Photo courtesy of Houston athletics
With the season being over for each of the American Athletic Conference teams, it’s a great time to reflect on the football season that was.
There are nine end-of-season award winners and 135 total all-conference spots, so without further ado:
COACH OF THE YEAR: LUKE FICKELL (CINCINNATI)
For the second consecutive season, Cincinnati went undefeated in the regular season and won the conference. As impressive as that is, and it’s obviously very impressive, that isn’t the reason that Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell is our Coach of the Year.
Coach Fickell is our Coach of the Year because he coached the first Group of 5 team to make the College Football Playoff. That’s an accomplishment that many – including us – said couldn’t be done.
CO-OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DESMOND RIDDER (QB, CINCINNATI)
It was too hard to just pick one Offensive player of the Year due to the seasons that Desmond Ridder and Nathaniel Dell had. Ridder had an impressive season that saw him lead the AAC in passer efficiency rating and pass yards per attempt – both standard and adjusted. And of course, it’s hard not to include the quarterback of the first Group of 5 program to make the College Football Playoff.
CO-OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: NATHANIEL DELL (WR, HOUSTON)
Nathaniel Dell led the conference with 90 receptions, 1,329 receiving yards, and 12 receiving touchdowns. The last American receiver to have as many receptions and receiving touchdowns as Dell was James Proche of SMU in 2019, and the last American receiver to have as many receiving yards as Dell was Anthony Miller of Memphis in 2017. In short, his production this season should have him on every offensive watch list ahead of next year.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: SAUCE GARDNER (CB, CINCINNATI)
Many have Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner as their No. 1 cornerback ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft, and understandably so. In putting this together, there was no award easier to select than Gardner as our AAC Defensive Player of the Year.
He did not allow a receiving touchdown in coverage — a crazy statistic when considering that he’s been a three-year starter for the Bearcats. That’s 1,124 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Gardner also added a new pressure component to his game this season, notching five tackles for loss and three sacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: MARCUS JONES (CB, HOUSTON)
Marcus Jones was one of, if not, the most explosive football players with a ball in his hands this past season.
This season, Jones led the American and the country in punt return touchdowns. He also led the American in yards per punt return. Jones matched his two punt return touchdowns with two kick return touchdowns and a 34-yard kick return average.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: TANNER MORDECAI (QB, SMU)
Tanner Mordecai built off of the solid quarterback play that SMU experienced with Shane Buechele. The Oklahoma transfer posted an impressive stat line: 67.8% completion percentage, 3,628 passing yards, and 39 passing touchdowns.
Mordecai has already announced he will be returning to SMU for the 2022 season. The quarterback battle between Mordecai and 4-star redshirt freshman Preston Stone will be one to watch between now and Sept. 3.
TRUE FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: ALTON MCCASKILL (RB, HOUSTON)
Alton McCaskill was a dynamic runner, posting at least one rush of 20 or more yards in nine games. He was explosive, and also did a great job at finding the end zone. McCaskill posted 16 rushing touchdowns — good for second in The American.
Cougars fans should be excited that he has three more seasons of eligibility, but we’re pretty sure he might only use two of them before he’s playing on Sundays.
OFFENSIVE MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: NATHANIEL DELL (WR, HOUSTON)
For a Houston team that went 3-5 in 2020, Nathaniel Dell’s explosion is a big reason why Houston improved to 12-2 this season. Alton McCaskill deserves a ton of credit too, but Dell’s production was unmatched by anyone in the conference.
We already covered why he’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year, but factor in that he more than tripled his production in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns from last season, and his choice as our Offensive Most Improved Player makes sense.
DEFENSIVE MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: BRYAN COOK (S, CINCINNATI)
This one could’ve gone to a number of players. Ultimately, we settled on Bryan Cook.
Having transferred to Cincinnati from Howard after the 2018 season, Cook made his first start as a Bearcat in the Peach Bowl to close the 2020 season after having spent the bulk of that season as a third safety behind current NFL players Darrick Forest and James Wiggins. Having patiently waited, Cook earned the starting role this season and took off with it.
Despite having had only made one start coming into this season, he had a battle-tested stat line of 96 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, nine pass deflections, and no touchdowns allowed out of the 36 times his receiver was targeted.
ALL CONFERENCE TEAMS:
|First Team||Second Team||Third Team||Honorable Mention||Honorable Mention|
|QB||Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)||Tanner Mordecai (SMU)||Clayton Tune (Houston)||Seth Henigan (Memphis)||Holton Ahlers (East Carolina)|
|RB||Jerome Ford (Cincinnati)||Alton McCaskill (Houston)||Shamari Brooks (Tulsa)||Ulysses Bentley IV (SMU)||Anthony Watkins (Tulsa)|
|RB||Keaton Mitchell (East Carolina)||Tyjae Spears (Tulane)||Jaren Mangham (South Florida)||Johnny Richardson (UCF)||Tre Siggers (SMU)|
|WR||Nathaniel Dell (Houston)||Josh Johnson (Tulsa)||Ryan O’Keefe (UCF)||Reggie Roberson Jr. (SMU)||Brandon Johnson (UCF)|
|WR||Calvin Austin III (Memphis)||Tyler Snead (East Carolina)||Rashee Rice (SMU)||Sam Crawford Jr. (Tulsa)||CJ Johnson (East Carolina)|
|WR||Alec Pierce (Cincinnati)||Danny Gray (SMU)||Xavier Weaver (South Florida)||JuanCarlos Santana (Tulsa)||Tyler Scott (Cincinnati)|
|TE||Sean Dykes (Memphis)||Grant Calcaterra (SMU)||Christian Trahan (Houston)||Tyrick James (Tulane)||Ryan Jones (East Carolina)|
|OT||Tyler Smith (Tulsa)||Kip Franklin (Navy)||Michael Niese (Temple)||Isaac Moore (Temple)||Marcus Bryant (SMU)|
|OT||Patrick Paul (Houston)||Dennis Bardwell (Houston)||Marcus Tatum (UCF)||Dylan O’Quinn (Cincinnati)||Donovan Jennings (South Florida)|
|OG||Dylan Parham (Memphis)||Lorenz Metz (Cincinnati)||Cam’Ron Johnson (Houston)||Cole Schneider (UCF)||Lirion Murtezi (Navy)|
|OG||Hayden Howerton (SMU)||Joshua Pena (Navy)||Jeremy Cooper (Cincinnati)||Corey Dublin (Tulane)||Fernando Frye (East Carolina)|
|C||Sincere Haynesworth (Tulane)||Matthew Lee (UCF)||Kody Russey (Houston)||Alan Ali (SMU)||Jake Renfro (Cincinnati)|
|DE||Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati)||Anthony Goodlow (Tulsa)||Derek Parish (Houston)||D’Anthony Jones (Houston)||Nelson Ceasar (Houston)|
|DE||Big Kat Bryant (UCF)||David Anenih (Houston)||Turner Coxe (SMU)||Darius Hodges (Tulane)||Wardalis Ducksworth (Memphis)|
|DT||Elijah Chatman (SMU)||Curtis Brooks (Cincinnati)||Tyarise Stevenson (Tulsa)||Atlias Bell (Houston)||Will Jones (SMU)|
|DT||Jaxon Player (Tulsa)||Logan Hall (Houston)||DeVere Levelston (SMU)||John Tate IV (Memphis)||Elijah Morris (East Carolina)|
|LB||Darian Beavers (Cincinnati)||Delano Robinson (SMU)||Jimmy Phillips Jr. (SMU)||Antonio Grier (South Florida)||Justin Wright (Tulsa)|
|LB||Joel Dublanko (Cincinnati)||Donovan Mutin (Houston)||Ty Van Fossen (Cincinnati)||Deshawn Pace (Cincinnati)||Grant Sawyer (Tulsa)|
|LB||JJ Russell (Memphis)||Tatum Bethune (UCF)||Diego Fagot (Navy)||Nick Anderson (Tulane)||Xavier Cullens (Memphis)|
|CB||Sauce Gardner (Cincinnati)||Marcus Jones (Houston)||Corey Thornton (UCF)||Travon Fuller (Tulsa)||Jacobi Francis (Memphis)|
|CB||Coby Bryant (Cincinnati)||Davonte Brown (UCF)||Michael McMorris (Navy)||Cameron Ruiz (Temple)||TieNeal Martin (Tulsa)|
|CB||Ja’Quan McMillian (East Carolina)||Damarion Williams (Houston)||Malik Fleming (East Carolina)||Alex Hogan (Houston)||Ty Mason (Temple)|
|S||Bryan Cook (Cincinnati)||Rodney Owens (Memphis)||Gervarrius Owens (Houston)||Jireh Wilson (East Carolina)||Jaise Oliver (Tulsa)|
|S||Quindell Johnson (Memphis)||Quadric Bullard (UCF)||Mekhi LaPointe (South Florida)||Bryan Massey (SMU)||Divaad Wilson (UCF)|
|K||Zack Long (Tulsa)||Spencer Shrader (South Florida)||Dalton Witherspoon (Houston)||Blake Mazza (SMU)||Owen Daffer (East Carolina)|
|P||Ryan Wright (Tulane)||John Young (East Carolina)||Laine Wilkins (Houston)||Lachlan Wilson (Tulsa)||Andrew Stokes (South Florida)|
|Returner||Marcus Jones (Houston)||Brian Battie (South Florida)||Bryan Massey (SMU)||Maquel Haywood (Navy)||Tre Tucker (Cincinnati)|
In case anyone is curious, here is the team-by-team breakdown:
|First Team||Second Team||Third Team||Honorable Mention||Total|