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Beyond the Empire: Picking the Big Ten-American Non-Conference Games

The Big Ten could go 1-2 against the AAC as easily as it could 3-0. Do Illinois and Maryland have the firepower to contend with the Directional Floridas? Joey Broback of Underdog Dynasty offers previews and picks.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week elite American Athletic Conference mind Joey Broback stopped by and answered whether the American could ever push its way into the Power 5/Power 6 conference discussion. Now we’ve got him back for one more segment, in which he helps break down and pick the Big Ten-AAC matchups.


#8 Michigan Wolverines (1-0) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (1-0)

Sept. 9 || 11am CT || ABC || Mich -34

It's our old friend Luke Fickell! He can recruit, he's got a reputation as a defensive mind, and he's apparently Mr. Ohio to boot. But are we supposed to expect anything from his maiden Bearcat voyage? Can Cincy establish Mike Boone and Gerrid Doaks behind a relatively green offensive interior, or will they be pinning back their ears on defense and hoping to grind out a 13-10 squeaker in Ann Arbor? Give us a Bearcat to look out for during national award season.

Boone has been picked by a few members on our staff as a potential breakout player this year. He had great freshman and sophomore campaigns, but struggled in his junior season just like his team. Two defensive players to watch for are Cortez Broughton and Kevin Mouhon, who will man the defensive line.

I don’t think the Wolverines have much to worry about. Quarterback play for the Bearcats is suspect and Boone needs to prove he can get back to his old self. Cincinnati will be a significantly improved team under Fickell, but this games too early in Fickell’s regime to have anyone thinking upset.

Illinois Fighting Illini at #19 South Florida Bulls

Friday, Sept. 15 || 6pm || ESPN

Look, we're winning to concede y'all this one and just not say anything else. That cool?, I see. Well, in that case, tell us who we should expect to go streaking past the Illini cornerbacks and hauling in Quinton Flowers passes. On the other hand, the Bulls' defense was...un-good. Has Strong shored that up quickly enough, or will Illinois be well-served getting into a shootout in Raymond James Stadium? Just how high IS the ceiling for Charlie Strong in season 1, and how long until he gets another shot at a P5 school?

I think the general consensus is that this will be a win for the Bulls, regardless of who you cheer for. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a big body that could give the Illini trouble, and Tyre McCants returns after hauling in 25 passes last year. Don’t sleep on running back D’Ernest Johnson out of the backfield either. Flowers needs them to develop, but they could have breakout games against the Illini defense.

Defense will be better under Strong, and the Bulls return plenty of key pieces who played a lot last year. Illinois should score some points against USF, but I don’t think a shoot out will ensue under Strong’s watch.

The ceiling is definitely an undefeated season with a conference championship, but the ceiling is a New Year’s bowl game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Strong stayed with the Bulls for a while, but with the turnover he’ll have next season and having a bitter taste in his mouth from the Texas job, he’s going to want to redeem himself at a Power 5 school. He deserves another chance, and USF’s success may give him the redemption he seeks. It’s just a matter of when he leaves.

Maryland Terrapins vs. UCF Knights

Sept. 23 || Time, TV TBD

HC Scott Frost turned the Citro-Knights around in a damn this the year they climb the AAC standings and challenge for the G5 spot in the NY6? Is McKenzie Milton the run-pass option QB that'll lead UCF there, or will Frost be relying on other offensive playmakers? Can the Knights' defense hold down a spotty Maryland offense behind a coterie of returning defensive linemen, or will the loss of 7 of the back 8 from UCF's 3-4 defense give the Terrapins an opening to throw all over?

Many people believe UCF will take another step under Frost, but I don’t think a NY6 spot is possible. Baby steps.

Winning eight games is in the cards for the Knights, but it all hinges on Milton’s development. We’ve identified Milton as a potential breakout player in the conference, and Frost’s work at Oregon is a big reason why we think that way. Receiver Tre’Quan Smith and tight end Jordan Akins give Milton options downfield, and he has multiple options to work with at running back. Simply put, the offense will score points but, like you mentioned, the defense is the real question.

All four defensive backs need to be replaced, but there is some talent returning that could east that transition. Kyle Gibson is a former four star recruit, and he will compete for one of the safety spots. In the meantime, the front seven will be the strength of their defense. Shaquem Griffin, who only has one hand, is someone that the nation needs to pay attention to. He’s the reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year, and his accomplishments are nothing short of incredible. Up front, defensive end Tony

Guerad and defensive tackle Jamiyus Pittman should cause problems for the Terps. This game is intriguing, as both teams are looking to take a big step in their progression under their “newer” coaches. Frost’s offensive mind against Durkin’s defensive mind is a matchup that is definitely worth watching, and the nerves for both teams should be gone at this point in the season.

Picks and Predictions

Give us your predictions for each game (or farm 'em out! we're not picky). What would a strong showing against the Big Ten constitute, and what would it mean for the conference?

Michigan will beat Cincinnati, and a strong showing would be if the Bearcats can still be in the game at or a little past halftime. Luke Fickell’s team will be fired up under their new coach, and the question becomes if they can handle the atmosphere.

South Florida cruises past Illinois and I’m not sure if a single Illini defender touches Quinton Flowers. All jokes aside, this should be a blowout win for the Bulls.

UCF-Maryland is one of those games that will tell us how successful the Power 6 movement will be this year. I think the Knights will win this one, but it’s going to be close. If McKenzie Milton can take a big step forward in his development, he will be a big threat against the Terps.

2-1 is an achievable record for this conference, and 3-0 would be surprising. I think many are laughing at the idea of the “Power 6” conference, but it’s going to be good for college football (and playoff expansion if you are for that) for the AAC to join the Power ranks. For now, a winning record against the B1G would be a good step towards their goal, and wins will bring the conference national attention. The AAC has a lot of talent spread out throughout their rosters, but now they need to prove they can compete (and beat) teams from bigger conferences. That’s how they will close the gap, and the exposure could have large implications for recruiting as well.

Thanks to Joey for answering our questions. Give him and Underdog Dynasty a follow on Twitter! We’ll see how the Big Ten—and, perhaps more intriguingly, the idea of the Power Six—holds up over the next three weeks.


How will the Big Ten fare against the AAC?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    3-0, Illini pull the stunner
    (31 votes)
  • 65%
    2-1, only Illinois loses
    (207 votes)
  • 1%
    2-1, only Maryland loses
    (6 votes)
  • 2%
    2-1, only Michigan loses
    (7 votes)
  • 12%
    1-2, only Michigan wins
    (39 votes)
  • 2%
    1-2, only Maryland wins
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    1-2, only Illinois wins
    (5 votes)
  • 3%
    0-3 burn it all down
    (11 votes)
314 votes total Vote Now