IRVING, Texas – Only one point separates the top two teams in the 2022 American Athletic Conference preseason media poll as the Houston Cougars edged the Cincinnati Bearcats as The American’s preseason favorite.
Houston received seven of a possible 24 first-place votes to finish with 243 points in the poll, while Cincinnati was second at 242 points, despite the Bearcats’ receiving 10 first-place votes. UCF had seven first-place votes and was third with 225 points.
Houston and Cincinnati were a combined 16-0 in regular-season conference games last season before the Bearcats took a 35-20 win against the Cougars in the 2022 American Athletic Conference Championship Game.
Houston, which was ranked No. 17 in the final national polls of 2021, was tabbed as the favorite in The American for the first time since 2016 after the Cougars went 8-0 in conference play and 12-2 overall, capped by a 17-13 win against Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl. Head coach Dana Holgorsen’s squad will be led by veteran quarterback Clayton Tune, who threw for 3,546 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2021, and wide receiver Nathaniel Dell, who led The American in receptions (90), receiving yards (1,329) and touchdown catches (12) last season.
Cincinnati made history last season as the first team from The American to reach the College Football Playoff as the Bearcats won their first 13 games of the year before falling to Alabama in the CFP semifinals. The Bearcats finished the season ranked No. 4 nationally, but Luke Fickell’s squad will need to offset the loss of an American Athletic Conference-record nine players who were selected in the NFL Draft, trailing only Georgia and LSU nationally. Linebacker Deshawn Pace, a 2022 Butkus Award candidate, is expected to be the stalwart of the Bearcats’ defense after his 94-tackle season last year.
UCF, which has won a conference-record four American Athletic Conference titles, is expected be in the hunt once again in head coach Gus Malzahn’s second season in Orlando. The Knights went 9-4 last season, winning six of their final seven games, including a 29-17 victory against Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl.
SMU was fourth with 187 points as first-year head coach Rhett Lashlee will have quarterback Tanner Mordecai back in the fold. Mordecai set an American Athletic conference record with 39 touchdown passes in 2021.
Memphis, which has had eight consecutive seasons at .500 or better, edged East Carolina for fifth in the preseason poll. The Tigers will be led by quarterback Seth Henigan, an FWAA Freshman All-America who threw for more than 3,300 yards as a rookie. The Pirates, who won five of their last six to close the 2021 season, will feature fifth-year starting quarterback Holton Ahlers and standout running back Keaton Mitchell.
The American is coming off an historic season in 2021, highlighted by Cincinnati’s appearance in the College Football Playoff. It marked the sixth time in eight seasons of the CFP era that The American was represented in the New Year’s Six. Seven American Athletic Conference teams were selected for bowl games, while conference teams were a combined 3-1 in postseason games that were played.
The American also had three NCAA Consensus All-America selections (South Florida running back/return specialist Brian Battie, Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner, Houston cornerback/return specialist Marcus Jones), trailing only the SEC and Big Ten among FBS conferences. The American had the winners of the Paul Hornung Award (Jones), the Jim Thorpe Award (Cincinnati cornerback Coby Bryant) and the consensus National Coach of the Year (Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell), and matched its best showing in the NFL Draft with 19 players selected in 2022.
2022 American Athletic Conference Preseason Media Poll
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