Which Newbie Will Have The Best Season In The AAC?
By Jackson Wang
The American Athletic Conference will welcome three new members this fall with the debuts of East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane. All three team will be facing opponents that they have not previously played.
In a conference that has a lot of teams still rebuilding, this year’s race for the AAC title will be wide open, and all three newcomers will have a good shot at it.
But which of the three has the best shot?
Case For East Carolina
The Pirates had a strong 2013 campaign, finishing 10-3 which included a convincing victory in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl over Ohio. That win should help catapult East Carolina into 2014 as it competes in a new conference.
The Pirate will also return senior quarterback Shane Carden, who is expected to be the starter for the third consecutive year.
Last season, Carden threw for more than 4,100 yards and 33 touchdowns, completing over 70 percent of his passes. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound Carden also contributed with 10 touchdowns on the ground to be named the Conference USA MVP.
Carden will give a lot of AAC defensive coordinators nightmares this fall because of his ability to step up and make big throws when needed or use his big frame to ground and pound on the goal line.
He was a big reason why East Carolina has had success on offense and most likely will again this fall against AAC teams.
The Pirates will also have back two key players on defense in inside linebackers Brandon Williams and Zeek Bigger. Williams, a senior, and Bigger, a junior, will dictate how much success opponents will have on the ground as they hope to plug running lanes.
Case For Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane will look to bounce back to their winning ways after going just 3-9 last season.
Tulsa will find success this fall if their defense comes to play. The Golden Hurricane will have back their two leading tacklers from 2013 with cornerback Michael Mudoh and linebacker Donnell Hawkins.
Tulsa's defensive players should be pretty familiar with each other since many are returning for their second or third seasons. The chemistry should be there as they look to continue to prove.
Offensively, the Golden Hurricane will rely on incoming freshman running back James Flanders. Flanders has a strong high school resume, earning first-team all-state honors by the Tulsa World as a senior, as well as being named to The Oklahoman all-state first team.
Flanders has shown that he was deserving of those honors, especially with a tremendous spring game performance, which included rushing for 119 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
The road to an AAC championship isn’t too difficult for Tulsa, whose toughest two games will be Oklahoma and UCF.
Case for Tulane
After a strong start to the 2013 season, things went downhill pretty fast for the Green Wave as they finished the season losing four of five, including the New Orleans Bowl to Louisiana-Lafayette.
The good news is that most of the players on the 2013 squad is will be returning this fall, which means Tulane has a chance to redeem itself.
The defense, which surrendered an average of just 21 points last year, will be looking to continue to improve. The secondary will also play a big role in the Green Wave success this year.
Junior cornerback Lorenzo Doss should continue to shut down opponents' passing games, along with junior safety Darion Monroe. The two combined for eight interceptions last season.
Senior safety Sam Scofield will continue to make big stops this fall as he hopes to remain Tulsa's leading tackler.
It’s hard not to pick East Carolina as the new kids to have the most success. The Pirates are pretty strong all around the board. They are set at quarterback, running back and on defense.
Most of the Pirates' starters are returning, and after getting a taste of glory last season, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t want to get more of it.
Tulane and Tulsa both have issues offensively as both teams look to replace their starting running backs and offensive linemen.
But that is the least of their worries. The Golden Hurricane and the Green Wave still have to decide which quarterbacks will be their starters. Tulsa has two very inexperience quarterbacks while Tulane has quarterbacks that are inconsistent.
If the offensive issues are not figured out, this season could be extremely rough for Tulsa and Tulane.