CFB Prognosis for Fall 2020 – AAC
Beginning August 20th, I will be writing a 2020 prognosis, by conference, for each of the 76 teams (6 conferences plus Independents), who are scheduled to play Football in the Fall of 2020.
UCF Golden Knights
Hard to consider the prediction of a bounce back season for a team who went 10-3 SU last year outscoring the opposition by an average count of 43-23 while outgaining their foes 542-347. But that’s exactly what this will be. They traveled to Pittsburgh at 3-0 SU coming off a 45-27 win over Stanford. That extended their regular season win streak to 26 games. They trailed 21-0 in the first half before rallying to take a lead, only to lose 35-34. A pair of 3 point losses to Cincy and Tulsa meant 3 losses by a total of 7 points. After contending for National prominence in the previous 2 seasons, this veteran UCF team will be very hungry. They return 76% of their lettermen and 16 starters including a veteran QB duo of Mack and Gabrielle. With 2018 starter, QB Milton perhaps returning to health, he will challenge for playing time. Bottom line is this is an experienced team who should be very hungry under 3rd year HC Heupel.
After a successful 4 year run under HC Norvell, in which Memphis went 38-16 SU, the Tigers welcome new HC Ryan Silverfield who was an assistant coach for all 4 years under Norvell. The cupboard is far from bare with 8 returning starters to a veteran defense and an offense that is led by QB White who threw for over 4000 yards last season with a 33/11 ratio. He is joined by RB/WR Ganewell for an offense who averaged 42 PPG under Norvell. Silverfield will be aided by OC Kevin Johns who was in that role at TTRR in 2018 (37/485) and DC McIntyre, the former HC at Colorado for 6 years ending 2018. Tigers should growl once again this campaign as they challenge for conference supremacy.
HC Luke Fickell enters his 4th season coming off a 2 year run of 22-5 SU. With 15 returning starters and his best recruiting class, this veteran team is the best ever under Fickell. In 2019, the 3 losses by Cincy were to a pair of teams who lost a combined two games. 9 returning starters to a defense that has allowed an average of just 19/332 in the last two seasons is a positive omen. That is also true with an offense with QB Ridder leading an attack unit who has averaged 33/425 in the last two seasons. Truly a contender in the AAC which is loaded at the top. Consider this to be Fickell’s best team ever.
Under the guidance of 3rd year HC Sonny Dykes, the issues for SMU will continue to be on the defensive side of the ball where teams coached by Dykes have rarely excelled. In his two years in Dallas, the Mustangs have allowed a combined average of 34/438. An 8-0 SU break from the gate in 2019 belied the true abilities of this team. It was against a relatively weak schedule. With prices skyrocketing on the Ponies, they finished the season just 2-3 SU, losing to Memphis, Navy and Florida Atlantic, while finishing 1-5 ATS. Reasons for success will once again rely on QB Buechle who will this year be operating behind a veteran OL. Matching last season’s 42 PPG may not be a surprise. Their success will hinge on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive side of the ball a traditional issue for any team coached by Dykes.
In 2019, Navy authored one of the greatest turnarounds in College Football, and quite possibly the best football season in their proud tradition. With only 8 returning starters, the Middies went from 3-10 SU to 11-2 SU improving BOTH their offense and defense by double digits and almost 100 yards. Beside their hunger for a bounce back season, the two major reasons for their improvement was the outstanding season authored by QB Malcolm Perry and the decision by 13th year HC Niumatalolo to follow a philosophy of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” . I’m talking here about DC Newberry who was brought in here to replicate the Army defense which had held Navy to 17 or fewer points the previous 3 years in a trio of consecutive victories against Navy. It was a superior hire as the Academy allowed just 22/314 including 106/3.2 overland. For our purposes, the bottom line was 9-3 ATS. On offense, the big news was QB Perry who rushed for 2017 yards at 6.8 YPR. Key to Navy’s offensive success will be the ability of veteran OC Jasper to develop either Olson or Warren to step into the shoes of the departed Perry. With 0 spring practices, that figures to be quite a challenge.
TULANE Green Wave
This will clearly be one of the most crucial tests for Tulane’s 5th year HC Willie Fritz. In his first 4 years, he led the Wave, who seldom appeared in a Bowl game, to a team that improved every season, including Bowl victories in each of the last two years. This came on the heels of his coaching success at Georgia Southern which culminated with a Sun Belt Title in 2014 followed by their 1st Bowl victory in 2015. With the strength at the top of the AAC, and only 12 returning starters, including the need to replace QB McMillen (LSU grad transfer) who led the Wave to a 33/449 offensive output, it will be highly improbable if they repeat the success of last season. If so, it will negate their assumed motto of “good to great”.
Clever coach that he is, 2nd year Houston HC Dana Holgorsen baled on a WVU team with little experience at the end of the 2018 season. He took the job at Houston, where he was OC in 2008-09. When things began to turn south for his first year Cougar team after a 1-3 SU start, he backed the decision of many players to red shirt including starting QB King. That decision, combined with early season injuries, meant Houston at one point was missing 35 players. Expect a total turnaround this year as returning QB Tune got great experience last season. Houston returns 19 starters and added some quality transfers. Even playing against the quality teams in the AAC, I expect Houston to return to the positive side of the ledger this season.
Temple reached their recent zenith in 2015-16 under HC Rhule. In those two seasons, they were a combined 20-8 SU, 21-7 ATS. Since the departure of Rhule, the Owls have recorded a 3 year mark of 23-16 SU. The last of those 3 was under 2nd year HC Carey when the Owls went 8-5 SU. This year’s offense could well improve under the guidance of returning signal caller Russo who will be a senior. In addition, HC Carey brought coordinators with him from his days at Northern Illinois. A 2nd year of guidance should lead to continuity and improvement across the board. Major cause for concern is a stop unit that returns just 4 starters. Only 2 spring practices leaves the defense a major point of concern as they start the season.
TULSA Golden Hurricanes
6th year HC Montgomery has much to prove. The Hurricane peaked at 10-3 SU in his 2nd season of 2016. Since that time, they have dipped to a combined record of 9-27 SU seeing their offense decline by 16 points and 127 yards. With a defense that has allowed 30 or more PPG in every season under Montgomery, there is reason for concern. Good news for the offense, that returns 9, is the return of QB Smith, a Baylor transfer who threw for 3279 yards, 57% C and a 19/9 ratio LY. Problems, as always, will be with a stop unit that returns just 4 starters. Not good news against the prolific offenses of the AAC.
When Charlie Strong took over in 2017, he benefited greatly from the job that his predecessor, Willie Taggart, had done in the preceding 4 years when the Bulls win totals improved from 2 to 4 to 8 to 11 wins. Strong prospered by converting 16 returning starters the following season to a 10-2 SU record. Since that time however, the offensive output has dropped 17 points and nearly 200 yards while the wins have slipped from 10 to 7 to 4. 4 consecutive defeats to close the season, when they were outscored 41-120, led to the firing of Smart and the hiring of 1st year HC Scott. Scott’s own success as OC at Clemson and the hiring of a successful OC in Charlie Weiss and DC Glen Spencer, all coaches on the rise, means USF is due for an improvement in this rebuilding season. Quite unfortunate that this young, qualified coaching staff had the benefit of only 1 spring practice. This is a team to watch as they have the possibility to improve incrementally as the season goes on.
EAST CAROLINA Pirates
There was modest improvement for the Pirates under now 2nd year HC Mike Houston. Houston is the former HC at James Madison where he coached JMU to an FCS National Title in 2016. You will remember that this is an ECU team that bottomed out at 3-9 SU in a trio of seasons under HC Montgomery. There still may not be enough talent, though it is improving, to escape the AAC basement. But the modest improvement made last year on each side of the ball, a 2nd year under the guidance of Houston, and 15 returning starters, indicates that this is yet another team on the rise whose improvement may be notable as the season progresses.
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