American Athletic Conference college football preview: Projections, burning questions, favorite players for top teams

The American Athletic Conference is the gold standard for what in basketball might be called the mid-major conferences. The league has generally been in a limbo of sorts, closer to the bottom of the Power 5 conferences than to the other Group of 5 leagues, and that will likely be the case again in 2022 before conference realignment ends an era.

In 2023, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston, three of the four teams that have represented the league in a New Year's Six bowl or the College Football Playoff, will head to the Big 12 and will be replaced by six teams from Conference USA (Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, UTSA, Rice and UAB). It was a quantity-over-known-quality move, and we'll see if it pays off. No matter what, the complexion of the AAC will change.

But we can wait until 2023 to talk about that. For one more go-round, we get to watch Cincinnati, Houston and potentially UCF square off for the AAC crown. Can Luke Fickell and Cincinnati maintain their dominance? Is this Houston's moment? Can a team like SMU or Memphis make a charge? Let's find out as we look at the top five teams in the conference.

Every week through the offseason, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 131 FBS teams. The previews will include 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for each team.

Earlier previews: American, Nos. 6-11 | MWC West | MWC Mountain