Where we think USF football, FAU Owls will finish in AAC this fall

I’m expecting USF to improve under first-year coach Alex Golesh — but not by much.

I picked the Bulls to finish 12th in the 14-team AAC in the preseason media poll, which will be released at next week’s conference media days. I don’t feel strongly about that prediction or many others, but I’ll explain my reasoning.

SMU, Texas San Antonio and Tulane are the jumbled but clear top tier. I put them in that order. SMU’s top-15 transfer class and a potential second-year boost from coach Rhett Lashlee made them my preseason championship pick ahead of the Roadrunners (who have high-end talent but are jumping from Conference USA) and Tulane (which I think will regress slightly after losing star running back Tyjae Spears).

Memphis’ stability at head coach and in the conference made the Tigers fourth, just ahead of new member Florida Atlantic and East Carolina (which loses all-time leading passer Holton Ahler).

Rice, surprisingly, ended up 10th on my ballot. I generally downgraded the newcomers because of concerns about depth as they move up, but I gave the Owls the benefit of the doubt thanks largely to former five-star quarterback JT Daniels.

USF landed in the bottom tier with Tulsa, Alabama Birmingham and Charlotte. All four teams have new coaches and are coming off seasons that ranged from mediocre to awful. I slotted the Bulls ahead of Charlotte (a bad team in a lesser conference last year) and the Blazers (I’m skeptical about the short-term and long-term prospects under former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer).

I do, however, think USF will be better this year, even if I don’t view the Bulls as a bowl team. It’s hard to envision the defense being worse or the team starting slower; some progress is inevitable. It’s also reasonable to expect the injury luck to improve, too. Those factors alone should lead to better performances despite my questions about the talent level for Golesh’s first year.

The Bulls get a break by not having to face SMU or Tulane in conference play, but the non-conference schedule features a national title contender (Alabama), a Conference USA frontrunner (Western Kentucky) and a trip to a UConn program that finally looks competent again. That means we should judge this season on baby steps and incremental growth, even if the win-loss record doesn’t make a major leap forward.

Our AAC predicted order of finish

1. SMU

2. Texas San Antonio

3. Tulane

4. Memphis

5. Florida Atlantic

6. East Carolina

7. North Texas

8. Temple

9. Navy

10. Rice

11. Tulsa

12. USF

13. Alabama Birmingham

14. Charlotte

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