Philadelphia, PA – Half of the eight Big East teams tied for first place last year, with Louisville getting the nod to go to the Sugar Bowl, where the Cardinals defeated Florida, 33-23.
This season, the league changed its name from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and added four teams from Conference USA - Houston, UCF, SMU and Memphis. Louisville is expected to waltz to its second consecutive title, but it might not come as easy as most experts think.
Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with predicted straight- up (overall and conference) records for those wagering on over/unders for total team victories. The over/under number posted is for the entire season, not conference totals. In addition, all statistics provided in the offensive and defensive sections are from conference-only play unless otherwise indicated (all odds to win the league title and totals courtesy of 5Dimes).
10) MEMPHIS (75-1) - The Tigers are 7-12 as home underdogs the last four years.
Offense - Trending down. The offense improved in almost every category in Justin Fuente's first season as head coach (compared to 2011). This year's numbers could be even better if Memphis had stayed in Conference USA. However, with the move to the AAC, look for the scoring average to drop this season.
Defense - Trending steady. The Tigers gave up 142 fewer yards per game compared to 2011, but allowed just six fewer points per game. They held their last four opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game, which bodes well for 2013.
Prediction - Even though the Tigers won four league games last year, they still ranked last in C-USA in total offense. Furthermore, the defense won't be able to overcome the change in leagues, so look for another below-average season. Over/under total - 4.5 (3-9, 1-7).
9) TEMPLE (90-1) - The Owls are 16-4 against the spread (ATS) in non-conference games the last five years.
Offense - Trending steady. As opposed to Memphis, Temple's offense declined in almost every category with the move from the Mid-American Conference to the Big East. In addition, the club brought back just two full-time starters in 2012. This year, everyone of note returns except running back Montel Harris.
Defense - Trending steady. Last year's defense was last against the rush and the pass, but that was to be expected with the loss of the top four tacklers and the switch in conferences. Only three of last season's top seven tacklers come back, so those rankings might not improve much even with the influx of four new schools to the AAC.
Prediction - After last season's 3-7 ATS record, look for Temple to return to its winning ATS ways (30-16-1 ATS the previous four years combined). Over/under total - 4.5 (4-8, 2-6).
8) CONNECTICUT (35-1) - The Huskies are 15-2 as home underdogs the last eight years.
Offense - Trending up. Connecticut totaled just 68 points in the second half of its 12 games. That's less than six points a game for 30 minutes of play. The Huskies bring in a new coordinator, which along with expected improvement, should hike up the scoring average close to 2010's 24-point average.
Defense - Trending down. Last year, the defense returned seven of its top nine tacklers. This season, only three of the top nine come back to Storrs. Given that, it will be tough to match last year's top 20 national finishes in both scoring and total defense.
Prediction - The Huskies went 8-4 to the under in 2012. Look for many more overs in 2013. Over/under total - 5.5 (5-7, 3-5).
7) SMU (27-1) - The Mustangs are 6-1 as home underdogs the last four years.
Offense - Trending down. SMU averaged a touchdown more per game (compared to 2011) but averaged the same 379 yards per game. The main reason for the added scoring was a plus-26 turnover differential from the prior season. The Mustangs won't be as lucky in 2013.
Defense - Trending down. The strength is a veteran secondary that led Conference USA in quarterback completion percentage. The defense also ranked third nationally with 37 takeaways. Unfortunately, the front seven brings back just over 200 tackles from 2012 compared to over 450 it returned from 2011.
Prediction - June Jones always fields a competitive team, so don't be shocked if SMU covers more games than not in the upcoming season. Over/under total - 5.5 (6-6, 4-4).
6) SOUTH FLORIDA (35-1) - The Bulls are 10-5 as road underdogs but 5-14 as road favorites the last six years.
Offense - Trending steady. A healthier line should bolster an offense that has the potential to surprise. The quarterback position is up for grabs, but even with B.J. Daniels at the helm, the Bulls threw just 12 touchdown passes the last two years combined.
Defense - Trending up. South Florida finished tied for last nationally in turnovers gained and turnover differential last season. Expect a turnaround in that category, which will lead to a much more feared defense, especially with the addition of defensive end Aaron Lynch.
Prediction - The new coaching staff will breathe life into a program that has grown stale in recent years. Look for a much improved season, both SU and ATS. Over/under total - 5.5 (6-6, 4-4).
5) HOUSTON (55-1) - The Cougars are 16-7 as home favorites the last five years.
Offense - Trending down. How can Houston's offense drop down after last year's 22-point decline? Here's how. There's no guarantee the quarterback play will improve, especially with the loss of the team's leading receiver (and rusher). More importantly, the defenses Houston will face in the AAC are much better than those in Conference USA.
Defense - Trending up. The Cougars allowed just 5.4 yards per play (sixth-best in the conference). However, they ranked 11th in total defense and allowed 16 more points per game than in 2011. The fact the offense turned the ball over 25 times (in eight games) did not help. Look for the scoring average to drop from its 36-point mark.
Prediction - The Cougars might not get much respect this season, so a solid ATS record should be in the cards. Over/under total - 5.5 (7-5, 4-4). Take over 5.5 wins at +120.
4) RUTGERS (6-1) - The Scarlet Knights are 15-7 as road underdogs the last seven years.
Offense - Trending steady. The offensive line, which allowed just four sacks last year (23 in 2011), must continue to impress since Savon Huggins averaged almost a full yard less per carry than Jawan Jamison over the last two years. If quarterback Gary Nova can improve his decision making, the offense might not suffer as much as one would think.
Defense - Trending down. The defense allowed seven fewer points per game than in 2011 but gave up more yards per game. With more offensive-minded teams on the schedule this year, combined with the loss of eight of the top 11 tacklers, look for Rutgers to allow at least a touchdown more per game.
Prediction - Rutgers was 9-3 to the under last year. Expect more overs in 2013. Over/under total - 6.5 (7-5, 5-3).
3) UCF (8-1) - The Knights are 15-8 as home favorites the last four years.
Offense - Trending down. Last season, the Knights averaged 39 points per game, 13 more than in 2011. However, the offense gained just 14 more yards per game. A decline in points scored is likely, especially since it is doubtful UCF will score touchdowns on 67 percent of its red zone opportunities as it did a year ago.
Defense - Trending down. Nine of UCF's top 11 tacklers returned last season and the defense ranked No. 1 in scoring. Unfortunately for the Knights, seven of last year's top 10 tacklers are now gone. The defense is counting on a lot of underclassmen, especially in the back seven, where the club lost over 400 tackles from a season ago.
Prediction - UCF has finished below .500 the last two times it won 10 or more games. The Knights should not implode this time around, but they won't come close to 10 wins, either. Over/under total - 8.5 (7-5, 5-3).
2) LOUISVILLE (5-8) - The Cardinals are 9-1 as road underdogs the last three years.
Offense - Trending up. Charlie Strong let quarterback Teddy Bridgewater loose in league play last year as the Cardinals passed the ball 56 percent of the time compared to 41 percent in 2011. The results were outstanding as Louisville led the league in scoring (31 ppg). Expect an even higher output in 2013, particularly with running back Michael Dyer on the scene.
Defense - Trending up. Louisville allowed 28 points per game last year, a seven-point increase from 2011. Still, the Cardinals gave up just 13 more yards per game. With the return of 14 of the top 15 tacklers (only eight of the top 15 came back last year), look for the defensive numbers to improve.
Prediction - Louisville was favored by a touchdown or more just twice in the Big East last year and the Cardinals finished 3-4 ATS in league play. With expectations through the roof, expect more ATS losses in 2013. Over/under total - 10.5 (10-2, 6-2).
1) CINCINNATI (4-1) - The Bearcats are 12-2 ATS in their last 14 games.
Offense - Trending up. The offense could have collapsed last season with the loss of seven starters. Nevertheless, the Bearcats gained more yards and scored more points than the year before. Not only do seven starters return this season, but the hiring of Tommy Tuberville fits this offense much better than the one he led at Texas Tech.
Defense - Trending down. Cincinnati went from No. 1 nationally to 58th in tackles for loss. However, the Bearcats still finished second in the league to Rutgers in scoring, giving up 16 points per game. The defense is trending downward due to the lack of depth in the secondary, which will take its toll against the likes of Louisville, SMU and Houston.
Prediction - The Bearcats powerful offensive attack will lead them to the league title. It also will provide many overs throughout the season. Over/under total - 9.5 (10-2, 6-2). Take Cincinnati at 4-1 odds to win the conference.