View from the East
Thursday, July 31, 2014

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Cincinnati wearing the target


ECU coach Ruffin McNeill takes the podium at the American Athletic Conference Media Day in Newport, Rhode Island. The press voted the Pirates to finish fourth in 2014 behind favored Cincinnati, defending champ Central Florida and Houston. (Photo by W.A. Myatt)


Making the trek to Newport, Rhode Island for American Athletic Conference Media Days were (left to right) ECU players Maurice Falls, Shane Carden, Brandon Williams and Justin Hardy. (Photo by W.A. Myatt)



AAC Preseason Media Poll

Rank Team (First-place votes) Points
1.  Cincinnati           (17) 311
2.  Central Florida       (7) 296
3.  Houston               (6) 268
4.  East Carolina             262
5.  Southern Methodist        158
6.  South Florida             157
7.  Memphis                   133
8.  Temple                    105
9.  Connecticut                98
    Tulane                     98
11. Tulsa                      94

2013 AAC Football Standings

Team Conference All
Central Florida     8-0  12-1
Louisville          7-1  12-1
Cincinnati          6-2   9-4
Houston             5-3   8-5
Southern Methodist  4-4   5-7
Rutgers             3-5   6-7
Connecticut         3-5   3-9
South Florida       2-6  2-10
Memphis             1-7   3-9
Temple              1-7  2-10


College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock explained how next season's national champion will be determined to the coaches and members of the press gathered at the American Athletic Conference Media Day in Newport, Rhode Island. (Photo by W.A. Myatt)



By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

NEWPORT, RI The media voted Cincinnati as the preseason favorite in the American Athletic Conference race for 2014. They used to say that designation and 50 cents would get you a cup of coffee.

It takes more coin than that to java up these days, but the value of being picked as the team to beat remains doubtful.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he pleaded with one media member not to vote the Gamecocks as favorites, noting that such polls usually get it wrong.

Not a single preseason pick in the Power Five (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) held up last year. Neither did the choices in the AAC (Louisville) or Conference USA (East Carolina, East Division and Tulsa, West).

Central Florida was picked fourth last year and went 8-0 in the AAC to capture the league's inaugural football title.

East Carolina is picked fourth this year, behind the Knights, who are second, and Houston, which goes off as No. 3.

"I appreciate that pick but you know how it is," said Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill. "It's all done and proved on the field. We have to make sure we control what we control and that's how we prepare as a staff, as a team. If we do that, that will give us the best chance for success."

The Pirates fell short of the league title in Conference USA last season, losing 59-28 in a showdown at Marshall for the East Division crown. ECU defeated Ohio 37-20 in its bowl trip to St. Petersburg to become only the second team in school history to win as many as 10 games in a season. The Pirates have 11 starters back with the biggest personnel losses in the secondary, offensive line and running back.

Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville has 16 starters returning but he hasn't been in this position before.

"In 19 years of being a head coach, never been predicted to win a conference championship," said Tuberville, who is entering his second year at Cincinnati. "I'll have to go back to my Miami days when I was with Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson. "We were always predicted to be No. 1."

Tuberville isn't shying away from the frontrunner's spot.

"It will be fun," he said. "I think it's good for your fans. I think it will be an awakening for all of our players. ... It will be a challenge to get into the heads of the younger guys now, more than the older guys, of understanding what you're getting ready to get into because we will have a big target on our back, as Louisville did last year going into the season."

This year's top four picks in the league race will be involved in head to head matchups in the final week of the regular season. UCF is the guest for East Carolina's Senior Night on Thursday, Dec. 4, (ESPN) and Houston plays at Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 6. That would appear to be some intelligent scheduling.

UCF coach George O'Leary knows his program won't be taken lightly, not after going 8-0 in the AAC in 2013 and 12-1 overall with a 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.

"I'm a Yankees fan," said the 11th-year Knights coach. "No one ever sneaks up on them. ... I've been at the other end, too. I know what it is to be the one sneaking up but I'd much rather be where I'm at. At least I know where the target is."

Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship wasn't fazed by being voted last in the Golden Hurricane's first season in the AAC.

"I actually thought that was an alphabetical listing when I saw that," he said. "I hope the prognosticators can be as successful with the ending as we did a year ago. We were picked to win (C-USA West) a year ago."

Tulsa has 19 starters back from a team that struggled to a three-win season. The cellar projection might serve as some motivation for an experienced group.

Proving the poll wrong can give any number of teams some extra incentive. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.

Senior quarterback Shane Carden said the Pirates will be focused.

"We'll keep our head down and not listen to outside noise as we always do," Carden said. "We're going to have some challenges this season. We're going to face some adversity. As Coach Ruff always says, we can't flinch to that. We've got to keep playing. We've got keep being the team that we are, not try to be anyone else, not try to worry too much about proving anyone else's expectations, just play within ourselves and just play ECU football."

Carden was asked about his reaction to being picked fourth in the AAC.

"I wasn't aware of it," he said. "It's a preseason poll but they don't give out trophies until the end of the season."

That's it, clearly stated. If it's not an NCAA infraction, I'll buy that man a cup of coffee.

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