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Which team will win the American Athletic Conference in 2015?

On Wednesday and Thursday we started our discussion on the AAC and it concludes today. TSS Associate Editor Terry Johnson joins staff writer Kevin Causey and a special rotating guest in our weekly roundtable discussing all things college football.

Earlier this week we discussed players to watch and surprise teams in the AAC.  Today we conclude our AAC rountables as we are joined by Scott of Bearcats Blog.

Question: Who do you expect to be the American Athletic Conference champion?

Scott:

On Twitter @BearcatsBlog

Cincinnati is my pick to win the conference. The Bearcats offense was one of the better units in the nation a year ago. With Gunner Kiel, leading rusher Mike Boone and the entire receiving corps back, the offense should be dynamic. There were huge flashes of what Kiel was capable of a year ago. The caveat obviously has to be Kiel’s health. We saw him knocked out of a few games, notably the bowl loss to Virginia Tech. He battled rib injuries all season long. Health is always a spin of the wheel, especially in this sport.

The Bearcats have a pretty favorable league schedule. Traveling to Memphis is by far the toughest league game. It sets up what could be UC’s season defining run, Memphis, Miami and at BYU. The Cats end the year with 3 of 4 on the road, East Carolina, South Florida and Houston, around a visit from what could be surprising Tulsa.

It feels like this Cincinnati team has the pieces in place to win their first outright AAC title. It’s hard to bet against that offense.

Kevin Causey:

On Twitter @CFBZ

Last year there was a three way tie at the end of the year when three teams finished 7-1 in the conference. With the inaugural AAC Championship Game being held on December 5th that will change this year.

So…when we think about this answer it’s not just about who will have the best team throughout the course of the season. It’s also about the team who will have the most players standing at the end of the year (the best quality depth) and it’s about which team will peak at the right time although they still have to be good enough throughout the year to win their division.

I really like Temple’s chances if they can get into the title game, which is a big “if”. They had the stingiest defense in the AAC last year and in a one-game scenario, their defense could lead them to the championship.

But…ultimately I have to go with the team with the most talent. The Cincinnati Bearcats fit that description. Yes, they got mauled by the Memphis Tigers last year but I don’t see the same thing happening this season. Look for Gunner Kiel to lead the Bearcats to a win in the first even AAC Championship Game.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

While Scott and Kevin make an excellent case for Cincinnati, I’m picking Houston to win the AAC this season.

Make no mistake about it: the Cougars were closer to winning the league last year than their 5-3 conference record would indicate. UH defeated eventual co-champion Memphis, while narrowly losing to UCF (5 points) and Cincinnati (7 points). With a couple of breaks – or one fewer turnover – in each of those contests, the Cougs would have won the the conference title.

They should do so this season. Tom Herman takes over as the head coach, bringing in his highly successful offense from Ohio State.

So what does “highly successful” mean? During Herman’s three seasons in Columbus, the Buckeyes went 38-3 and did not lose a regular season game in conference play. Alabama’s coaches were so impressed with Herman’s play calling and tactics in the first round of the College Football Playoff that they invited him to Tuscaloosa to discuss how he attacked the Tide defense.

While Houston will have a great offense, it’s the defense that will lead it to the AAC crown. Believe it or not, the Cougars had one of the best defenses in the country last year, ranking 15th nationally in scoring defense (20.6 ppg), 20th in total defense (343.4 ypg), and first in fewest plays of 20 yards or longer (37). With seven starters returning from that group and the addition of DC Todd Orlando – whose Utah State D finished in the top ten in sacks (3rd), tackles for a loss (2nd), and interceptions (8th) – the UH defense will be even better than it was a year ago.

Adding the last two paragraphs together, it’s easy to see why I like the Cougars to win the conference championship this season. The new schemes will make an already talented squad much better than it was a year ago.

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