The Watch List: AAC Preview

Updated: July 24th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: Do you want the good news or the bad news first?  Let’s start with the good news.  Sutton has a big, NFL-ready frame at 6’4″ and 215lb; some recent combine comps at that size would be Mike Williams and Kenny Golladay from 2016 and AJ Green and Martavis Bryant from past seasons.  Sutton put up lines of 49-862-9 and 76-1,246-10 in the last two seasons respectively (he received a medical redshirt in 2014 after just two receptions).  In addition to solid season-long totals, it’s clear that Sutton can dominate a game as evidenced by a 13-252-2 game against North Texas and a 12-166-2 game against East Carolina in back-to-back games.  In that standout game against North Texas, Sutton had two highlight reel touchdown catches.  The first was a hail mary which he came down with surrounded by four defenders.  The second was an acrobatic toe-tapping catch in the back of the end zone that he was able to secure despite a PI penalty.  Now onto the bad news… All five of Sutton’s 100+ yard games in 2016 came against subpar defenses.  Those big games came against USF (122nd out of 128 by average receiving yards per game allowed), ECU (62nd), TCU (77th), Baylor (71st) and North Texas (26th).  The North Texas ranking was surprising but judging by the highlights I watched of that game it’s likely due more to their opposition than their talent.  Conversely, the one top passing defense they played, Temple (3rd), led to a 4-43 game for Sutton.  In addition to some highlight reels of Sutton, I checked out Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room episode dedicated to Sutton.  Waldman has concerns with Sutton’s hand placement and his tracking of the ball.  I’m a big fan of Waldman’s and have come to trust most of his evaluations and after watching his study of Sutton I found myself questioning some of the film I had already watched.  Phil Steele has Sutton as his 3rd ranked draft eligible WR; WalterFootball.com has him as the 4th; DLF has him as their 1st WR and 3rd overall prospect.  Concerns or not, Sutton is shaping up to be a top RSO draft pick in 2018 so he deserves your attention.
  • Quinton Flowers, QB, USF: Flowers will battle Memphis QB Riley Ferguson for the title of best AAC quarterback this season.  Because of his dual-threat ability and experience at the FBS level, I give the nod to Flowers.  Unfortunately, DraftBreakdown.com only has one film available on Flowers, and it’s from 2015, so I instead found myself searching Youtube.  I did not want to just watch a highlight reel because I feel that is even less illustrative for QBs than RBs or WRs.  I came across a Youtube channel called OneHourFootball which I would definitely suggest you check out for commercial free game footage.  On their channel, I found footage of USF vs Memphis from 2016 which was perfect because that would let me see peak Flowers as it was his best of the season.  In that game he went 24-29 for 263 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs; he also added a crazy 210 yards rushing and 3 TDs.  The USF offense under former coach Willie Taggart (now at Oregon, see below) is purely run out of the shotgun and featured a lot of quick pass patterns, spread runs and jet sweeps.  So, in other words, it doesn’t give much of a glimpse of Flowers in an NFL setting.  Flowers definitely had the quick release required by the offense but there were multiple times when his accuracy suffered as he rushed to get the ball out and did not have a great handle.  I was impressed with his smarts as a rusher – he knows when to turn it up the field and hit the hole, when to slide and when to get out of bounds.  On one key 2nd quarter 4th down, he took the snap on a designed run, momentarily waited for his blocks after a jet sweep fake and hit the hole at full speed for a 45 yard touchdown.  It was a great play and really showed his ability as a rusher.  Unfortunately for Flowers, the Bulls don’t have a marquee Power 5 matchup on the schedule this year and he played rather poorly in the two biggest games of his career against Florida State (combined 17-38 for 285 yards, 3 TDs and 3 INTs).  Ultimately, I fear that Flowers will be too small to be seriously considered by NFL teams.  Since 2010, there have been twelve QBs at the combine who measured 6’0″ or smaller.  Just one of those, Russell Wilson, blossomed into a solid NFL player; the second best on the list would be Johnny Manziel.  If Flowers can continue to improve his numbers and hit the 3,000 yard and 25 TD marks in 2017 he will likely find himself drafted in the late rounds or as a priority free agent for a team needing a backup for their mobile quarterback.  If he does end up in a landing spot like that he could be a cheap and valuable handcuff to your expensive franchise quarterback (a tactic that I think is under-utilized in a dynasty contract format).
  • Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis: Anthony Miller will be the next Antonio Brown.  No, not really (but if he is, then I definitely meant it) but he does compare favorably to Brown’s size and speed.  Miller is 5’11” and 190lb and NFLDraftScout.com has him down for an estimated 4.53 40 yard dash.  Miller put in a strong line in 2015 as a sophomore with 47-694-5 and followed that up with a great 95-1,434-14 line in 2016.  His senior year is shaping up to be even better but it remains to be seen if it will be enough for him to come out early.  While I was watching film on Flowers, one play from Miller really stood out.  He made an incredible one-handed catch that reminded me of the iconic Odell Beckham Jr. catch against the Cowboys.  I came into my research of Miller not expecting much but now I’m thinking he is somebody that will creep up NFL and RSO draft boards into the third round range for 2018.
  • Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: An honorable mention, as he’s not even draft eligible in 2018, but somebody you should try to watch at least once this season.  As a true freshman he had 65 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.  He came in as #4 on ESPN’s top recruiting list and has a grade of 92 by their scouts.  Watch just one highlight reel and you’ll be impressed with his athleticism, pursuit and speed.

Storylines to Watch

  • #POW6R: The AAC desperately wants you to think that college football features a “Power 6” rather than a “Power 5.”  Until the College Football Playoff committee recognizes the change I doubt fans will, but that isn’t stopping the AAC from trying.  Right now, the AAC is considered part of the “Group of 5” which also includes the Mountain West, MAC, C-USA and the Sun Belt.  Honestly, I do feel that the AAC is a step above those four in overall quality but they are not on the level of the Big 12, who I would consider to be the weakest “Power 5” conference right now.  The Big 12 seems to agree that the AAC is a step down; they were considering expansion last year and a whopping seven AAC teams applied for the openings (Cinci, Houston, SMU, USF, Tulane, UCF and UConn) but ultimately no teams were added.  I give the AAC and their administration credit for their dogged determination.  After the draft, they tried trolling the Big 12 on social media by using the hashtag #POW6R because more of their players were drafted to the NFL.  They also gave their teams “P6” helmet stickers to wear at times last year (ironically, they had to delay the roll out until after it was announced that nobody would be jumping to the Big 12, that would have been embarrassing).  The AAC can gain some more ground this year because they’ll likely have two Day One or Day Two draft picks in WRs Courtland Sutton and Anthony Miller.  AAC teams also feature a number of games against big “Power 5” names (including Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Michigan, TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma) so a few upset victories could help too.
  • The Coaching Exodus from AAC: A sign of the improving quality of the AAC brand is that their coaches keep leaving for bigger and better jobs.  After last season the league lost coaches to Baylor (Matt Rhule), Oregon (Willie Taggart) and Texas (Tom Herman).  College football writer Kevin McGuire pointed out on Twitter that in the last twelve months, 9 of the 12 teams have had a coaching change; ESPN had a good article about the exodus as well.  Part of me believes that this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy though: the more people write about the promotions (myself included), the more likely they are to happen.

Games to Watch

  • September 15, Illinois at USF:  USF is the AAC’s best hope at a New Years Six bowl game so it’s disappointing to see their weak non-conference schedule this season.  If the Fighting Illini were the easiest Power 5 team on the schedule, that would bode well for USF’s chances to climb the ranks but instead Illinois is the only Power 5 test.  Don’t let the Power 5 label fool you, Illinois will not be good in 2017 and a loss would sink the Bulls’ season before the conference schedule starts.
  • September 21, Temple at USF: If USF survives the Friday night spotlight game against Illinois they won’t have long to rest before the next biggest game of their season.  That’s because they’ll be back at it the following Thursday against Temple.  Luckily both games are at home for USF so there is no travel involved and Temple has the same Friday/Thursday turn-around.  Temple beat USF 46-30 last year which ended any big bowl hopes for Quinton Flowers & Co.
  • October 7, Air Force at Navy: I continue putting service academy games in these previews because I think it’s important that these athletes get the recognition they deserve. Many will be going on to serve our country in far more important ways and games like this are a great way to put aside our differences and celebrate their sacrifices.  Will it be the best game of the day?  Definitely not (looking at you Michigan State at Michigan) but it’s worth at least a few minutes of your time.
  • November 3, Memphis at Tulsa: It’s doubtful that either team is in the running for the conference title come early November, but this is still a game that you should circle because it will feature a few potential pro prospects.  As I mentioned above, Memphis WR Anthony Miller has a chance to be a second or third round pick in 2018, and the guy slinging him the ball, Riley Ferguson will get some draft consideration too.  Ferguson is a former Tennessee recruit who went the JUCO route before moving onto Memphis last year; he’s tall at 6’4″ and put up good numbers to close out 2016.  Tulsa RB D’Angelo Brewer is small (5’9″ and 185lb; would be sixth lightest RB at the combine since 2010) and has missed a few games to injury, but he has put up 2,272 yards, 13 TDs and a 5.33 ypc average over the last two seasons.  Tulsa averaged the fifth most rushing attempts per game last year in the FBS, so while Brewer may be far from a guarantee to get drafted the Tulsa offense will feed him and give him opportunities to shine.

 

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.