Wilson’s 2019 AAC Betting Guide: Is UCF Still the Team to Beat?

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Greg McRae

Despite each team losing so much star power, we may be headed for a fifth Memphis-UCF game in 27 months.

The Tigers and Knights have met in the AAC Championship Game in consecutive years and could be poised to do it again, according to my projections.

In this piece I will look for value in the AAC East and West division futures, give out my projected win totals compared to what sportsbooks have posted and break down my favorite futures bets for the conference.

AAC Schedule Notes

There is plenty to like about the Memphis schedule in 2019, and the Tigers’ projected conference win total is more than 2.5 better than the next-closest team. It’s very likely they win the West and play in the AAC title game.

Cross division games with Cincinnati, Temple and South Florida adds to an easier strength of schedule. The bye weeks could not come at a better time — first against triple option Navy and another against West division contender Houston. Memphis should be a 7-point favorite against every conference opponent, making the Tigers the unanimous West favorite.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Patrick Taylor Jr.

After a brutal non-conference schedule, Houston starts AAC play with a revamped Tulane offense that is never short on offensive explosiveness. The cross-division schedule is much tougher than Memphis’s, as Houston faces Central Florida and Cincinnati. The Cougars lost a ton on the defensive line, and will spend their Thanksgiving week prepping for the triple option.

Both Tulsa and SMU rank top 30 overall in returning production, but SMU has the much lighter AAC schedule. The Mustangs draw the middle of the pack from the East in South Florida, Temple and East Carolina. Extra days rest after Houston should help SMU prepare for Memphis. The Mustangs have a key bye week in mid-November that allows two weeks of practice for the Navy triple option.

AAC East Schedule Notes

Cincinnati seems to be at the center of most preseason chatter, but the schedule is not desirable. Cross-division games come against the best of the AAC West in Memphis, Houston and Tulsa. The Bearcats must travel to Memphis and Houston, with the Cougars game directly after a showdown with Central Florida. Outside of the AAC, Cincinnati has bookend revenge games against UCLA and Miami Ohio around Ohio State. Luke Fickell and the Bearcats roster will treat a trip to the Horseshoe as a Super Bowl.

Temple enters AAC play in the biggest hangover spot in college football. After facing former head coach Geoff Collins and Georgia Tech, the Owls will head to rising East Carolina. Preceding the Georgia Tech game for Temple is Buffalo. Bulls head coach Lance Leipold has lost four straight to new Temple head coach Rod Carey, the latest by 1-point in the 2018 MAC Championship.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Rod Carey is the new coach at Temple after leaving NIU

AAC odds are bleak with Memphis on the cross division slate and three conference games against opponents off a bye week (SMU, South Florida, Tulane).

If there is any talk around a team on the rise, it is East Carolina. As I said on The Favorites podcast, a fantastic hire at head coach — Mike Houston from FCS powerhouse James Madison — with dual-threat quarterback Holton Ahlers will produce results. The East Carolina cross-division schedule draws mid-tier west teams Tulsa, SMU and Navy. A bye week before heading to Central Florida may put the Pirates back on the map.

Is UCF Still the Team to Beat?

Win totals on Central Florida have settled around 9.5 with The Action Network power ratings projecting an under at 8.10 wins.

Personally, I will not be playing an under on the Knights season win total. This may be the most advantageous non-conference schedule of any team in FBS. Even with my downgrade from quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. (broken ankle) to Brandon Wimbush, this is a no play.

Here is a look at the Central Florida schedule for 2019, where plenty of hidden advantages exist for the Knights.

After an opener against Florida A&M, the Knights will get a Florida Atlantic team fresh off a trip to Ohio State.

Meanwhile, Stanford will start their season with Northwestern and USC, then go to Orlando for a 12:30 p.m. PT kickoff, then play Oregon in Week 4.

The advantages do not end there for Central Florida. When Pittsburgh comes calling in Week 4, the Panthers will be on rivalry hangover mode after a battle with Penn State. Most view the Week 6 game against Cincinnati as the battle to determine the East. While that may be true, Central Florida gets as close to a bye week as possible with UConn visiting Orlando in Week 5.

In closing, the mathematics say this team has high probability of winning 8 games instead of 9 or 10. There are scheduling advantages in half the games on the Knights schedule, which should help them eclipse their win total and setup another showdown with Memphis in the AAC championship.

Bets to Watch

  • East Carolina Over 4: A stellar hire in Mike Houston as head coach and a schedule that includes Gardner Webb and William & Mary will all help get East Carolina to 5 wins. The Pirates may flirt with a bowl game as early as this season.
  • Tulsa Over 4.5: Not a large investment, but certainly worth it if you can keep the juice low. Offseason power rating bumps in returning production and second-order win total favor the Golden Hurricanes. The retirement of Bill Young, who started coaching in 1969, paves the way for Joseph Gillespie to lead Tulsa in their second year of using the 3-3-5 defense. This defense is 19th in returning production on defense.
  • South Florida and Houston Under: As written in this Action Network article, these win totals are both way off my projections. I immediately hit both unders.
  • Memphis to win the AAC +350: This number opened 5-1 in some spots before taking heavy action. The schedule is kind, but Memphis has the highest ranking in second-order win total and has the most overall returning in the AAC. With a 2018 offensive IsoPPP rating of 1.37, look for the Tigers to possibly host the conference championship game.
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