UCF captured a self-proclaimed national championship as the only undefeated team in the FBS (13-0) in 2017. The Knights went 11-0 through a regular season that began with the trials and tribulations of Hurricane Irma and ended with a 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
Between Irma and Harvey, half of the teams in the conference had games either canceled or rescheduled. UCF, UConn, East Carolina, Houston, USF and Memphis were all affected.
USF and Tulsa began 2017 as the computer's pick to play for the conference title, but the Bulls finished 2 games back in the East division after a 28-24 upset loss at home to Houston in late October, and a 49-42 shootout loss at UCF in the regular season finale. Tulsa was a disaster as the program slid to 2-10 after going 10-3 in 2016. Philip Montgomery enters the 2018 campaign with an 18-20 overall record in 3 seasons at Tulsa, and a mark of 10-14 in conference games.
UCF went on to defeat West division champion Memphis 62-55 in Orlando for the conference title. During the double-overtime thriller, it was announced on TV that Nebraska had hired away Knights' head coach Scott Frost. The former Cornhusker QB had resurrected Central Florida from an 0-12 program the year prior to his arrival, to an unbeaten program in two short seasons. Though UCF wasted no time naming a replacement for Frost - announcing 3 days later that their new guy was Josh Heupel - Frost stayed on to lead UCF to its bowl win.
Heupel was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2000 when he led Oklahoma to an undefeated season and a national championship with an 11-2 victory over Florida State, though FSU's Chris Weinke won the Heisman. He spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Missouri.
Even with the change at head coach, UCF is picked to repeat as division favorites by virtue of a narrow win (-2.46) over USF at Tampa in the "War On I-4" in a de facto divisional championship playoff game on November 23. However, a mid-season loss at Memphis gives the Tigers host honors for the championship game in which they are favored by 5.48 points to emerge victorious.
In some respects, it would be quite the accomplishment for UCF and/or Memphis to make the conference championship game. As mentioned, the Knights change their head coach while the Tigers lose the prolific pass-catch duo of Riley Ferguson (UFA, Tampa Bay) and Anthony Miller (2nd round, Bears) that accounted for 4,257 yards passing and 1,462 yards receiving.
Basically, the East is a two-team battle between UCF and USF, each of which are supposed to finish 3 games ahead of Temple. USF loses QB Quenton Flowers, as well as RB's Darius Tice and D'Ernest Johnson, accounting for almost all of the entire offensive output.
The West goes to Memphis by 2 games over Tulane which is picked to go 7-5 and earn a bowl bid for the first time since 2013. SMU is the 3rd-place pick in the division.
SMU opens 2018 with a new head coach in Sonny Dykes, replacing Chad Morris who was hired away by Arkansas. Dykes actually began this stint with the Mustangs by losing 51-10 to one of the two teams that he previously led as head coach, Louisiana Tech, in the Frisco Bowl. Dykes was 22-15 in three seasons with Louisiana Tech from 2010-2012, ending his stint in Ruston with a bowl-less 9-3 campaign (the WAC only had 2 bowl spots available). He left Louisiana Tech to take over at California where he was fired on January 8, 2017 after four seasons that produced a 19-30 record with just one winning campaign.
Navy slipped to 7-6 in 2017 for its worst finish since 2011. The Midshipmen also lost to Army for the second consecutive season. The outlook for 2018 isn't any kinder for Navy as the Congrove Computer Rankings forecasts losses to both Army and Air Force en route to a 6-7 campaign and a 4th-place finish in the East division.
*-Tie-breakers: UCF defeats USF in season finale.