The Cincinnati Bearcats are the favorites to claw their way out of American Athletic Conference and potentially play in a major bowl game.
Cincinnati received 17 first-place votes from the media members currently covering the American’s media days.
“First time in my 19 years that I’ve ever been picked to win the conference,” Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t think I have, but I can’t remember. But remember, Louisville was picked to win last year, and they didn’t win.
“We’ll have a target on our back every week. It’s something we can take and run with or we can hide from it. Obviously you want to take it and run with it.”
Two other teams, the UCF Knights and Houston Cougars, received first-place votes. The Knights received seven first-place votes and were chosen to finish second, while the Cougars had six first-place votes and were picked to finish third.
The Knights are coming off a BCS bowl berth and a Fiesta Bowl championship, but the losses of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson to the NFL may be too much to overcome to repeat as league champions.
The Cougars, meanwhile, are highly talented on offense and have one of the nation’s best young quarterbacks in John O’Korn. The Cougars travel to Cincinnati on Dec. 6 with the conference championship likely on the line.
The conference’s newest addition, the East Carolina Pirates, were picked to finish fourth. The Pirates have arguably the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the AAC with Shane Carden and Justin Hardy, but the team plays a brutal non-conference schedule against the South Carolina Gamecocks, Virginia Tech Hokies or North Carolina Tar Heels.
The SMU Mustangs, South Florida Bulls, Memphis Tigers and Temple Owls were finished to finish fifth through eighth, respectively. The Connecticut Huskies and Tulane Green Wave received the same numbers of votes and tied for ninth place. Another new addition to the conference, the Tulsa Hurricane, was picked to finish last.