2023 College Fantasy Football AAC Preview

American Athletic Conference

by Corey Pieper
2023 College Fantasy Football AAC Preview

Welcome to the 2023 College Fantasy Football AAC Preview!

If you haven't had a chance to try out a College Fantasy Football league (CFF), you're missing out. It adds excitement and anticipation to a weekend of watching football with fantasy also in mind. Actually, by the second half of the college football season, you can begin paying special attention to your fantasy players as the progression to bowl games and the National Football League (NFL) Draft grows ever nearer. You can beam with pride as one of "your guys" makes it big! With that in mind, why doesn't everyone play College Fantasy Football in 2023?

One hindrance to applying for a CFF league is the sheer size of the player pool. It's an understandable concern. This season there are 133 teams in the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision. That's almost four times as many teams as are in in the NFL. That means, of course, that anyone interested in playing fantasy football, and being successful, must have a vast knowledge of many college players!

That's the goal of these season previews to help you gain some player insight. One way that commissioners cut down on the intimidation of the player pool is to choose a conference specific league which drops the player pool to a more typical number. Each preview article will focus on a different conference and each team within the conference to find a fantasy option from each of the teams. Give CFF a try this year, and I think you'll be as hooked as I am!

No time to waste, let's get to the American Athletic Conference.

2023 College Fantasy Football AAC Preview

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Shadrick Byrd, RB, Charlotte 49ers

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Charlotte was one of the worst teams in all of college football last season so the administration pressed the reset button hiring a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, and a new defensive coordinator. Biff Poggi is taking over as the new head coach.

I believe the new staff will lean on their most talented offensive player to ease the transition. Shadrick Byrd was once an Iowa running back commit who has put together two very similar seasons without much volume as far as carries. Did I mention that Poggi has been with Michigan the past couple of years where they averaged over 40 carries per game last season according to sports-reference.com. If Byrd can get 200 carries, he can get to 1,000 rushing yards.

Marlon Gunn, RB, East Carolina Pirates

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Keaton Mitchell wasn't selected in the NFL Draft, but did get signed as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell has put together back-to-back seasons over 1,000 yards rushing including over 1,400 yards last season and 14 touchdowns. Mitchell is a rare talent with incredible speed so I wouldn't expect Gunn to replicate those numbers. However, that doesn't mean that he can't be usable though in the right matchups against some lesser AAC defenses.

Lajohntay Wester, WR, Florida Atlantic Owls

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Florida Atlantic has a new coach this season in Tom Herman who you most likely remember from his time with the Texas Longhorns. The team is also going to have a new quarterback this season.

The most likely quarterback option is Central Michigan transfer Daniel Richardson.  Last year, Wester was very erratic with some boom games and some games where he barely touched the ball.  I'm hoping that changes this year as the new regime decides to focus upon and feed their best playmaker.

Seth Henigan, QB, Memphis Tigers

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Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan has put together two very consistent, if unspectacular, seasons. In the first season, he had 25 total touchdowns and eight interceptions. He then followed up with 26 total touchdowns and eight interceptions. He finished last season as a top-50 quarterback off of those numbers.

It's unlikely to see Henigan take a big leap up the standings. He's more likely to be someone that you use at quarterback in the right matchups than someone you want to rely upon on a weekly basis.

Tai Lavatai, QB, Navy Midshipmen

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Navy has a new head coach this season in Brian Newberry who is replacing Ken Niumatalolo, the winningest coach in Navy history. More importantly, in a fantasy sense, is the team's new offensive coordinator is Grant Chestnut who is coming from Kennesaw State where the offense racked up impressive numbers.

Will it mean instant returns on a late investment in any Navy skill position player? It's very unlikely. I expect a slow transition as the team moves from the triple-option offense of past years to a more spread-option approach.

Even in the deepest of leagues, it is likely you will pass on all Midshipmen this year for fantasy football. If you want to take a chance, draft Tai Lavatai very late and hope the offense translates quicker than expected.

Ikaika Ragsdale, RB, North Texas Mean Green

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North Texas actually has three running backs who are all interesting for CFF leagues-Ikaika Ragsdale, Ayo Adeyi, and Oscar Adaway III. Last season, all of them had been between 112 and 142 carries.  Because they split the carries, they also split the yards with the three having 807 (Adeyi), 755 (Ragsdale), and 583 (Adaway III) yards.  If any one of them were ever to get the full run, they would likely become a must-roster player. However, the way it stands now it's mostly a wait-and-see approach that makes the most sense with the Mean Green.

Luke McCaffrey, WR, Rice Owls

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You may have heard of his older brother, Christian McCaffrey.  Luke himself is a former 4-star quarterback prospect who originally committed to Nebraska as a quarterback.  It was a struggle at Nebraska which eventually led him to transfer to the Group of 5 level program, Rice University.  McCaffrey transitioned to wide receiver from quarterback and found immediate success. Last season, his first as a receiver, he had 58 receptions for 723 yards and six touchdowns through the air with just under 150 yards rushing and another touchdown as well.  McCaffrey will be looking to repeat those numbers with former 5-star quarterback JT Daniels now at the quarterback position.

Byrum Brown, QB, South Florida Bulls

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Yet another team with a new head coach this season.  This will be Alex Golesh's first head coaching position after serving as offensive coordinator for a record-breaking Tennessee offense.  It is a transition to monitor for college fantasy football purposes.  There is a competition at quarterback between former Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon and Byrum Brown.  Personally, I like Byrum Brown to win the job and use his position for fantasy usefulness.  He showed his rushing ability the last couple of games last season with 185 rushing yards. Couple that rushing ability with a fast-paced offense, like we saw at Tennessee, and it could be a recipe for fantasy gold.

Jordan Kerley, WR, SMU Mustangs

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SMU consistently has had one of the better offenses in the AAC.  There will be a new quarterback under center in Preston Stone. However, I wouldn't expect the offensive aptitude of SMU to change this season. Stone is certainly a CFF option, but the player I am going to highlight for fantasy is wide receiver Jeremy Kerley.  Kerley finished second on the team last year in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.  First in all of those categories was Rashee Rice who has since moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs.  Rice vacates 96 receptions, 1,355 yards, and 10 touchdowns.  I'm not sure that Kerley will replicate those numbers. But, I also wouldn't be surprised if he did.

EJ Warner, QB, Temple Owls

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EJ Warner certainly has bloodlines working for him as his father is NFL Hall of Fame Kurt Warner. EJ Warner looks to be carving his own path and had a nice freshman season in the process.  Warner won the AAC Rookie of the Year last year after taking over quarterbacking duties midseason. He came on strongest at the end too!  In just the last four games, he threw for over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns!  You can't expect that pace to continue, but I do expect usable weeks from Warner throughout the season.

Frank Harris, QB, UTSA Roadrunners

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UTSA is the Holy Grail of fantasy goodness if you're looking in the AAC.  Recommending just one is very hard because there are a minimum of four different players that should be rostered in all college fantasy football leagues-quarterback Frank Harris, running back Kevorian Barnes, and wide receivers Joshua Cephus and De'Corian Clark.  (At the time I'm writing this, their most prominent wide receiver, Zakhari Franklin, is in the transfer portal).

I'm going to focus on Frank Harris as he is the quarterback of the prolific offense.  Harris is a prominent passer and runner of the football which allowed him to finish as QB5 last season in all of college football.  He finished the season with over 4,600 total yards and over 40 touchdowns.  UTSA had a top 20 offense last season in both points and yards per game.  Even if Franklin leaves in the portal, I don't expect the offense to take a considerable step back this season.  All systems go for the Roadrunners in college fantasy football!

Michael Pratt, QB, Tulane Green Wave

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Tyjae Spears was recently selected on the second draft of the NFL draft coming out of Tulane.  He wasn't the only offensive talent on the Green Wave though.  Quarterback Michael Pratt is also an NFL prospect who happened to finish 13th in fantasy points among quarterbacks in six point per passing touchdown leagues (8th among those still in college football) last season.  Between passing and rushing last season, Pratt combined for 37 TD.  Without Spears around, I would expect Pratt to be an even bigger focus of the Green Wave offense and finish the year as a top 10 quarterback in all of college football.

Braylon Braxton, QB, Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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Kevin Wilson is taking over as Head Coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Previously, he was the offensive coordinator of the prominent Ohio State offense the past six seasons. Braylon Braxton took over as starter when an injury befell starter Davis Brin last season. Brin has since transferred to Georgia Southern so the job is all Braxton's. Braxton has proven both a capable passer and rusher. In the last game of the year, against a good Houston team, he led the Golden Hurricane to victory with a four touchdown performance.

Jermaine Brown Jr., RB, UAB Blazers

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Talk to any experienced CFF player and they'll talk about systems. That's because there is so much roster turnover each season that we look for consistency in positions on teams. Last year, Dewayne McBride led the nation in rushing yards and finished second in rushing touchdowns in all of college football.  Jermaine Brown is likely to step into that vacated role after going over 1,000 total yards himself last season between rushing and receiving.  The biggest difference is the body type that Brown Jr. offers compared to McBride.  McBride was a thickly built 215 pounds. Brown Jr. is more likely in the 185 pound range.  It means that Brown Jr. is unlikely to replicate the rushing volume that McBride was given.  However, he may still do enough to be someone to use often in college fantasy football.

Be on the lookout for more College Fantasy Football content in the coming days!

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