Three of UC head football coach Luke Fickell’s recruits attended the April 29 Under Armour All-America Camp Series at The Pitt.
With spring football practices officially over, a look at where American Athletic Conference schools stand and what questions remain heading into preseason camp this summer:
2016 record: 6-7 (4-4 AAC East).
Spring cleaning: The biggest question heading into the spring was how the offensive line would develop and what kind of leadership had developed from the offensive side of the ball. Both questions were answered. Offensive tackles Aaron Evans and Wyatt Miller stepped up alongside quarterback McKenzie Milton to lead the offense, and coaches and players alike raved about the increased aggression and production from the offensive line this spring.
Fall questions: Backup quarterback race, as Milton is the only returner with at least one full game of experience on his resume … need to find depth among cornerbacks and inside linebackers.
Season opener: Sept. 2 vs. Florida International University.
– Shannon Green, Orlando Sentinel
2016 record: 4-8 (1-7 AAC East).
Spring cleaning: The defense clearly was ahead of the offense in the spring game, when the Black beat the Red 22-6. New coach Luke Fickell is easing No. 1 running back Mike Boone back into action, after Boone’s 2016 season was ended by a turf toe injury. Boone should be ready come fall.
Fall questions: Junior Hayden Moore and sophomore Ross Trail emerged as 1-2, respectively, in the spring quarterback derby. The wild card is Ohio State transfer Torrance Gibson, who is expected to join the team in June and compete at quarterback … The pass rush was intense in the spring game, but will it show up come fall? UC had only 19 sacks last year.
Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Austin Peay.
– Tom Groeschen, Cincinnati Enquirer
2016 record: 3-9 (1-7 AAC East).
Spring cleaning: UConn is trying to move on from the complete disaster that was 2016 by returning to its past. The Huskies hired Randy Edsall, who led UConn to the Fiesta Bowl following the 2010 season and then left for Maryland. UConn has had six consecutive losing seasons since (three under Paul Pasqualoni, three under Bob Diaco).
Fall questions: Who will be the quarterback? At least five players appear to be in the mix, including senior Bryant Shirreffs, the starter for most of the past two seasons, and Donovan Williams, who sacrificed his redshirt to play the final three games of 2016.
Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Holy Cross.
– Mike Anthony, The Hartford Courant
2016 record: 3-9 (1-7 AAC East).
Spring cleaning: After a dreadful 2016 season, the Pirates entered the spring looking for new sparks. Senior wide receiver Jimmy Williams continued to emerge as the team’s top playmaker, running back Derrell Scott enjoyed a breakout spring and coach Scottie Montgomery has named junior Gardner Minshew as starting quarterback.
Fall questions: The Pirates’ new 4-2-5 defensive scheme has two new position coaches … Turnovers remain a concern after Minshew threw an interception early in the Purple-Gold game and senior tailback Anthony Scott saw his fumbling woes from last season continue.
Season opener: Sept. 2 vs. James Madison.
– Nathan Summers, The Daily Reflector
2016 record: 9-4 (5-2 AAC West).
Spring questions: Depth remains a concern, as the Cougars will likely make a push in the next couple months to add a wide receiver, offensive lineman and possibly defensive back through fifth-year transfers or junior college ranks. … After recording 23 tackles for loss during an All-American freshman season, what can defensive tackle Ed Oliver do for an encore?
Fall questions: Kyle Allen is the likely choice at quarterback, but what can UH expect after he sat out last season following a transfer from Texas A&M? And who’s the backup: heralded sophomore D’Eriq King or senior Kyle Postma? Right now the safe bet is on King to begin the season as the No. 2 quarterback.
Season opener: Sept. 2 at UTSA.
– Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle
2016 record: 8-5 (5-3 AAC West).
Spring cleaning: After nearly a full calendar year with a variety of knee injuries, linebacker Jackson Dillon is back for a fifth and final season and was among the standouts this spring. A three-year starter, he should help bolster what was an inconsistent defense in 2016. The offense, meanwhile, is returning nine starters and much of its firepower, led by quarterback Riley Ferguson and star wide receiver Anthony Miller.
Fall questions: The Tigers lost three starting defensive backs and each of their top four cornerbacks from a year ago, prompting major question marks in the secondary. … Redshirt sophomore Brady Davis and redshirt freshman David Moore are still neck-and-neck in the backup quarterback competition, with a decision not expected until the fall.
– Tom Schad, The Commercial Appeal
2016 record: (9-5, 7-1, West champion).
Spring cleaning: Rising sophomore Malcolm Perry is a major talent and will have a key role in the Navy offense this season. Only question is what position Perry will play. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Tennessee native practiced at both quarterback and slotback this spring. He is listed as a starter at slotback, but might also be the team’s No. 2 quarterback. Coach Ken Niumatalolo said Perry would be “right back in the mix” at quarterback if projected starter Zach Abey got injured.
Fall questions: Abey had an up-and-down spring learning the triple-option offense, and must make significant progress during August training camp in order for Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper to feel completely comfortable. Abey, a rising junior, was thrust into the spotlight at the end of 2016 when season-long starter Will Worth went down with a broken foot.
Season opener: Sept. 1 at Florida Atlantic.
– Bill Wagner, Baltimore Sun Media Group
2016 record: 5-7 (3-5 AAC West).
Spring cleaning: The Mustangs’ amount of receiving options will give third-year coach Chad Morris something to be optimistic about. Junior receiver Kevin Thomas shined in the spring game, and freshman tight end Corey Rau’s development was something Morris praised. With the return of potential 2018 first-round draft pick Courtland Sutton, the unit looks poised to have a good season.
Fall questions: Sophomore Ben Hicks is the team’s starting quarterback, but Arkansas transfer Rafe Peavey has made a strong case to make it a compelling competition. … The Mustangs will have to replace all three of their defensive linemen.
Season opener: Sept. 2 vs. Stephen F. Austin.
– Ben Baby, The Dallas Morning News
2016 record: 11-2 (7-1 AAC East)
Spring cleaning: The Bulls went through a relatively quiet camp of transition under new coach Charlie Strong. Arguably the biggest news to come out of it, however, was the dismissal of rising senior defensive back Hassan Childs, who was arrested following an off-campus road-rage incident that resulted in him being shot three times.
Fall questions: With leading wide receiver Rodney Adams graduated, the Bulls still need to find a replacement to fill his void. Using two slot receivers at once again this season might not be out of the question. … Can D’Ernest Johnson easily slide into all-time leading rusher Marlon Mack’s place?
Season opener: Aug. 26 at San Jose State.
– Jeff Odom, Tampa Bay Times
2016 record: 10-4 (7-1 AAC East). Won Division and beat Navy, 34-10, in the AAC championship.
Spring cleaning: With the graduation of four-year starter Phillip Walker, there has been a four-man race to be the new quarterback. Redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio (who is already enrolled) are all vying for the job.
Fall questions: The biggest one is at QB, and first-year coach Geoff Collins says the competition could continue not only before opening day, but during the season as well. … The offensive line is thin, although redshirt freshman center Matt Hennessey (6-4, 285) could be a future all-star.
Season opener: Sept 2 at Notre Dame.
– Marc Narducci, Philadelphia Inquirer
2016 record: 4-8 (1-7 AAC West).
Spring cleaning: Willie Fritz is going a different route at quarterback heading into his second season at Tulane, with junior college transfer Jonathan Banks snagging the job coming out of spring ball. The Green Wave offense needs to show major improvement on offense to become more of a threat in the AAC.
Fall questions: How much growth can Tulane show in the passing game? … How will the defense replace the leadership that was lost with the departure of Tanzel Smart and Nico Marley?
Season opener: Sept. 2 vs. Grambling.
– Will Guillory, The Times-Picayune
2016 record: 10-3 (6-2 AAC West).
Spring cleaning: An emphasis was placed on improving the secondary, which has been shaky in recent seasons but appeared significantly faster during the spring. Tulsa also welcomes six defensive backs over the summer, including graduate transfer James Johnson from Arizona State.
Fall questions: Battle at quarterback between dual-threat underclassmen Chad President and Luke Skipper. … Search for more consistency at receiver that could result in true freshmen contributing. … Filling the void of the top two tacklers from last year with young and inexperienced linebackers.
Season opener: Sept. 2 at Oklahoma State.
– Kelly Hines, Tulsa World