Charlie Strong may be taking over a new program this fall, but he will do so in a familiar role as preseason favorite. The preseason media poll was released by the American Athletic Conference today, and Strong’s USF Bulls were the runaway favorite to win the conference championship in 2017. USF swept the first-place votes in the AAC East Division and took 26 votes out of 30 to win the conference championship.
Strong returns to the conference where he previously made a name for himself as a head coach, dating back to the conference’s days as the Big East. In Strong’s first season as head coach at Louisville, the Cardinals were picked to finish last in the conference, to which Strong reflected on how he had never been picked to finish last before. Soon enough, Strong, with the help of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, quickly ascended the ranks of the Big East and developed into a top contender in the conference. At USF, Strong once again has one of the top quarterbacks in the conference with Quinton Flowers, and these Bulls are locked and loaded for a run to a conference title. After a disappointing experience with Texas, USF appears to have everything in place for Strong to quickly prove he can still coach, and now the bar has been placed as high as it can within the conference.
UCF is also expected to improve this season, as the Knights were picked second in the division behind the in-state rivals from Tampa. Defending conference champion Temple, with a first-year head coach in Geoff Collins, was picked third in the East Division by the media.
In the West Division, Memphis enters the year as the prohibitive favorite after receiving 22 first-place votes. Houston picked up six votes, and Navy and Tulsa each picked one one of the remaining first-place votes from the media.
AAC East Division
- USF (30 first-place votes)
- East Carolina
AAC West Division
- Memphis (22)
- Houston (6)
- Navy (1)
- Tulsa (1)
- USF (26)
- Houston (2)
- Memphis (1)
- Navy (1)
As noted by the AAC, the preseason conference favorite has ended the year as the conference champion just once in the four years of the existence of the AAC. Cincinnati was picked as the 2014 preseason favorite and ended the season in a three-way tie with UCF and Memphis. In 2013, Strong’s Louisville team was picked to win the conference, but UCF ended the year as conference champion. Louisville did go 12-1 that season, with the lone loss coming against the Knights, who went on to beat Big 12 champion Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Heisman Trophy has generally been synonymous with the best quarterback on one of the best teams in recent years but there have been a few running backs who have broken through to win the most prestigious award in all of college football.
Hoping to become the next tailback to break the signal-callers’ grip on the stiff arm? That would be Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who appears to have a budding campaign for the trophy that was launched by the school on Thursday:
“Herschel Walker. Ron Dayne. Ricky Williams. Adrian Peterson. LaDainian Tomlinson. Dominant running backs. Legendary names. Unrivaled production … until now,” one tagline reads. “There’s a new kid on the block and he’s “Bringing Running Back,” back into the spotlight, just like those that came before him. And his name is Jonathan Taylor.”
The website goes through all of the notable stats that Taylor has piled up in just two seasons in Madison and while it doesn’t explicitly say everything is designed to raise the junior’s awareness ahead of Big Ten Media Days and the upcoming 2019 campaign, it does note that his fellow Wisconsin Doak Walker Award winners have all been finalists in New York at some point in their career.
i.e. hint, hint media this guy is pretty good.
And nobody is debating that after he has set numerous records during his first two years on campus. Key to actually making it to New York though might be how Taylor’s team does around him. If the Badgers can get back to being in contention for the Big Ten title once again in 2019, chances are high that the tailback’s play will play a bigger part in getting him the attention he deserves than a website and a hashtag.
Media Day season is also Watch List season and the latest to surface for the 2019 campaign comes out of Tallahassee in the form of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, includes the defending winner in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and fellow semifinalist Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State, as well as a number of other talented pass-catchers from around the country.
Here’s the full list, which is a good general overview of the best wide receivers and tight ends for the upcoming season even if a few names can gripe about being left off:
Lynn Bowden, Jr. (Kentucky)
Rico Bussey, Jr. (North Texas)
Cedric Byrd (Hawaii)
Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)
Damonte Coxie (Memphis)
Gabriel Davis (UCF)
Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)
D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)
Aaron Fuller (Washington)
Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)
KJ Hamler (Penn State)
Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech)
Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech)
Tee Higgins (Clemson)
K.J. Hill (Ohio State)
Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State)
Justin Jefferson (LSU)
Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)
Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)
Collin Johnson (Texas)
CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)
Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee State)
Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)
McLane Mannix (Texas Tech)
Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State)
Riley Miller (Ball State)
Denzel Mims (Baylor)
Darnell Mooney (Tulane)
Rondale Moore (Purdue)
Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)
K.J. Osborn (Miami)
Dezmon Patmon (Washington State)
Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)
Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC)
James Proche (SMU)
Jalen Reagor (TCU)
Jared Rice (Fresno State)
Sean Riley (Syracuse)
Reggie Roberson, Jr. (SMU)
Justyn Ross (Clemson)
Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)
Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Colorado)
JD Spielman (Nebraska)
Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)
Marquez Stevenson (Houston)
Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)
Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)
Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)
JoJo Ward (Hawaii)
Quez Watkins (Southern Miss)
Almost as soon as Justin Fields’ waiver to play right away in 2019 was approved, the Georgia transfer was pegged as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.
Ryan Day, however, is picking up this whole being a head coach at media day thing pretty good because the new leader of the Buckeyes offense declined to anoint Fields as the starter despite ample evidence that he’s the guy for the job.
“It’s an interesting situation. Whoever is playing in that first game will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar (Hoak) are going to compete like heck to go win the job,” Day said from the podium at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”
Hoak, who grad transferred over from Kentucky, was a key pickup for the program in the offseason not just to provide some competition for Fields but to provide much-needed depth after a host of quarterbacks left for other schools. While he has experience playing in five games last year with the Wildcats, there’s a gap in terms of natural talent between him and Fields.
Day seems likely to stick to his timetable of naming the starter a few weeks into camp but it still seems pretty clear as to who eventually will take over for Dwayne Haskins under center for the scarlet and gray.
Still though, you have to hand it to the rookie for going full on coach-speak when it came to his signal-caller at his very first media day in charge.
Thursday marked the final Big Ten Media Days press conference for outgoing commissioner Jim Delany.
While his appearance was fairly low-key all things considered, the longtime college athletics stalwart didn’t hold back when it came to discussing his league and the College Football Playoff, lobbing some critical comments towards the Selection Committee in particular.
“I wish we had a little more continuity. I wish they would demonstrate as well as state the stronger commitment to strength of schedule,” Delany said. “We should be playing comparable schedules and if we’re not, there should be somewhat to differentiate that.”
The Big Ten has missed out on the playoff the past two seasons and saw its champion be skipped over in another year for a divisional runner-up.
Delany also voiced support for something suggested by Big 12 counterpart Bob Bowlsby to require all teams to play at least 10 Power Five opponents in a season, helping even out the difference between eight and nine conference slates.
“I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, about the strength of schedule,” he added. “We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners. I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders.”