- Houston Cougars– They came out of nowhere and surprised us all. A 12-1 record with a big win over Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and all this occurred in coach Tom Herman’s first season. In year two, these Houston Cougars are looking to take that next step in 2016. Dynamic quarterback Greg Ward Jr is back to lead this offense along with running back Duke Catalon and receiver Ra’Shaad Samples. The defense will have a much different look and there are some concerns in the secondary as they will have to replace star cornerback William Jackson III who will now be playing on Sunday’s. Leading tackler Elandon Roberts is also gone and he was the emotional leader of this defense.
- Navy Midshipmen– Life after Keenan Reynolds is set to begin. He was there all four years and he graduated as the most prolific quarterback in the history of college football. Tago Smith will be the starting quarterback and is ready to take the reins of Navy’s triple option offense. Jamir Tillman is the only star returning on offense. He’s a 6’4, 212 pound wide receiver that runs great routes and has excellent hands. Six guys return on defense and two of them are Daniel Gonzales and Micah Thomas. They took the division by storm last season and gained the respect of all their opponents.
- Memphis Tigers– During his tenure as head coach, Justin Fuente pulled off a remarkable turnaround as he took over a program that was 5-31 and by his third season, Memphis won 10 games and the following year, they won nine games. Fuente has accepted the same position at Virginia Tech and for Memphis to keep up the success, they’ve hired Mike Norvell. His first task is to replace quarterback Paxton Lynch who put together a fine season in 2015. To replace Paxton, Norvell targeted Riley Ferguson, a 6’4 guy that’s very similar to Lynch. The Tigers offense will rely heavily on the running game once again. The defense will be in good hands with many veterans returning to play. Another winning season is likely to happen once again for these Tigers despite some changes at head coach and quarterback.
- Tulsa Golden Hurricane– They had a successful debut season under Coach Philip Montgomery. Tulsa would reach the Independence Bowl and give Virginia Tech a good battle. Here’s the thing about Tulsa though: The offense is legit. They are able to move the football down the field, sustain drives and score on anybody. The issue is their defense. They gave up over 530 yards a game and close to 40 points to the opposition. It’s quite incredible that they were able to win six games with a sub-par effort on the defensive side of the football. If the defense can improve which I think they can and the offense is still consistent, I see Tulsa winning seven or eight games. The departures of some offensive linemen will be big for them but the return of standout offensive tackle Blake Belcher is a huge positive.
- SMU Mustangs– The Chad Morris era got off to a very rough start, 2-10 to be exact. They went on an eight game losing streak in 2015 and won just one more game than they did in 2014. Despite the struggles, the optimism that things can turn around is high and SMU’s offense can bounce back with some experienced playmakers returning this fall. The running game will be key for them to be successful since Chad Morris’ offensively philosophy revolves around a power running game. There was a big lack of depth on defense in 2015 with so many injuries to many key players and that forced a lot of guys with inexperience to start and fill holes. Let’s see what year two brings for Chad Morris and company.
- Tulane Green Wave– Willie Fritz was hired to be the new head coach for Tulane after leading Georgia Southern the last two seasons. Tulane will have to adapt to Fritz’s offensive scheme which is run-oriented. The good news is he will inherit a group of very talented running backs. Dontrell Hillard will be a big time factor for them this year and he’s more than capable of rushing for 1,000 yards this season. The most important guy to the offense maybe offensive line coach Alex Atkins as he is given the challenging task of fixing up an offensive line that was absolutely abysmal last season. On defense, stopping the pass maybe a challenge without starting safety Darion Monroe who graduated but the return of safety Leonard Davis should help.
2016 Prediction: Houston will be victorious once again and win this division. They can only go up from here after the success in Tom Herman’s first year. A win in their opening game against Oklahoma could easily propel their chances of early talk in the College Football Playoff potentially.