MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 21: Quinton Flowers #9 of the South Florida Bulls rushes during the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Marlins Park on December 21, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Our analysis of the AAC will continue all week long. Today, we’ll take a look at the league’s quarterbacks, and answer a few burning questions about the most important position on the field.

Q. Who are the top returning quarterbacks in the AAC?

3. Ben Hicks, SMU – One of the more pleasant surprises in the league last year, Hicks threw for 2,930 yards and 19 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. He was playing as well as any quarterback in the league at the end of the season, closing out the year with three 300-yard games in his final five contests, highlighted by a 380-yard effort against South Florida. He should pick up right where he left off last fall, as the Mustangs welcome back nine starters on offense, including all-conference performer Courtland Sutton, who finished third in the league with 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns.

2. Riley Ferguson, Memphis – Although he didn’t earn all-conference honors last season, you could make the case that Ferguson was the most productive passer in the league in 2016. The numbers certainly back that up, as he led the league in passing yards and touchdown passes, while ranking second in yards per attempt. Ferguson was especially sharp against FBS opponents with winning records, lighting them up for an average of 328 yards per game with an impressive 16/4 TD-to-INT ratio. He’ll be the focal point of the Tiger offense again this season.

1. Quinton Flowers, South Florida – While all the preseason buzz was about Greg Ward, it was Flowers who earned AAC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2016. One of the most explosive players in college football, Flowers ranked in the top 15 nationally in yards per play (9th), total yards (7th), rushing yards (15th), and yards per pass attempt (15th).

More impressively, Flowers took his play to another level when the Bulls fell behind last year. In situations where USF trailed by 14 points or less, he completed 47 of 64 passes (73.4%) for 582 yards with a 4/0 TD-to-INT ratio. He will post even better numbers this season under new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s scheme.

Q. Which quarterback is poised for a breakout season?

Without question, it’s UConn’s Bryant Shirreffs. Yes, he lost his job at the end of last season, but don’t forget that he played with a displaced rib for most of the year. However, with Rhett Lashlee arriving from Auburn, the Huskies will switch to an up tempo attack, which plays to Shirreffs’ strengths as a quarterback. This was evident in the Huskies’ spring game, as he completed 19 of 33 passes for 310 yards. Expect him to emerge as one of the top signal callers in the league by the end of the 2017 campaign.

Q. Which newcomer should we keep an eye on this fall?

Although he’ll have to beat out Gardner Minshew for the starting job, I’ll go with Duke transfer Thomas Sirk at East Carolina. Sure, he’s had his share of injuries, missing the 2013 and 2016 seasons with two different Achilles’ injuries. However, when he was healthy, Sirk was one of the better dual-threat signal callers in the ACC, throwing for 2,692 yards and adding another 1,048 on the ground. More importantly, Sirk is very familiar with the Pirates’ scheme after playing for current head coach Scottie Montgomery at Duke. This makes him the perfect candidate to lead an offense that has to replace record-setting receiver Zay Jones.

Q. What’s the most intriguing quarterback situation?

While there are several quarterback competitions that could earn this distinction, the one that I’m paying most attention to is the battle to replace Greg Ward at Houston. Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen exited the spring as the starter, but he will receive a stiff challenge from last year’s backups, Kyle Postma and D’Eriq King, who both sat out spring practice due to injury. With three very talented options to choose from, this is one competition that dispels the notion that “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none”.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.