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Knights are favorites to win the East, but Owls could surprise

East Carolina have sat at the bottom of the East Division for the last two seasons and there are few signs that things will change for the Pirates. | Thomas Dwyer/ The Cougar

The American Athletic Conference has a trio of teams competing for the West Division, but there is a clear favorite in the east.

UCF was one of the biggest stories at the end of last season when it went undefeated and declared itself national champion while its coaching staff left for Nebraska.

The official Colley Matrix national champions have to try to repeat the feat without the staff that turned it from 0-12 in 2015 to 13-0 in 2017 and without the heart of the defense Shaquem Griffin.

Luckily for the Knights, its dynamic duo in quarterback McKenzie Milton and running back Adrian Killins Jr. are returning to the team along with most of the offensive line.

The Knights new head coach Josh Heupel was the offensive coordinator at Missouri for two seasons and the team had the 11th best offense in the nation last season. When you pair a proven offensive minded coach with proven players, it is a recipe for success and the Knights are the favorites in the East.

But before the Knights rose to glory, the Owls sat at the apex of the East. Temple won the division in 2015 and the conference in 2016.

It was done off the back of quarterback Phillip Walker and head coach Matt Rhule before Walker graduated in 2016 and Rhule was left to coach at Baylor. The team had no suitable replacement for either of them, but the players themselves are skilled.

Temple has had some of the top recruiting classes in the 2015, 2016 and 2018 so it just a matter of the coaching staff catching up to the talent level on the field.

Cultivating new talent

Head coach Charlie Strong inherited a very talented roster when he arrived at USF after being fired from Texas with Quinton Flowers, who started his final three seasons at quarterback. Now we have to see what Strong can do when he has to develop a new talent which is a skill he did not show very well at Texas.

USF has chosen junior Blake Barnett to start for game 1 of the season, but he is untested with just 24 passes attempted in his last two seasons at Alabama and Arizona State.

If the Bulls are able to find a quarterback worthy of filling Flowers’ shoes, then it has a great chance to get revenge against the Knights in the War on I-4.

South Florida came up short in the War on I-4 against UCF last season in an absolute barn burner, but this season it will take place in South Florida’s home.

Trying to break out

Lastly, East Carolina, Cincinnati and UConn sit at the bottom of the conference, but Cincinnati could break away from the group.

East Carolina have been the bottom feeder of the league since it entered in 2015 and things are unlikely to get better. The Pirates went 3-9 in the last two seasons, but middling recruiting classes should start improving it to a mid tier team in the conference soon.

Cincinnati recruited very well in 2017 and 2018, but it might be too soon for those recruits to have become strong and experience enough to lift the team to contender ship.

UConn on the other hand is a prime example of the poor getting poorer. Its best recruiting class in the last four years was in 2015, but that class was 99th nationally and 10th in the conference and it just gotten worse since.

If UCF regresses after losing its coaching staff, it could be just enough to push Temple or USF above to the top of the east.

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