All in all UCF had a pretty good season. Going from 0-12 to 6-6, and a bowl game, was no small feat for new head coach Scott Frost. UCF won the games they were supposed to win, and lost the ones they were supposed to lose. Three of those losses were nail biters to the end against eventual eventual AAC Champs Temple, Greg Ward's Houston Cougars, and Big 10 Maryland. These close losses turned a great debut season into a good debut season for Coach Frost.
UCF's freshman QB McKenzie Milton played well in spurts, but lacked consistency, and did not solidify a starting position for 2017. Coach Frost currently has two highly recruited dual threat QB commitments that will give Milton some tough competition to start next season. He also has the number 2 ranked recruiting class in the AAC waiting in the wings to be signed for next season. This is not a done deal with newly arrived high profile coaches like Lane Kiffin (FAU), Charlie Strong (USF), and Butch Davis (FIU) frantically poaching Florida high schools recruits for their new teams.
UCF needs to drastically improve its running game if it wants to return to the top tier of the AAC. Frost's zone read offense was pretty well dissected by opposing defenses this season. The version of Chip Kelly's offense that Frost brought to UCF from Oregon is no longer a mystery to defenses. In the beginning even a sloppily executed read option offense could befuddle a unfamiliar defense. Now it must be executed to perfection for it to work effectively.
One option is for Frost to reach back to his wishbone roots at Nebraska. Scott Frost won the national championship at Nebraska running Tom Osborne's wishbone offense. The wishbone was understood by defenses decades ago, but still won multiple national championships during its heyday, because of its run game advantages. Ga Tech is still beating SEC teams, going 3-0 this season against SEC bowl teams, using Paul Johnson's flexbone version of the wishbone. Navy won the AAC West beating 6 bowl teams plus Notre Dame using the wishbone.
Forward thinking coaches like Frost should realize the future may reside in the past.
Temple, Tulsa, and Navy control the AAC race by virtue of destiny remaining in their own hands. If any of these teams win all their remaining conference games they will be AAC Division Champions. AAC East leader Temple (4-1) has the easiest path having already beaten co-leader South Florida (4-1), with final games against struggling teams with losing records. AAC West leaders Tulsa (3-1) and Navy (4-1) play each other November 12th at Navy. If both teams still have only one conference blemish on game day this one will be for sole possession of the top spot in the AAC West. Tulsa must also deal with two scrappy 4-4 teams in UCF and Cincinnati, and a lackluster ECU (3-5) on way to the AAC Championship game. Navy has conference games remaining against ECU, and a surprisingly resurgent SMU team. None of these teams are a lock, but they are masters of their own fate.
1. Mike Norvell, Memphis (5-1) - Currently sitting at the top of the class is former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. Mike inherited a Memphis team that finished 3rd in the AAC West, losing 3 conference games, and their bowl game. Not bad considering those losses came against Top 25 teams Houston, and Navy, and AAC East Champion Temple. Coach Norvell faces a similar situation with a road game match up against #25 Navy this week, and upcoming games against #11 Houston, and AAC East leading South Florida. Many expected Memphis to struggle this season due to the loss of QB Paxton Lynch to the Denver Broncos, but that is not the case. Surprisingly Norvell has made them better, especially on defense. Memphis is still lighting up the scoreboard with 241 points scored, but the surprise is they have held their opponents to only 116 points. Much of the turnaround can be attributed to defensive coordinator Chris Ball who has a long track record of success, but give coach Norvell credit for stealing him away from ASU. Norvell was plucked from the coaching tree of the read option innovator himself Rich Rodriguez. His schemes are time tested for smaller faster programs like Memphis to compete against larger programs like Houston. The final chapter has yet to be written on the Tigers 2016 season, but Mike Norvell's introduction has been a big success.
2. Scott Frost, UCF (3-3) - Normally a 3-3 record would get yawns on the coaching meter, but Scott Frost inherited a 0-12 UCF program that had lost its winning ways. UCF had gone from back to back AAC Champions to arguably the worst team in college football, with statistics to back up that claim. UCF had plenty of talent with the most highly recruited players in program history on their roster. What they lacked were coaches with as much talent as the players. Enter former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Coach Frost was already very familiar with the abundance of high school talent surrounding UCF having recruited the state for Oregon. In two months he put together the best recruiting class in program history. Then he installed a potent Oregon offense to maximize the speedy talent he recruited and inherited. But most of all he changed the players mentality from downtrodden to optimistic. Frost's first six games have been a mixed bag of blowout wins, close losses, and one beat down. His three wins were of the blowout variety against teams with losing records. His close losses were of the heartbreak variety. His beat down came at the hands of #3 Michigan on the road. This is a respectable result at the halfway point for a 0-12 team learning to win again with a first time head coach.
3. Seth Littrell, North Texas (3-3) Another team pulling themselves up from the abyss with first time head coach Seth Littrell is North Texas. North Texas ended their inglorious 2015 season at 1-11 looking for a new head coach. For those who don't know the Mike Leach coaching tree Seth Littrell was a off the radar surprise. For those who do it was a slam dunk hire sure to ignite the afterburners of the Air Raid offense. Coach Littrell was fresh off a remarkable turnaround of a stagnant North Carolina offense as assistant head coach when he arrived at UNT. One of his first hires was former Texas Tech QB superstar Graham Harrell who he worked with as running backs coach under head coach Mike Leach. Harrell was working with Leach helping turn Washington State around when he received the SOS from Littrell to become offensive coordinator. Another smart hire was Power 5 veteran coach Mike Ekeler as defensive coordinator. After Georgia shot themselves in the foot firing Mark Richt and staff, Coach Littrell was smart to quickly to take Coach Ekeler off the market. Littrell is currently recruiting hard for the future, recently picking up a hard commit from 6-4 221 dual threat QB Delvin Isadore. Delvin was recently awarded Top Performer at a TCU camp last June. Now there is just way to much brain power at North Texas for them not to become a perennial contender in CUSA.