Houston’s Ed Oliver, UCF’s McKenzie Milton Top List Of Best Players In AAC
It’s too bad that Houston and UCF do not play each other in the regular season. If they meet on the gridiron in 2018 it would be in the American Athletic Conference championship game. What a game it would be as two what might be more than dark-horse Heisman candidates, the Cougars’ Ed Oliver and the Knights’ McKenzie Milton, go up against one another.
It would be a marquee matchup if there if ever was for the AAC with the powerful and quick Oliver, the potential No. 1 NFL pick in next year’s draft, looking to spend all afternoon in Milton’s kitchen. Then there is Milton, who dazzled in totaling 45 touchdowns as the poster boy of UCF’s undefeated 2017.
It would be must-see TV, for sure. Oliver and Milton head into this season among the best players in college football with the former arguably heading up the list. They are unquestionably the best in the AAC. As such, they reside atop this list of the conference’s top 10 players.
1. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
The junior is one of college football’s elite players and a defender who could procure a few Heisman votes before he leaves for the NFL after this season, something he already said he would do. Oliver piled up 39.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons with the Cougars, including 23 as a freshman in 2016. He fought through double- and triple-team blocking to record 16.5 last year, including 5.5 sacks. At 6-foot-3 and 290-pounds he is an amazing athletic specimen while producing such eye-opening numbers at tackle. Oliver was last year’s Outland Trophy (nation’s top interior lineman) winner and became the first sophomore to win the award since its inception in 1946.
2. McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF
The only quarterback to produce a higher pass efficiency rating than Milton last season was Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. Speaking of the Heisman, Milton finished eighth (four first-place votes) and certainly will work his way up in the voting should he have a season resembling last year when he totaled more than 4,600 yards (4,037 passing) and 45 touchdowns in leading the undefeated Knights. The 5-foot-11 Hawaii native stepped up big time in the regular-season finale against “War on I-4” rival USF and the following week in the AAC championship versus Memphis by combining for a remarkable 991 yards and 11 touchdowns. Five times last season Milton completed at least 70 percent of his passes.
3. Malcolm Perry, QB, Navy
While the Midshipmen came up on the short end of the scoreboard, Perry’s performance in piling up 250 rushing yards in heavy snow against rival Army last season was quite a sight to see. With or without Mother Nature’s fury such performances might be the norm this season as Perry takes over as the starting quarterback with Zach Abey moving to receiver. Perry did start three of Navy’s final four games at QB last season and ran for 646 yards and seven touchdowns in those contests. Prior to moving under center, the 5-foot-9 junior lined up at slotback and finished the season with 1,182 yards and 11 TDs while averaging 8.6 yards per attempt to rank third nationally. Perry also returned 13 kicks for an average of 24.5 yards and averaged 23.3 yards on 13 receptions. Hence, don’t be surprised to see him on the receiving end of occasional trcikery emerging for the Navy’s triple-option.
4. Tony Pollard, WR/KR, Memphis
Thanks in large part to his four kick returns for touchdowns, which tied for the most nationally, Pollard led the country last season by a wide margin with an average of 40.0 yards per return. Take away his four TDs and he still averaged 27 yards per return, a figure that itself would have placed him second in the conference. While it might be asking too much to post such prodigious numbers in the return game again this season, especially with teams attempting to kick away from him, Tigers fans will see more of the junior at receiver. With Anthony Miller departed to the NFL, Pollard becomes the go-to target for the new QB, either Arizona transfer Brady White or David Moore, last year’s backup to Riley Ferguson. Last season Pollard was second to Miller in receptions (36), yards (536) and TDs (4) while also rushing for 230 yards (7.7 ypc) and a pair of scores.
5. Jordan Johnson, OL, UCF
The Knights offense generated plenty of headlines during their undefeated 2017 season. Though Johnson’s name was not often found within the bold type his performance at center on what was a very much improved offense line was deserving of much attention. The anchor on what should again be a strong line despite the loss of three starters, Johnson made the move from guard prior to last season and went on to earn First Team All-AAC honors as a sophomore. The nimble 6-foot-2 and 320-pounder adds to impressive team speed by his ability to explode off the line and get down field.
6. Trevon Tate, OL, Memphis
The fifth-year senior started all 13 games last season at left tackle and was a big reason why the Tigers’ number of sacks allowed dropped to 21 from 35 in 2016. With Riley Ferguson having departed, Tate’s experience and ability will be all the more critical this season as Memphis breaks in a new quarterback. The 6-foot-4 and 280-pounder was on the field for 96 percent of the offense’s snaps last season and was named a first-team all-conference member. A versatile lineman, Tate has experience at right tackle where he became a starter late in the 2015 season before ultimately settling in on the blind side. He has 34 career starts.
7. Delvon Randall, S, Temple
It was quite an off-season for Randall as he was named to the Nagurski, Bednarik and Thorpe Award watch lists while The Sporting News tabbed the senior as a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. All that should come as no surprise, though, considering he fought through ankle and knee injuries last season to lead the Owls in interceptions (4) while placing second in tackles (80) and earning AAC first-team honors. The 6-foot-1 and 216-pound Pittsburgh native, who also had 6.5 tackles for loss last season, earned a starting role as a sophomore in 2016 when he ranked third in the conference with six takeaways.
8. T.J. Carter, CB, Memphis
What a debut it was last season for Carter, who started all 13 games as a true freshman, was named the conference’s rookie of the year and also copped second-team honors. He tied for second in the AAC with five interceptions, a school record for freshmen, and tied for third with 11 pass breakups. His 16 passes defensed led the conference while his per game average was second. Throw in a couple of fumble recoveries and it is easy to see how there were not many footballs that Carter wasn’t around. He also placed fifth on the team in tackles with 69.
9. Greg Reaves, DE, USF
Reaves is a nice story. He was a walk-on 2015, a year in which he performed admirably on the scout team. His effort earned him some playing time (eight games) in 2016. It was during last year’s fall camp that he was awarded a scholarship. Reaves then exploded on the scene by leading the team and finishing sixth in the conference with 14 tackles for loss. He also recorded four sacks and broke up three passes and was key in what was a dramatically improved defense from that of 2016. With Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector having moved on, Reaves is the unquestioned leader up front if not the entire defense.
10. Jordan Wyatt, S, SMU
In 34 career games (31 starts) Wyatt has 10 interceptions and eight forced fumbles. In addition to his knack for being around the ball he does some special things when he gets his hands on it. Last season the senior returned a pair of picks and one fumble for touchdowns giving him five career TDs. His 165 yards on interception returns were fourth in the country. Wyatt also broke up 10 passes and registered 49 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. Wyatt is back in action at preseason camp after missing the last two games of 2017 and undergoing surgeries for a torn ACL and a torn labrum.