American Athletic Conference Preview

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The American Athletic Conference – which wishes to be referred to as “The American” – begins its initial season after collecting schools from the former Big East and from Conference USA as well.

Team That Could Surprise: Central Florida. This is the unknown team in The American, given that the teams expected to finish in the top three – Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers – were all members of the Big East last season. Central Florida is the leading contender in The American among the Conference USA refugees. For that reason alone, there’s an extra measure of mystery attached to the Golden Knights. This team could fall flat on its face, but it did quite well in Conference USA and has established a subculture of winning. Veteran head coach George O’Leary knows what he’s doing, and if this team starts well, it could continue to gain momentum as the season progresses.

The Best NFL Prospect In The Conference Is…: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville.

Bridgewater is not tall in physical stature, but he’s tall in so many other ways – as a leader, a thrower, a well-rounded player, and most centrally, as a winner. Bridgewater was such a rough and unpolished gem as a freshman, but he put together many of the pieces to the puzzle in his sophomore season. He battled injuries but generally stayed the course and learned how to play quarterback in full. Under the guidance of head coach Charlie Strong, Bridgewater has kept a level head and has steadily absorbed the nuances of the sport, looking more and more like a top quarterback prospect with each passing day (the word “passing” being both literally and figuratively true for a signal caller).

Bridgewater exhibits great command of Louisville’s offense. He can make all the throws one needs to make at the pro level, chiefly, the long 15-yard out pattern across the field to the opposite sideline. Bridgewater’s combination of a rifle arm and above-average speed will elicit some comparisons to Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Bridgewater isn’t nearly as physically imposing as Wilson – he’s not nearly as chiseled – but he possesses the quickness, the instincts, and – at this point – the leadership ability. It’s no wonder that Louisville is the favorite in the conference, given Bridgewater’s full toolbox of weapons.

Team That Will Win: Louisville.

The Cardinals struggled for portions of last season, and they very nearly fell behind Rutgers by an insurmountable margin in the Big East regular season finale. However, a Rutgers penalty wiped out a big play, and Louisville was able to hang in that game by a thread. The Cardinals, given new life, scrambled to win that game in the fourth quarter despite dealing with multiple injuries. In the month that followed, Louisville got healthy, and the nation saw what a fully healthy Cardinal crew could do when it not only defeated, but demolished, a powerful Florida side in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. This team now knows how far it can go. It knows that it’s the big boy on the block. It has more experience and depth on its roster than it did a year ago. Head coach Charlie Strong is a star in the making. Bridgewater is the real-deal quarterback. The rest of The American is just not that strong this season. It’s Louisville’s conference to lose.

American Athletic Champion (odds from 5Dimes)

Louisville -180

Cincinnati +440

Rutgers +600

Central Florida +825

SMU +2700

Connecticut +3500

South Florida +3500

Houston +5500

Memphis +7500

Temple +9000

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