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Why Memphis Will Win the AAC in 2024



New defensive coordinator Jordon Hankins looks to improve Memphis' defense in 2024. (Image Credit: Memphis Athletics)

Memphis football has had some lofty expectations for the 2024 season. And rightfully so. Here is why the Tigers should win the American Athletic Conference (AAC).


In 2024, the College Football Playoff will be moving to a 12-team format. One of these 12 teams will be a school from one of the Group-of-Five conferences. The tradition of including a team from a non-Power Five school has been going on since 2014, when the New Year’s Six Bowls were implemented to allow G5 teams to play in premier postseason games. The AAC has represented half of the ten NY6 bowls played in by the G5. In 2019, Memphis lost to Penn State in the Cotton Bowl.

Returning Players

In the age of the transfer portal, players who have stellar seasons for smaller schools are always sought after by the powerhouses of college football. This reality can make it difficult for schools not already at the top to make a run at an NY6 bowl. Luckily for the Tigers, superstar quarterback Seth Henigan and his number one target Roc Taylor both decided to return to Memphis. Say what you will about head coach Ryan Silverfield, but his ability to retain high-end talent is elite.

Recruiting Class

Beginning the cycle with a 23-man high school recruiting class that helps set the Tigers up for future success was the first step in the right direction for Silverfield regarding recruiting for the 2024 season. This class is headlined by four-star receiver Keondre Henry, the fifth-best Tiger recruit of all time. Parlaying the third-best high school recruiting class in the AAC with the best transfer portal class in the conference is Silverfield’s recipe for success. Led by former South Carolina running back Mario Anderson and former Arkansas State linebacker Javante Mackey, this transfer class is the second-best in the Group of Five behind only UNLV.

The Root of the Problem

According to head coach Ryan Silverfield, the Tigers had a successful season. This statement is true to a point. Silverfield’s Tigers won all the games they were supposed to win but lost all the games they were supposed to lose. The main thing holding the Tigers back? The defense. Pro Football Focus gave the Tigers a 75,4 season-long defensive grade, good for 93rd in the country.

Curiously, Mississippi State hired defensive coordinator Matt Barnes to the same job before the Liberty Bowl. In response, Silverfield promoted linebacker coach Jordon Hankins to defensive coordinator for the Tigers’ bowl game. Hankins and his unit put on a clinic against Big 12 competition in Iowa State, allowing zero total rushing yards. Soon after, Memphis promoted him to the Tigers’ defensive coordinator position. This showing gives the Tiger faithful confidence that Memphis football fixed the root of the problem.

State of the AAC

The current trajectory of the American Athletic Conference is not an inspiring one. Reigning champion SMU is off to the ACC. 2023’s runner-up, Tulane, just lost its quarterback and head coach. Third-place finisher UTSA looks to be declining after losing quarterback Frank Harris, paired with disappointing recruiting classes. Fourth-place finisher Memphis looks to be the only team near the top of the conference with continuity where it counts. 

Main Competition

Although AAC runner-up Tulane lost its head coach, the Green Wave’s recruiting class has turned some heads. It began with a flashy pickup of former 5-star quarterback Ty Thompson. Tulane has also grabbed two stud wide receivers, Mario Williams and Shazz Preston. New head coach Jon Sumrall brought Troy to back-to-back double-digit win seasons.

South Florida is another AAC counterpart who has a chance at the conference title. Coming off a huge bowl win against Syracuse, the Bulls have been predicted by 247Sports Brad Crawford to represent the G5 in the College Football Playoff. Stud-rising sophomore quarterback Byrum Brown has an argument as the second-best QB in the conference behind Memphis’ Seth Henigan. Former Tennessee offensive coordinator and QB whisperer Alex Golesh leads the Bulls.

Seemingly, the only other competition for the Tigers is UTSA. Surprisingly, they hung onto head coach Jeff Traylor but still lost a lot of talent. How do they replace that lost talent? The 10th-ranked recruiting class in the conference. The Roadrunners’ starting QB in 2024 is none other than Owen McCown. McCown’s father is longtime NFL veteran Josh McCown.

The Tigers should win the AAC. If they do, they have an excellent shot at being the G5 representative in the inaugural season of the expanded College Football Playoff.