Photo courtesy of Tulsa 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. Some teams exceeded their expectations like Tulsa, while some players burst on to the scene like Ulysses Bentley IV.

There are eight end-of-season awards and 125 total all-conference spots, so without further ado:

Coach of the Year: Philip Montgomery (Tulsa)

After being picked to finish ninth in the AAC in the preseason, Tulsa was a last-second field goal away from winning the conference championship. Tulsa went 4-8 in 2019. However, the Golden Hurricane turned it around for a major improvement in 2020. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell was a close second for this award, but the Tulsa turnaround was just too strong. Tulsa was 14 points away from going from 4-8 to 9-0 with an AAC championship.

Offensive Player of the Year: Dillon Gabriel (QB, UCF)

Fifth in the NCAA total passing yards and fourth in the NCAA in passing touchdowns, Gabriel had a phenomenal season. For a much more in-depth breakdown of why Gabriel deserves this award over names like Shane Buechele and Desmond Ridder, you can find that here.

Defensive Player of the Year: Zaven Collins (LB, Tulsa)

As the Bronco Nagurski Trophy winner for best linebacker in the country, Collins had a season that we haven’t seen from a Group of 5 linebacker in a long time. Ahmad Gardner of Cincinnati and Cameron Sample of Tulane both had amazing seasons. However, Collins had the highest Pro Football Focus grade for all linebackers in the country and the fifth-highest PFF grade for all defenders that played a minimum of 100 snaps. Those combined with his box score stats made this an easy choice.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Chris Naggar (K, SMU)

Naggar was a perfect 12-for-12 from kicks inside of 40 yards in 2020. The Texas transfer also knocked through back-to-back game-winning kicks against Memphis and Tulane. The senior kicker also had a solid 65.2% touchback rate when kicking off.

Rookie of the Year: Ulysses Bentley IV (RB, SMU)

The redshirt freshman had 145 rushing yards more than the second-leading rusher in the AAC. When factoring in receiving yards, Bentley also led the conference in overall yards from scrimmage with 1,087. As a rusher, Bentley was both elusive and strong, leading the conference in both forced missed tackles and yards after contact. Oklahoma transfer and current UCF receiver Jaylon Robinson finished second place for this award, but he ultimately could not top Bentley.

True Freshman of the Year: Michael Pratt (QB, Tulane)

East Carolina tailback Rahjai Harris was a close second place for this one. However, Pratt had a slightly better season. Pratt’s 1,806 passing yards and 7.1 yards per pass attempt were complimented by his 439 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per rush. His performances against Temple, East Carolina, Army, and Memphis showed great potential. That should have Green Wave fans excited for the future.

Offensive Most Improved Player of the Year: Calvin Austin III (WR, Memphis)

There were a few wide receivers that could’ve fit this spot, but Austin had a huge improvement worthy of this award. In 2019, Austin had 17 receptions, 315 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns. This year, Austin improved his output up to 63 receptions, 1,053 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns. As a matter of fact, Austin improved to the point that his yards after catch in 2020 (356) eclipsed his receiving yardage total from 2019 (315).

Defensive Most Improved Player of the Year: Dorian Williams (LB, Tulane)

Zaven Collins would actually be a great candidate for this spot, as well. However, Williams had a sophomore season that was definitely unexpected after his freshman season. After only playing 77 total snaps in 2019, Williams was second in the conference in PFF’s run stop stat in 2020 (45). The inside linebacker was also solid in coverage, allowing only 4.8 yards per reception.

All Conference Teams:

First Team Second Team Third Team Honorable Mention Honorable Mention
QB Dillon Gabriel (UCF) Shane Buechele (SMU) Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) Michael Pratt (Tulane) Brady White (Memphis)
RB Ulysses Bentley IV (SMU) Stephon Huderson (Tulane) Greg McCrae (UCF) Rahjai Harris (East Carolina) Deneric Prince (Tulsa)
RB Cameron Carroll (Tulane) Jerome Ford (Cincinnati) Otis Anderson (UCF) Gerrid Doaks (Cincinnati) Corey Taylor II (Tulsa)
WR Marlon Williams (UCF) Keylon Stokes (Tulsa) Tahj Washington (Memphis) Blake Proehl (East Carolina) Reggie Roberson Jr. (SMU)
WR Calvin Austin III (Memphis) Jaylon Robinson (UCF) Rashee Rice (SMU) JuanCarlos Santana (Tulsa) Tyler Snead (East Carolina)
TE Kylen Granson (SMU) Sean Dykes (Memphis) Josh Whyle (Cincinnati) Tyrick James (Tulane) Christian Trahan (Houston)
OT Dylan Parham (Memphis) Tyler Smith (Tulsa) Chris Paul (Tulsa) Michael Niese (Temple) Justin Self (Navy)
OT Jaylon Thomas (SMU) James Hudson (Cincinnati) Obinna Eze (Memphis) Joey Claybrook (Tulane) Billy Honaker (Navy)
OG Peter Nestrowitz (Navy) Demetris Harris (South Florida) Keenan Murphy (Houston) Avery Jones (East Carolina) Matt Dale (Memphis)
OG Hayden Howerton (SMU) Braylon Jones (Houston) Corey Dublin (Tulane) Isaac Ellis (Memphis) Dylan O’Quinn (Cincinnati)
C Sincere Haynesworth (Tulane) CJ Perez Jr. (Temple) Alan Ali (SMU) Brad Cecil (South Florida) Jakari Robinson (Cincinnati)
DE Cameron Sample (Tulane) Patrick Johnson (Tulane) Elijah Ponder (Cincinnati) Joseph Dorceus (Memphis) Anthony Goodlow (Tulsa)
DE Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati) Morris Joseph (Memphis) Jaxon Player (Tulsa) Turner Coxe (SMU) Thad Mangum (South Florida)
DT O’Bryan Goodson (Memphis) Daniel Archibong (Temple) Rick D’Abreu (East Carolina) Junior Aho (SMU) Tyarise Stevenson (Tulsa)
DT Logan Hall (Houston) Cam Goode (UCF) Elijah Chatman (SMU) Noah Seiden (Tulane) Terrance Newman (SMU)
LB Zaven Collins (Tulsa) Jarrell White (Cincinnati) Delano Robinson (SMU) Treyvon Reeves (Tulsa) JJ Russell (Memphis)
LB Nick Anderson (Tulane) Dorian Williams (Tulane) Darrian Beavers (Cincinnati) Dwayne Boyles (South Florida) Grant Stuard (Houston)
CB Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati) Macon Clark (Tulane) Akayleb Evans (Tulsa) Malik Fleming (East Carolina) KJ Sails (South Florida)
CB Coby Bryant (Cincinnati) Marcus Jones (Houston) Damarion Williams (Houston) Arquon Bush (Cincinnati) Brandon Stephens (SMU)
CB Ja’Quan McMillian (East Carolina) Jacobi Francis (Memphis) Brandon Crossley (SMU) Ryan Nixon (Tulsa) Ar’mani Johnson (SMU)
S Richie Grant (UCF) Darrick Forrest (Cincinnati) Quindell Johnson (Memphis) Jireh Wilson (East Carolina) Chase Kuerschen (Tulane)
S James Wiggins (Cincinnati) Kendarin Ray (Tulsa) Derek Gainous (UCF) Cristian Williams (Tulsa) Larry Brooks (Tulane)
K Chris Naggar (SMU) Riley Patterson (Memphis) Zack Long (Tulsa) Dalton Witherspoon (Houston) Cole Smith (Cincinnati)
P Ryan Wright (Tulane) James Smith (Cincinnati) Andrew Osteen (UCF) Laine Wilkins (Houston) Adam Barry (Temple)
Returner Tyler Snead (East Carolina) Tre Tucker (Cincinnati) Amare Jones (Tulane) Johnny Ford (South Florida) Jha’Quan Jackson (Tulane)

In case anyone is curious about the team-by-team breakdown:

First Team Second Team Third Team Honorable Mention Total
Cincinnati 4 6 4 5 19
Tulane 5 4 2 7 18
SMU 5 1 5 6 17
Tulsa 1 3 4 8 16
Memphis 3 4 3 5 15
UCF 3 2 4 0 9
Houston 1 2 2 4 9
East Carolina 2 0 1 6 9
South Florida 0 1 0 5 6
Temple 0 2 0 2 4
Navy 1 0 0 2 3