurrect one of the AAC’s better programs. We’ll see how it goes for Mr. Ohio.

Chick-fil-A Bowl - Clemson v Auburn
We still love ya Tubbs!
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Connecticut Huskies

In one of this off-season’s more surprising coaching transitions, our former OC Rhett Lashlee took the same job at UConn. On paper, it made absolutely no sense, seeing as he moved from an SEC coordinator position to a non-power conference gig. However, I can kind of understand it. His entire career has been under Gus Malzahn save the one year he was at Samford, and he had started to gain the reputation of being Gus’s puppet and fall-man when the offense wasn’t clicking. I don’t know how the decision was made for Rhett to move (whether he wanted to leave or Gus suggested it), but I think ultimately this will be good for his career. If he can turn the Huskies into a half-way respectable offense, it won’t be long before he’s being mentioned for head coaching jobs.

As an aside, having been a student in Auburn the last few years, I’ve run into Rhett a few times around town. I obviously don’t know the guy super well, but he always handled being recognized super well, and he and his wife seem like extremely nice people. Best of luck, Rhett!

Alabama v Auburn
You too!
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

ECU Pirates

He only spent one season at Auburn (2015), but I will always remember a freshman Tim Irvin for being one of the guys I thought was going to be a big piece of the defense in the coming years. Despite being only 5’9”, he played with a chip on his shoulder that reminded a little of the way Robinson Therezie played. Looking at his stats, he only played in 9 games and had 18 tackles, but it seemed like he was always flying to the ball while playing the Star position in Will Muschamp’s most recent defense on the Plains. Ultimately, it didn’t work out, as he just didn’t feel comfortable in Auburn, and he transferred after the season to ECU. Of course, he had to take a redshirt last season, so this will be his first playing with the Pirates. I know I’ll be keeping an eye on him to see if he can live up to the hype he created in Auburn.

Temple Owls

I’ve been looking for a few days now what to put here, but as of yet, I can’t find a single connection between Temple and Auburn. They should be a pretty good team yet again, but they do lose a lot from last season, including former head coach Matt Rhule. First time head coach Geoff Collins seems like a solid hire for the Owls, but he will have his hands full in a division with USF.

UCF Knights

Again, I’m not sure of any Auburn *football* connections to the Knights, but the baseball Tigers did face UCF in the Tallahassee Regional a few weeks back. If you’ll remember, this was the game where Keegan Thompson was lights out in his last start for Auburn, going eight innings and striking out nine while allowing just two runs. All of this is well and good, since as far as I’m concerned that was the last game of the season. However, the main reason I brought this up here is because of what UCF baseball coach Greg Lovelady said when talking about having to face a pitcher like Keegan:

“Like Ric Flair said, ‘To be the best, you gotta beat the best’”

WOOOOOOO indeed, Coach Lovelady.

NASCAR Sprint Media Tour
WOOOOO
Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images

USF Bulls

As you’ve probably heard, USF should be a pretty good football team this year. They’ll always be at a recruiting advantage over most of their conference mates being in Florida, but with a loaded roster and Charlie Strong taking over, the Bulls are poised for a big year. That’s before looking at the schedule. While normally the Bulls would have a tough P5 game out of conference, their out-of-conference slate this season consists of going to San Jose State and hosting Stony Brook, Illinois, and UMass. USF could easily be the favorite in every game they play this season (they avoid Navy and host Houston). And what would the reward be for an undefeated USF? They would be longshots for the playoff with their schedule, so several projections have them as an at-large bid in the Peach Bowl against, you guessed it, Auburn. While I know we have our sights set on the Playoff, I wouldn’t mind checking out the new Mercedes-Benz stadium and getting some revenge on USF for that 2007 nightmare of a game in Jordan-Hare.