Best AAC Games of the 2021 College Football Season

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C.J. Johnson #5 of the East Carolina Pirates celebrates after scoring a touchdown on November 21, 2020. Mitchell Leff/Getty Images/AFP

Fans can expect some exceptional matchups across the country when College football returns this fall. There are a number of compelling games for sports betting on the horizon in the American Athletic Conference.

When conference play starts to heat up, the AAC boasts some pretty incredible games in the 2021 season. There will be games featuring AAC championship contenders, ascending programs, and teams trying to prove themselves with big wins.

Adding in the non-conference games and some big time rematches next fall, next year’s schedule already has fans looking forward to this season. What are the best AAC games of 2021? The revenge factor plays into our rankings, plus some intriguing matchups that we missed last year. Take a look below to see the best ones and start making your NCAAF picks.

5. Temple Owls at Tulsa Green Wave

The Green Wave averaged 34.7 points per game last season, the highest under sixth-year head coach Willie Fritz and this year they have an old, wiser, more confident Michael Pratt under center. The players have already commented about how much more poised the sophomore QB looks this year. 

For Temple, as with most disastrous seasons, a roster overhaul ensued. Two QB’s transferred out as did leading rusher Re’Man Davis. Temple has a bunch of guys from Power 5 teams coming in to fill these holes but cohesiveness could be an issue. Returning four starting offensive linemen and four of the top five pass catchers from last year will help.

4. Tulane Green Wave at SMU Mustangs

The Green Wave return QB Michael Pratt who started as a true freshman along with four starting linemen. While there were times when Pratt struggled, as you might expect from a true freshman, he proved he’s a gamer and someone the offense can rally around. Look for a big second-year jump especially when it comes to throwing the ball down the field.

I’m high on SMU football this fall. In the shortened COVID season, the Mustangs went 7-3 under veteran HC Sonny Dykes. So they lose a couple of starters on the OL and QB Shane Buechele. They’ll replenish upfront and watch out for Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai, who might have the inside track on winning the QB job.

On defense, the best addition was Jim Leavitt as the new defensive coordinator.  Just follow his career and you’ll be impressed. Additionally, nine starters return and some transfers from Power 5 schools join the program. This unit is going to make big strides under Leavitt which will make SMU a complete football team.

3. East Carolina Pirates at Navy Midshipmen

The Pirates’ offense should be loaded this year. All five offensive linemen return as does rock-solid QB Holton Ahlers. I’m excited to watch WR CJ Johnson this year who is dripping with talent but hasn’t been able to put it all together on a consistent basis yet. Perhaps this is his year to shine.

Over the last couple of seasons, the issue in Greenville has been the complete lack of defense. ECU only went 3-6 last year giving up over 42 points a game in their defeats. In 2019, in their eight losses opposing teams also put up an average of 42 points a game. The Pirates aren’t going to hit an Over or go bowling until the D can at least be average. The good news is that 14 of ECU’s 15 leading tacklers return for the 2021 season.

2020 was a strange year for Navy football.  Uncharacteristically, the Midshipmen went 3-7 and lost the last five games of the season.  That’s not going to happen again under the watch of HC Ken Niumatalolo.  Sure, we could go through the roster and make note of the amount of returning players and highlight the strongest positions, but this is service academy football. The “Jimmy’s and the Joe’s” don’t matter as much.  Navy will be better in 2021.

2. Memphis Tigers at Houston Cougars

Brady White, who seemed to play QB for Memphis for the last eight years, has finally graduated. There are a few transfers coming in that will battle for the QB spot but White will be missed. Whoever wins the QB job will have some solid playmakers around him but only three starters from the OL return. It appears the O might take a step back in 2021.

Most experts generally applauded Houston for landing Head Coach Dana Holgorsen from West Virginia a few seasons ago. However, success has been a bit elusive down in the Lone Star state.  Consecutive losing seasons, going 4-8 and 3-5 won’t cut it. There were some solid wins over Tulane, Navy, and South Florida last year, but Houston wasn’t competitive vs UCF, Cincy, and BYU. Holgorsen is entering a critical 3rd year and the team needs to make a giant leap.

1. UCF Knights at Cincinnati Bearcats

New head coach Gus Malzahn inherits an offense bringing back eight starters including star QB Dillon Gabriel. At WR, Jaylon Robinson returns and a boatload of transfers, including Nate Craig-Myers (played under Malzahn at Auburn), come into Orlando. UCF loses two RB’s from the three-headed monster a season ago which means Bentavious Thompson should be the main back running behind an offensive line that returns everyone.

Last year, the Bearcats finally put it all together and played excellent football on both sides of the ball. Offensively, QB Desmond Ridder led a unit that put up more than 37 points per game while leading the AAC in yards per play. Ridder has always been an athlete but last year he was able to fine-tune his passing abilities which opened up the offense. No longer could defenses just key in on the run.

Defensively, we have a new coordinator coming into town and the Bearcats lost players to the NFL. Regardless, Fickell has his fingerprints all over this defense and they’ll be strong again. Be on the lookout for pass rusher-extraordinaire, Myjai Sanders, and shut-down cornerback, Sauce Gardner, who will both be playing on Sundays next year.