2021 American Athletic Conference Futures Odds
|Cincinnati||10 (-105 / -110)||10.58|
|UCF||9.5 (-105 / -115)||9.75|
|Houston||8.5 (-120 / +105)||8.43|
|Memphis||7.5 (-120 / +100)||6.72|
|Tulsa||6.5 (-120 / +100)||7.14|
|SMU||6 (-115 / -105)||6.96|
|Tulane||5.5 (+100 / -120)||5.83|
|East Carolina||5 (-130 / +110)||6.61|
|Navy||3.5 (-110 / -110)||2.25|
|South Florida||4.5 (+105 / -125)||2.76|
|Temple||3 (+100/ -120)||2.87|
The Cincinnati Bearcats proved last season they were the best Group of Five team in the country after just narrowly losing to Georgia in the Peach Bowl, 24-21.
They look to continue their reign in the American Athletic Conference this season but ultimately have their expectations set higher.
Cincinnati beefed up its 2021 schedule to include both Indiana and Notre Dame in hopes of improving its resume this season.
If the Bearcats want to reach their goals of a potential national title run, they will need to get past Gus Malzahn’s UCF Knights first. Other talented teams in the conference like Memphis, Houston, and Tulsa are looking to play the spoiler role and steal the Bearcats’ spot.
The AAC continues to trend toward being the top Non-Power Five conference in the country. The conference saw a record 19 players picked in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the talent this year looks even more promising.
The middle-of-the-pack teams in the conference are going to be in fights every week. That’s the reason I looked toward the top and bottom of the AAC for my conference win totals.
Cincinnati Bearcats Over 10 Wins
Cincinnati has the talent, experience, and schedule in place to make a run at the National Championship.
Head Coach Luke Fickell returns for his fifth year, along with AAC Offensive Player of the Year Desmond Ridder. The 6-foot-4 quarterback was a super-efficient throwing the football, completing 66.2% of his passes and finishing the season with a passer rating of 152.9.
He proved to be dangerous with his legs, running in a dozen touchdowns while averaging 6.0 yards per carry. He will have most of his pass catching weapons returning, such as tight end Josh Whyle and senior wide receivers Alec Pierce and Michael Young Jr.
The offense averaged 37.5 points per game and owns an offensive TARP rating of 92%.
The schedule couldn’t have worked out better for the Bearcats. They avoid Houston and Memphis, which are the third- and fourth-ranked teams in the conference. The three best AAC teams the Bearcats face (UCF, SMU, and Tulsa) will have to travel to Cincinnati for their matchup.
Playing its toughest opponents at home and the weakest on the road is a recipe for another perfect record in conference play — especially when the Bearcats haven’t lost at Nippert Stadium since 2017 and maintain a 20-game home win streak.
They will need to win one of the games against Indiana or Notre Dame early in the season to hit this total. Both games will be coin-toss matchups, and I’m betting the Bearcats will come away with one, if not both, wins.
East Carolina Pirates Over 5 Wins
The East Carolina Pirates have all the necessary pieces to make it to their first bowl game since 2014. After a few rebuilding seasons, the Pirates are poised to be a dark horse in the American.
ECU’s offense proved to be explosive last season, averaging 30.2 points and 403 yards per game. It returns fourth-year quarterback Holton Ahlers, who has continued to show improvement each season.
Although the Pirates lost their leading yardage receiver — Blake Proehl — to the NFL, they return everyone else. The offense boasts two deep-ball speedsters in Tyler Snead and CJ Johnson.
All five starters on the offensive line return as well, and they bring in a slew of transfers to help contribute. With an offensive TARP rating of 79% the Pirates can put up points against any defense in the conference.
East Carolina should have three no-sweat victories over Charleston Southern, Temple, and USF. It has only one game that looks nearly unwinnable: Cincinnati. The Pirates will need to find two wins in the remaining eight games, all of which are winnable.
ECU narrowly lost to Navy last year while Ahlers was out with COVID-19, a solid revenge spot late this season. In addition, ECU will give South Carolina, Marshall, Tulane, Appalachian State, and Houston all they can handle.
The Pirates will sneak out at least six wins this season and will find themselves playing a bowl game in late December.
South Florida Bulls Under 3.5 Wins
USF finished last season with its lowest win total in program history. The Bulls ended the season 1-8 and were outscored by an average margin of 16 points.
Their offense averaged 23.1 points per game, while their defense allowed a whopping 39.9. They lost five games by 20+ points, including a 52-0 loss to Notre Dame.
First-year head coach Jeff Scott played nearly everyone on the roster last season in search of talent and didn’t discover much. The Bulls return nine starters and an onslaught of transfers, including Miami quarterback Jarren Williams, in an attempt to bounce back this season.
USF has one of the toughest schedules of any team in the AAC. Before heading into their eight-game conference stretch, the Bulls have to face NC State, Florida, BYU, and Florida A&M. Best case scenario, USF will be 1-3 if it gets past Florida A&M, which is no guarantee.
Once they hit AAC play, the only team on the schedule the Bulls will compete with is Temple. They’ll need to find another two upsets in conference play to hit this win total.
That’s too much to ask with so many new faces in the program and such an inexperienced coaching staff.