Will Cincinnati, Houston, or UCF Win It All in Their Last “AAC Season”?

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Clayton Tune #3 of the Houston Cougars carries the ball during the first half of the 2021 ACC against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images/AFP

The American Athletic Conference (AAC) will lose Cincinnati, Houston, and Central Florida after this football season. Will any of that trio win the conference title on the way out?

Absolutely! Here are the betting odds from BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review) one of BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks. 

Odds to win AAC Conference 2022

  • Cincinnati +175 
  • Houston +225 
  • UCF +350 
  • SMU +1000 
  • Memphis +1200 
  • East Carolina +2000 
  • Tulsa +3300 
  • Tulane +4000 
  • South Florida +5000 
  • Navy +7500 
  • Temple +25000 

American Athletic Conference 2022 Preview 

Unless you have been living under a rock for more than a year, the Big 12 is going through some major changes. Texas and Oklahoma shocked the world last year by announcing they were leaving the conference for the SEC.

Those are the two flagships and most valuable properties in the Big 12, without question. They will stay in the conference through the 2024 season barring a financial agreement with the Big 12 to lower their penalty payout. 

The Big 12 might have imploded if not for quickly pivoting and deciding to add BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston. We’re here to talk about those latter three from the American Athletic Conference (BYU is independent).

Exit Plan

The original plan was for the AAC schools to join the Big 12 in time for the 2023 football season, but they reached an exit agreement with the AAC in which they each will pay $18 million to exit the American early. They had been paying a $10 million exit fee in four annual payments through 2024, and they agreed to pay an additional $8 million –spread over 12 payments from 2025 through 2036– to leave in 2023. 

Could any of that trio win the AAC in their final season? Those schools account for five College Football Playoff/New Year’s Six appearances since 2014 from the league. 

Bearcats Lost Record-Setting QB 

In the 2021 season, Cincinnati didn’t lose a regular-season game, and then beat Houston 35-20 in the conference title game to repeat as the AAC champion. The Bearcats also became the first Group of 5 schools to reach the College Football Playoff but were largely dominated in the Cotton Bowl national semifinal by Alabama, 27-6. 

Coach Luke Fickell’s team is +175 at BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks to threepeat but has lost the best quarterback in school history and one of the best in conference history in Desmond Ridder, a third-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons.

Division I History

He won 44 games in college (26-0 at home), the third-most in Division I history, and was the AAC Offensive Player of the Year in both 2020 and 2021. Ben Bryant, who started his career at Cincinnati but played at Eastern Michigan last year, is the likely Week 1 starter at QB. 

The Bearcats also lost one of the nation’s top cornerbacks in consensus All-American Sauce Gardner, the No. 4 overall pick by the New York Jets – overall, UC had a school-record nine players chosen in the 2022 NFL Draft. Almost impossibly, Gardner didn’t allow a TD pass his entire NCAA career. 

So basically, UC’s most important offensive and defensive players are gone.

Cougars Bring Back Stellar Duo 

Houston is +225 to win the AAC title for the second time in school history (2015). The Cougars were pretty clearly better than everyone else in the conference last year (winning every game) other than Cincinnati.  

Starting quarterback Clayton Tune returns after setting career highs in:

  • Completions (287)
  • Passing yards (3,550)
  • Passing touchdowns (30)
  • Completion percentage (68.3)

He was second in The American in:

  • Completions
  • Passing yards
  • Touchdowns

His top receiver, Nathaniel Dell, also is back. He led the ACC in:

  • Receptions (90),
  • Receiving yards (1,329)
  • Receiving touchdowns (12)

The defense brings back six starters from a unit that limited teams to 20.4 points a game last season. 

UH Catches One Major Break

UH won’t play either Cincinnati or Central Florida in the 2022 regular season. Central Florida (+350) won the AAC title in 2017 and ’18 but hasn’t been back since and has had some coaching turnover in losing Scott Frost to Nebraska and Josh Heupel to Tennessee over the past few years.

Former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn took over last year and led the Knights to a 9-4 overall record. They did lose three conference games, including by 35 to Cincinnati and 27 vs. SMU. 

True freshman Mikey Keene took over as the starting QB early last season and completed 64% of his passes for 1,730 yards, 17 TDs, and six interceptions in guiding the Knights to a 7-3 record.

He is back and could be pushed by John Rhys Plumlee, an Ole Miss transfer. A defense that held teams to 24.5 points a game brings back seven starters, UCF hosts Cincinnati on Oct. 29.  

Houston was picked first in the preseason AAC media poll with Cincinnati a close second and UCF third. Those were the only schools to get first-place votes. Not only CAN one of that trio win the AAC title in its final season in the league, one of them WILL. Take the Cougars with your NCAAF picks to win the ACC.

NCAAF pick: Houston to Win AAC Title (+225) at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.