By MATT MCDONOUGH, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
5:31 PM EDT, July 30, 2013
UCF is coming off a 10-4 (7-1 Conference USA) season that culminated with a 38-17 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl victory over Ball State. The Knights return starting quarterback Blake Bortles, second-leading rusher Storm Johnson and the top six receivers from 2012. Bortles, a redshirt junior who was named to the Maxwell Award watch list, threw for 3,059 yards, 25 touchdown passes and seven interceptions last year.
"We play 12 one-game seasons," said UCF coach George O'Leary. "That's how I look at the schedule. You play one game at a time and see where you are at the end of the year."
Cincinnati won the Belk Bowl and a share of the Big East title last year but lost coach Butch Jones to Tennessee. The Bearcats tabbed Tommy Tuberville to take over a team that finished 10-3 in 2012. Tuberville, at his fourth head coaching stop, coached Texas Tech to a 7-5 record last year. Starting quarterbacks Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux return, but the Bearcats lost leading rusher George Winn, who is now in Patriots camp. The Bearcats were picked second in the preseason poll and received two first place votes.
"We're excited about the first year of coaching in this league with some new players," Tuberville said. "Cincinnati has been one of the bright spots in college football for the last six or seven years, four times winning 10 games. That doesn't happen very often."
UConn hopes to return to a bowl game after consecutive 5-7 seasons. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer, running back Lyle McCombs and leading receiver Geremy Davis are all back for the Huskies, who were selected to finish seventh in the preseason poll. The UConn defense led the Big East in total defense in 2012, but the unit lost six starters including both starting cornerbacks.
"Chandler is a very, very diligent guy, very smart and he's worked extremely hard since the end of last season," said UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni. "Nobody's more disappointed at being 5-7 than Chandler Whitmer."
After an undefeated regular season in 2011, Houston went 5-7 (4-4) in coach Tony Levine's first year. In the offseason, the Cougars lost their leading rusher Charles Sims, who transferred to West Virginia, and leading receiver Dewayne Peace, who was ruled academically ineligible before leaving the team. Quarterback Dave Piland and punter Richie Leone, who averages 45.5 yards a punt, return, but only five defensive starters are back.
"I think things take time and what we're trying to accomplish at the University of Houston is build our program into a consistent winner," Levine said. "Everybody certainly remembers two years ago being 13-1 and beating Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl, and the year before that we were 5-7. So we want to build in a consistent winner, one that's going to Bowl games and competing for championships every season."
Louisville was tabbed as the top team in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll, receiving 28 first place votes. Heisman trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 68.5 percent of passes for 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions, returns to the Cardinals, who finished 11-2 in 2012. Louisville won a share of the Big East conference and defeated Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl. Coach Charlie Strong, who flirted with other teams in past offseasons, signed an extension through 2020.
"We want to make this one of the best programs in the country. And the only way that's going to happen is our players have to continue to work hard, our players have to continue to prepare hard," Strong said. "Our coaches have to continue to work hard. Our coaches have to continue to prepare hard. But we're really excited about this upcoming season and we're looking forward to the challenge."
Memphis looks to build off a three-game win streak that ended its 4-8 (4-4) 2012 season, Justin Fuente enters his second year as coach and Jacob Karam, who threw 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions last year, will be under center for the Tigers. Memphis was picked to finish in last place in the AAC preseason poll.
It's not discouraging," Fuente said. "We know where we're at and where we're going to go and what we're going to do. So I don't take other people's opinions and consider that as a step backwards."
Coach Kyle Flood almost led Rutgers to a BCS bowl in his first season as coach but the Scarlet Knights lost their last two Big East games as well as the Russell Athletic Bowl. Following a 9-4 season, Rutgers earned the third spot in the preseason poll.
"2012 was a great year for our program, gave us an opportunity to do something that we had never done in the history of our program, and win a share of a conference title," Flood said. "But there were some things left on the table that we're anxious to compete for again."
Starting quarterback Gary Nova and leading receiver Brandon Coleman return. The Scarlet Knights lost their leading rusher Jawan Jamison, who is now with the Redskins.
After building Western Kentucky's program, Willie Taggart was hired as coach of USF and will try to reinvigorate a program that lost steam during Skip Holtz's three-year tenure.
"We've got to label ourselves by the way we play," Taggart said.
The Bulls, who finished 3-9 last season, are the only team in the conference that have to replace their starting quarterback. B.J. Daniels was drafted by the 49ers and USF will have three quarterbacks, Matt Floyd, Bobby Eveld and Penn State transfer Steven Bench, compete for the job this summer.
Coach June Jones has brought the SMU program back to respectability, leading the Mustangs to four consecutive bowl games. SMU went 7-6 (5-3) and defeated Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl in 2012.
"We kind of started a tradition and set the standard of what we expect," said linebacker Randall Joyner.
Garrett Gilbert started all 13 games last season at QB, throwing for 2,932 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Matt Rhule is in his first season as Temple coach and inherits a team that went 4-7, the first losing season for the Owls since 2008. Temple opens the season at Notre Dame and knows that their schedule and the AAC will be a challenge.
"I have to each week be prepared to go in and, hey, let's try to stop coach June Jones and the run and shoot this year and stop a pro-style attack with Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville," Rhule said. "That's a unique story and a league that has a lot of great quarterbacks."
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