- South Florida Bulls– They were one of the hottest teams to close out the regular season last November. USF made the Miami Beach Bowl where they would fall short to coach Willie Taggart’s alma mater, Western Kentucky. Despite that blip on the radar, the expectation are the highest it’s ever been in Tampa and with star running back Marlon Mack returning for another year along with quarterback Quinton Flowers returning as well, it will be a must watch this fall. Mack was the primary reason why USF went 8-5 and snapped a streak of four consecutive losing seasons and Flowers was also a dynamic threat under center as he accumulated over 3,000 total yards and added on 991 yards rushing. USF’s defense will have a different look in 2016. Tom Allen, the brains behind the 4-2-5 alignment has left to become the defensive coordinator at Indiana but the good thing is Raymond Woodie was promoted from linebackers coach to the new defensive coordinator and will keep the 4-2-5 scheme intact.
- Temple Owls– After one of the best years in school history in 2015, the Temple Owls are looking up from there and the expectations for this fall are up as the team is looking to build off the success under Matt Rhule. Quarterback P.J. Walker and running back Jahad Thomas will carry the offense once again. Walker enters his fourth season as quarterback and looks to have another solid season and Thomas made first team all-conference after rushing for 1,262 yards and 17 touchdowns. The defense will have to replace quite a few big names such as star linebacker Tyler Matakevich who became the face of this program and was All-American at his position. Guys like that are tough to replace. Temple has gone from two wins to six wins to 10 wins under coach Rhule. They were one of the few undefeated teams remaining last season starting 7-0 before closing the season out with a 3-4 mark.
- Cincinnati Bearcats– They were the favorites heading into the 2015 season to win this division and they ended up with a record of 7-6. Though it was a disappointing season, Cincinnati could be poised for a turnaround in 2016. Gunner Kiel will remain under center at quarterback the offense will continue to play fast but we will see some changes. Former offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is out and Zac Taylor is in. Taylor was the interim offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins last season and he will implement some pro style techniques such as throwing more passes to the running backs and tight ends than we’ve seen in previous years. On defense, Tommy Tuberville will be calling the plays with input from his assistants. The Bearcats return its two top tacklers in outside linebacker Eric Wilson and safety Zach Edwards. If they can cut the turnovers on offense, competing for this division will be within reach.
- UConn Huskies– They exceeded some modest expectations under Bob Diaco’s second season, the good thing is, they’ve taken a step in the right direction from its 2-10 record in 2014. The offense is built around junior running back Arkeel Newsome, a 5’7, and 180 pound with such an explosive spark out the backfield. The starting quarterback job will more than likely be handed to Bryant Shirreffs, the dual threat that’s clearly the team’s best option and gives them the best shot at winning games. The defense, which is Bob Diaco’s strong-point, gave up 19 points a game to their opponents. That number looks much better especially when your offense has struggled as theirs has.
- East Carolina Pirates– They’ve made three straight appearances in bowl games and you think that would be good enough but the school fired coach Ruffin McNeill at the end of last season. Scottie Montgomery comes in and inherits an experienced team. The offense however will be a work in progress as four starters return. On defense, they will run a 3-4 scheme and have more of an aggressive approach. A winning season maybe stretching it as the schedule won’t be friendly to them. NC State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech all appear on their schedule.
- UCF Knights– Just a few seasons ago, they were playing in a fiesta bowl and some guy named Blake Bottles was their quarterback and they won the fiesta bowl. They’ve struggled mightily since then including a winless season in 2015. Offensive minded guru Scott Frost now takes over the reigns as head coach and he could be the answer to turning this program around but it may take some time. With Frost now calling the shots, we’ll now see a fast-paced, no-huddle offensive look so we can say by to George O’Leary’s pro-style, ball control offensive scheme. The defense will be making some changes as well as they move to a 3-4 scheme and Erik Chin Ander was hired as the defensive coordinator. He worked with Frost back in Eugene, Oregon. Improvement could be here and they will be a better team in 2016 and not winless again.
2016 Prediction: I’m picking South Florida to win this division. With a solid running attack led by Marlon Mack, Quinton Flowers under center and a defense keeping the same scheme, everything is in place for them to take this division.