By Joe Gavazzi  JoeGavazziSports.com


Cincinnati Bearcats

Benefiting from his years at Ohio State, 5th year HC Fickle has authored an incredible turnaround in the Queen City.  A 4-8 SU record in 2017, duplicated the previous season under then 4th year HC Tuberville.  In the last 3 seasons, the combined record is 31-6 SU with a pointspread mark at 15-8 ATS L2Y.  Last year’s Top 10 finish and a 3 point loss to powerful Georgia in their bowl game, indicates that 7 returning starters on each side of the ball will once again have the Bearcats in this year’s Top 20.  Defense has been the calling card including the 2020 performance when they allowed just 17/328, including 114/3.2 overland.  Note their 3 year record to be even more impressive than you would expect as their last 5 defeats have come vs. Georgia, Memphis (twice), Ohio State and UCF.  Must also note the accomplishment of 20 consecutive home victories.  The offense is led by QB Ridder, who with 35 starts, has an impressive 57/20 ratio and has a 32-5 TRGS.  Bearcats should again be headed to a double digit season but watch that price tag for what may quickly become an overpriced team.

UCF Golden Knights

Now, this will be interesting.  New HC Malzahn is widely described as an offensive guru.  Now he takes the reins with lead reindeer QB Gabriel and his over 7,000 passing yards the last two seasons.  Though there is nowhere to go but down in that regard, it is likely that the Knights continue to be an explosive offensive team. What I really like about this hire is the fact that while Malzahn is widely noted for his offensive acumen, until last season, his Auburn Tigers allowed just 19 PPG in their previous 3 terms against some powerful SEC offenses.  I expect great improvement in a UCF defense that allowed 33/494 last season including 295 YPG or more BOTH rushing and passing.  I expect a continuation of success with Malzahn at the helm for the Blazers.

SMU Mustangs

The Mustangs have a 17-6 SU record in the last two seasons under HC Dykes, a renowned offensive coach.  In those two seasons, they have averaged 40 PPG and 492 YPG, passing for 300+ YPG each year.  Losing QB Buechele might have been the KOD, yet their offensive hopes have been buoyed when they added Oklahoma TR Mordecai who figured his chances for PT were relatively slim playing behind Spencer Rattler.  Mordecai should turn out to be a BIGGER FISH IN A SMALLER POND and help the Ponies prance to yet another 40 PPG offensive season against a weak non-con schedule and a relatively permissive group of AAC defenses.  Bigger news for SMU this season is a veteran defense that returns 85% production who will be guided by veteran DC Jim Leavitt.  This jump in defensive fortunes and an easy early season slate to put it all together, makes the Mustangs a prime candidate for a Top 3 finish in the AAC.

Tulsa Hurricanes

After 4/5 losing seasons under now 7th year HC Montgomery, Tulsa made their leap to the winning side of the ledger last year.  Before discussing the 2021 fortunes for the Hurricane, let’s note that, under Montgomery, they are 24-11 ATS away.  This continues a decade long performance on the road where the Big Blow is 37-21 ATS as travelers.  After going 6-3 SU, ATS last season, Tulsa returns 10 starters to each side of the ball.  What is amazing about this record is that their recruiting rank has been in the bottom 15% of CFB teams each of the last 3 years.  That alone is a reason why I expect Montgomery to have a hard time duplicating his record of last season. 

Memphis Tigers

2nd year HC Silverfield, former OL coach here for 3 years, made a positive debut with the Tigers in maintaining a series of winning seasons dating back to 2013.  The 25-10 Bowl victory will provide solid momentum for a team who returns 8 starters on each side of the ball.  Defensive experience leads the way with 87% of their production returning.  The big question here is on offense as 4 year starter QB Brady White has, at last, matriculated. Stepping down in level of competition, highly sought after Arizona transfer QB Gunnell, will bring his 67% C and 15/3 ratio from the desert.  Should that attack unit spring to life, against 4/5 opening week opponents vs. whom they will be dominant favorites, the Tigers should carry over that momentum to an upper division finish.

Houston Cougars

My propensity is to believe 3rd year Houston HC Holgorsen is overrated.  This dates to his time at West Virginia when, although providing winning records, he seldom achieved the success that was projected for him.  Returning to his roots at Houston, he has clearly underachieved with a 7-13 SU record including last year’s 3-5 SU, ATS mark with 19 returning starters.  Issues have been with the Cougars defense that, in those two years, has allowed a combined average of 32/436.  No surprise to this bureau if the Cougars bounce a bit off that dismal campaign.  77% offensive production (111 OL career starts) and 81% defensive productions would be the reason.  But until Holgorsen proves he can convert that talent to the winning side of the ledger, it is best to note his long term history of 54-67 ATS as Head Coach.   

Navy Midshipmen

Rollercoaster?  Say what?  It is very unusual but the Middies have been on a 3 year rollercoaster run of 3-10 SU in 2018, followed by 11-2 SU, 9-3 ATS, then last year’s dip once again to 3-7 SU, 4-6 ATS. After 2019, the Middies were forced to replace QB Perry who set numerous Naval Academy records in his time running the Triple Option.  In 2019, they averaged 361/6.1 while holding the opposition to 106/3.2 overland.  Credit QB Perry with controlling the clock on long scoring drives to allow the defense to be well rested.  Just the reverse was true last year for a Navy team who decided to forego practice due to COVID.  The opening day 55-3 loss to BYU was a harbinger of the season which ended with 5 consecutive defeats. That included an embarrassing record of 0-2 SU by scores of 7-55 to their COC opponents Air Force and Army (count those games as being double circled on the schedule).  The offense dropped precipitously by 20 points and 183 RY.    The major issue was replacing QB Perry as 3 different signal callers started the first 3 games.  Going into fall camp, there was a 3 way competition between Arline, Labatai and Maynor all vying for the top spot at the signal caller position. With 9 defenders returning, highly thought of DC Newberry should author a unit much like 2019 when they allowed just 22/314.  Stay tuned for updates on the all-important signal caller position.

Tulane Green Wave

The signs are positive for the Green Wave in the 6th year under Willie Fritz.  Fritz loves the running game as is evidences by the fact that, in the 5 years of his tenure, the Green Wave has rushed for 217 or more yards every year.  This year, with QB Pratt returning, off a 20-8 ratio last year, aided by 4 OL returnees with 114 career starts, I can only see this as being the best season ever for the Green Wave rush attack.  The defense has consistently allowed 26-29 PPG.  That’s not horrible against the high-scoring AAC competition.  It will be necessary for them to maintain that level should the Green Wave expect to go to their 4th consecutive Bowl season.  Despite a rugged non-con schedule, I believe that can happen.  Important ATS considerations for Fritz are the fact he is just 7-11 ATS as road dog at Tulane, but 24-13 ATS in all other roles, including 20-9 ATS at home.

East Carolina Pirates

East Carolina enters the 2021 season with a run of 6 consecutive losing campaigns in which they are 21-48 SU, including just 7-14 SU under 3rd year HC Mike Houston.  Major issue has been a “200 Club” defense each of the last two seasons under Houston, allowing a combined 35/460 in those seasons with a 5.2 YPR defense.  If there is going to be improvement, expect it to come this season with 10 returning starters on each side of the ball.  That includes QB Ahlers who last year made 8 starts with 61% C and an 18/9 ratio.  Considerations must be whether those numbers are a positive or negative for a perennial losing team.

South Florida Bulls

The Bulls were running as recently as 2017 when they posted a 10-2 SU season in which they averaged 38 PPG with a “200 Club” offense that gained 513 yards.  Since that time, the offense has plummeted from 38 to 23 PPG and the defense has imploded to 23-40 PPG, allowing 200+ yards both rushing and passing last season.  The 0-7 SU record came in the first year under HC Scott, a respected Offensive Coordinator at Clemson, who is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best recruiters.  Scott will have this program on the uptick in several years.  But these 18 returning starters, though improved, will need a major cultural shift in order to improve their numbers.  Experience alone does not a winning team make!

Temple Owls

It was a dismal 2020 season, 1-6 SU, 2-5 ATS, for these Owls in the 2nd year under HC Carey.  They averaged just 20/348 on offense, in no small part, because they played their 5th string quarterback in their 7th game.  They lost their last 5 games by an average score of 38-14. Following this COVID CONUNDRUM, the Owls have only one way to go.  But they scored big when they lured QB Mathis from Georgia after he figured his chances were less than optimal with JT Daniels firmly in control of the job.  Yet another transfer Re-al Mitchell (Iowa State) could challenge for the job.  Either way, with better health and a pair of impactful Power 5 signal callers, offensive fortunes will improve for the Owls this season.  The defensive side of the ball might be the major issue as they allowed 37/434 with “200 Club” numbers.  An influx of Power 5 transfers, may help to reverse the fortunes of this 1-6 SU COVID plagued team.  But the 3rd year of the HC Carey regime more likely will resemble that of a first year coach.