Change is coming in Year 2 of the American Athletic Conference. Gone are Louisville (to the ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) and joining the conference, pushing it to 14 teams, are East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa from Conference USA. And a year after seeing now-familiar names such as Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater tear up defenses, the top-four passers are gone. But there are some exciting young names under center as well as a steady crop of veteran receivers that will emerge as the AAC tries to prove it can continue to hang with the "Power Five" conferences.
Top-5 FANTASY STARS
1. Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina
While the AAC lost its top quarterback talent to the NFL this offseason, it gained a big replacement with the addition of Carden and ECU. Carden, Conference USA's 2013 MVP, completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 4,139 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. And while he isn't the most dynamic threat on the ground, he did break into the endzone for 10 rushing scores. The ECU Air Raid offense averaged more than 40 passing attempts per game, and the Pirates return a deep and talented wide receiver corps led by Justin Hardy.
2. Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston
One of the nation's top receivers, the 6-foot-3 Greenberry is both a red-zone threat and a deep threat. In 11 full games last season, he averaged nearly 110 yards per game and scored 11 touchdowns. And he did that with a freshman quarterback in John O'Korn. This season, O'Korn and Greenberry could be the conference's best QB-WR combo in an offense that once again will rely on a potent passing attack.
3. Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina
Hardy has posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and last year ranked third in the nation with 114 receptions. With QB Shane Carden back, he should remain the primary playmaker in a pass-heavy attack. The Pirates are deep at receiver and spread the ball around, but the Air Raid offense throws so many passes that Hardy should again have plenty of opportunities to post big numbers.
4. Rannell Hall and J.J. Worton, WR, Central Florida
Hall and Worton are the Knights' leading receivers from last season and form one of the AAC's top receiving tandems. They totaled 104 receptions, 1,607 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Sharing targets isn't ideal, but it also helps each get single coverage as defenses can't key on one without being burned by the other. Neither is likely to post 1,000 yards, but 800 or so and 5-7 scores is plenty useful.
5. John O'Korn, QB, Houston
Southeast Texas might have a new Johnny Football. OK, O'Korn won't post Johnny Manziel numbers or generate the same national intrigue, but he had a solid freshman campaign, throwing nearly three times as many touchdowns (28) as interceptions (10). O'Korn should make strides in year two with the confidence that comes with entering the year as the starter (he also attended the Manning Passing Academy this summer). What's more, O'Korn gets to throw to standout receiver Deontay Greenberry once again, which should help him post consistent numbers.
Geremy Davis, WR, UConn
Last season, Davis topped 1,000 yards despite a quarterback roulette that saw three signal-callers each throw more than 100 passes. Davis had his best success with Casey Cochran at the helm, totaling nearly half his yardage and all three of his touchdowns in Cochran's four games. Cochran is the starter this season, giving Davis an opportunity for more consistent production. At 6-3, 216, Davis could be a good red-zone target, though touchdowns may come at a premium in a less than dynamic offense.
Shaquille Washington, WR, Cincinnati
Washington had one catch in the season opener last year but soon established himself as a go-to target for the Bearcats. But while he led the team in receptions (78), he only scored one touchdown. At an undersized at 5-9, 174, he's not much of a red-zone target, but even if his touchdowns don't increase dramatically, he could significantly increase his receptions and yards as Anthony McClung (72-939-5) is gone.
Breon Allen, RB, East Carolina
Allen takes over for Vintavious Cooper, who not only led the team in rushing with 1,193 yards and 13 touchdowns but also was the team's third-leading receiver with 44 receptions for 412 yards and a score last season. Allen averaged 5.0 yards per carry last season and also had a 51-yard reception. He should have plenty of opportunities to rack up yards and find the endzone for the Pirates this season.
Justin Holman/Nick Patti/Tyler Harris/Pete DiNova, QB, Central Florida
It's uncertain which quarterback will take snaps at Central Florida this season, but whoever wins the competition to be Blake Bortles' successor will have a solid group of receivers to target in a dynamic offense. It's not worth the risk to draft one before the starter is named, but once a decision is made, the UCF QB will be a good free-agent pickup.
D'Earnest Johnson, RB, South Florida
The true freshman wasn't listed on the initial depth chart Bulls coach Willie Taggert released, but with a severe lack of experience at running back, it might hard to keep the highly touted Johnson off the field. The most experienced Bulls running back, Michael Pierre, averaged just 2.8 yards per carry last season, so if Johnson impresses in training camp, he could easily figure into the backfield rotation.
P.J. Walker, QB, Temple
The dual-threat Walker threw for multiple touchdowns in six of the final eight games of his freshman year last season, but his 20:8 TD:INT ratio left room to be desired. Walker will no doubt be involved in most of the Owls' scoring this season, but he lost two of his top three pass-catchers from last season, and while he is a threat on the ground, he'll find room harder to come by as defense key on him.
Gunner Kiel, QB, Cincinnati
Kiel enters his first season as starter with the fanfare of a former 5-star recruit who's been giving the keys to the AAC's preseason favorite. But many questions surround Kiel, who hasn't played in a competitive football game in three years. And Kiel will have to hold off Muchie Legaux, who is determined to win back his spot following a knee injury early last season.
William Stanback, RB, Central Florida
Stanback steps into the lead role as the only back on the Knights' roster with much experience. He scored six touchdowns last season, but as Storm Johnson's backup he saw only double-digit carries in three games and topped 50 yards rushing just three times. Johnson leaves behind both rushing (213-1,149-14) and receiving (30-260-3) production for Stanback to fill, but Stanback has much to prove.
Chris Moore, WR, Cincinnati
Moore jumped from four receptions his freshman year to 45 as a sophomore when he finished as the team's third-leading receiver. Moore has to deal with the uncertainty of Gunner Kiel at quarterback this season, and while he will be a primary target, he'll still face competition from Shaq Washington for receptions. It will hard for him to replicate last season when he scored on a fifth of his catches.
Casey Cochran, QB, UConn
Despite playing in only parts of eight games as a freshman last season, Cochran posted the fifth-best passer rating in the AAC among qualified quarterbacks. But Cochran, who is still fighting to establish himself as the No. 1 QB, also lost three-time leading rusher Lyle McCombs, who was dismissed, putting more pressure on the youngster's shoulders as UConn fights for relevance.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Overall position ranking in parenthesis.
Central Florida Knights
RB William Stanback (27)
WR Chris Moore (39)
WR Geremy Davis (38)
East Carolina Pirates
QB Shane Carden (6), WR Justin Hardy (17), K Warren Harvey (12)
WR Deontay Greenberry (2), K Kyle Bullard (7)
South Florida Bulls
P.J. Walker (23)
Tulane Green Wave
Tulsa Golden Hurricane