July 1, 2014

Getting to know the new guys

A lot of things have changed during the American Athletic Conference's first year.

Since officially becoming the AAC on July 1, 2013, the conference has more than held its own athletically. Connecticut won national championships in both men's and women's basketball while newcomer Central Florida won the Fiesta Bowl over No. 5 Baylor.

The impending departures of Louisville to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big 10, however, put a slight damper on the conference's first season. So did the exclusion of the AAC from the "Power 5" conferences. The departure of Louisville and Rutgers will at least be slightly remedied today with the official additions of East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa to the conference. Navy will join next July as a football-only member.

"Our new schools will bring energy, strong athletic programs and academic quality to our distinguished conference," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. "We have enjoyed a remarkable inaugural year. We quickly established ourselves as one of America's premier conferences and we are firmly in the power conference conversation."

"We as a conference will move forward with confidence, energy, dedication, commitment and tremendous optimism," Aresco added. "Our student-athletes will continue to compete at the highest level in the classroom as well as on the fields and courts."

With that in mind, OwlScoop.com previews the newest members of the AAC.



East Carolina

Location: Greenville, North Carolina
Enrollment: 27,386
Year founded:1907
All-time record (football): 415-379-12
Record in Bowl Games: 8-10
All-time record (basketball): 1,021-1,034
Record in NCAA Tournament: 0-2
Famous Alumni: Sandra Bullock (Academy Award winner), Chris Johnson (Pro Bowl running back), Vince McMahon (pro wrestling mogul)

Current football outlook: East Carolina is arguably the most "football ready" of the three new schools. Actually, scratch that. There's no argument here. The Pirates are more than ready to make the jump from Conference USA to the AAC. The Pirates went 10-3 last season, including wins over North Carolina and N.C. State in their out-of-conference schedule and a victory over Ohio in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.

Senior quarterback Shane Carden, viewed by some as a potential pro, returns after putting up 4,139 passing yards and 33 touchdowns during last season's campaign. Wide receiver Justin Hardy is also back for his senior year. The 6-foot Hardy caught 114 passes for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns last season. As a team, ECU averaged 40.2 points per game last season while allowing an average of 24.8 per contest. Suffice to say, East Carolina should have no problem putting up points this season.

Despite the bump up in competition, East Carolina has not let up in its out-of-conference scheduling. The Pirates will travel to South Carolina and Virginia Tech this fall while hosting North Carolina. By the time Temple draws ECU in November, the Pirates will be a hardened bunch.

Current basketball outlook: Basketball may be a little bit of a tougher adjustment for East Carolina. The Pirates lost their leading scorer from last season's 17-17 team, guard Akeem Richmond, to graduation and may lack the firepower to compete in their inaugural season in the AAC. Sophomore guard Caleb White had an impressive rookie season, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 48.8 percent from the field. Incoming freshman Lance Tejada, who chose East Carolina over offers from programs like Florida State, Miami and Virginia may be expected to come in and make an immediate impact. Overall, ECU is still an impressive recruiting class or two away from making a legitimate impact in the AAC.




Tulane

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Enrollment: 13,462
Year founded: 1834
All-time record (football): 503-607-38
Record in Bowl Games: 4-8
All-time record (basketball): 1,171-1,192
Record in NCAA Tournament: 3-3
Famous Alumni: Jerry Springer (former mayor of Cincinnati and TV talk show host), David Filo (co-founder of Yahoo!), Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate)

Current football outlook: Tulane football is absolutely a program on the rise. After winning just two games in both 2011 and 2012, the Green Wave won an impressive seven games in 2013. The season, which included a win over East Carolina, concluded with a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl.

Tulane is led by its defense. Cornerback Lorenzo Doss snagged seven interceptions last season and was named to the second team of the Walter Camp All-America squad. Linebacker Nick Marley tallied 67 tackles, including 10 for a loss, in his inaugural season. For his efforts, Marley was named the Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year. On offense, things are less clear for the Green Wave. Quarterbacks Tanner Lee and Devin Powell enter the summer tied atop the depth chart. Redshirt freshman running back Sherman Badie will attempt to fill the hole left by Orleans Darkwa's graduation. Darkwa, who is currently with the Miami Dolphins, rushed for 2,953 yards during his Tulane tenure and scored a program-record 39 rushing touchdowns.

Tulane has a fairly tough out-of-conference schedule for its first season in the AAC. Georgia Tech and Southeastern Louisiana will visit New Orleans while Tulane will travel north to face Duke and Rutgers. Tulane is fortunate in the sense that it will get Connecticut, Memphis and Temple at home during its conference slate. A bowl season may be out of reach but Tulane should be able to collect its fair share of wins during the 2014 season.

Current basketball outlook: Tulane went 17-17 last season and lost its lone game in the College Basketball Invitational. The team does return two impressive guards, however, in the form of junior Louis Dabney and sophomore Jonathan Stark. The duo combined to averaged 29.7 points per game last season. While Tulane did lost three seniors, the three were not exactly impact contributors. Incoming guard Keith Pinckney chose Tulane over offers from Xavier and Miami. For now, put Tulane in that middle-of-the-pack grouping of the AAC basketball landscape.




Tulsa

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Enrollment: 4,352
Year founded:1894
All-time record (football): 597-453-27
Record in Bowl Games: 9-10
All-time record (basketball): 1,360-1,094
Record in NCAA Tournament: 12-15
Famous Alumni: Lovie Smith (NFL coach), Dr. Phil (syndicated TV host)

Current football outlook: The 2013 football season was not exactly a memorable one for Tulsa. A year after going 11-3 with a win over Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, Tulsa huffed and puffed its way to a meager 3-9 record. Unfortunately for Golden Hurricane, the 2014 season may not be much better.

Tulsa is in the interesting predicament of having to replace its leading passer, rusher, receiver and best defensive player. Trey Watts, who rushed for 1,329 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, is currently with the St. Louis Rams. Leading receiver Jordan James, who caught 39 balls for 471 yards and two touchdowns last season, is gone. Quarterback Cody Green, who started 21 games over the last two seasons after transferring from Nebraska, has graduated. Linebacker Shawn Jackson put up an eye-popping 124 tackles, including 18.5 for a loss, last season and is a current member of the New Orleans Saints.

Tulsa will host Tulane in the first game of the 2014 AAC season. After that, Tulsa will host Oklahoma and Texas State while travelling to Florida Atlantic and Colorado State in its out-of-conference slate. The Green Wave will then travel to Philadelphia to play the Owls. Coming off a disappointing season, coupled with the departure of many marquee players, Tulsa will have to have a lot of things go its way in order to avoid a rough transition to its new home.

Current basketball outlook: On the court, Tulsa returns a number of key components from last season's NCAA squad. James Woodard returns after averaging a team-best 15.5 points per game. Point guard Shaquille Harrison averaged 9.6 points and a team-high 3.2 assists per contest.

On the bench, however, Tulsa is looking to replace a legend. Danny Manning, the former Kansas and NBA great, left Oklahoma to become the head coach at Wake Forest. Tulsa somehow managed to convince Frank Haith to leave Missouri after a 23-12 season. Haith should be able to keep Tulsa in the NCAA tournament discussion.

OwlScoop.com assistant editor Kyle Gauss can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @kylegauss.



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