The Tulane Green Wave, which won its first American Athletic Conference title as part of a history-marking 2022 season, was chosen as the 2023 favorite as the conference unveiled its preseason media poll Tuesday as part of The American’s Football Media Days at the Live! by Loews resort.
Tulane received 20 of a possible 34 first-place votes to finish with 457 points in the poll, while UTSA, the 2022 Conference USA champion, was second at 440 points. The Roadrunners, who are among the six new members of The American as of the 2023 season, had nine first-place votes.
Tulane enters the season as the favorite in The American after the Green Wave completed the greatest single-season turnaround in college football history last year, improving by 9.5 wins from 2021 (2-10) to 2022 (12-2). Tulane returns 14 starters from last year’s squad, which finished the season ranked No. 9 in the national polls on the heels of a thrilling 46-45 win against USC in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
Among the returning starters for Tulane is quarterback Michael Pratt, a junior who passed for 3,009 yards and 27 touchdowns while adding 10 rushing TDs a year ago. Head Coach Willie Fritz will have four returning starters on the offensive line and eight starters back from a defense that ranked third in the conference in total defense (360.4 ypg) and second in scoring defense (22.2 ppg).
UTSA was tabbed for second in the preseason poll after the Roadrunners went 11-3 and claimed its second consecutive Conference USA title. Jeff Traylor’s squad has gone 23-5 in the last two seasons and has been ranked in the top 25 six times during that stretch. The 23 wins trails only Georgia (29), Michigan (25) and Alabama (24) among FBS teams in the last two seasons. UTSA will have 18 starters and 50 letterwinners back in 2023, including veteran quarterback Frank Harris, who was the 2022 Conference USA Most Valuable Player.
SMU was picked third by the media as the Mustangs had three first-place votes. The Mustangs return 16 starters and 40 letterwinners from last year’s 7-6 squad and bolstered the roster with a number of established FBS transfers in the offseason. Head Coach Rhett Lashlee’s offense averaged 37.2 points and 472.9 yards per game last season.
Memphis, which has had nine consecutive seasons at .500 or better, was fourth in the preseason poll. The Tigers, who went 7-6 last year, will be led by junior quarterback Seth Henigan, who has turned in back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons.
Florida Atlantic was fifth in the poll as Tom Herman begins his tenure as the Owls’ head coach. Herman returns to The American as the conference’s career winning percentage leader after he went 22-4 in two seasons at Houston (2015-16). He has a 2023 squad with 18 returning starters, including running back Larry McCammon, who had 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
The American continued to live up to its status as one of the top FBS conferences in 2022. Tulane’s top-10 finish was the sixth by an American Athletic Conference team in the league’s first 10 seasons, while the Green Wave gave the conference its fourth New Year’s Six bowl win. The American has sent a team to either the New Year’s Six or the College Football Playoff seven times in nine seasons of the CFP era and eight times in the 10-year history of the conference.
The American will feature 14 teams for the first time in 2023 as UAB, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and UTSA join the conference. The first regular-season game will be a Week 0 matchup when Navy faces Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 26
2023 American Athletic Conference Preseason Media Poll
1. Tulane (20)
2. UTSA (9)
3. SMU (3)
4. Memphis (1)
8. UAB (1)
* First place votes in parenthesis