Louisville favored to win the AAC

5Dimes has Louisville installed as the -140 favorite to repeat as conference champs in this newly-formed league that has six of the same schools from the old Big East. The Cardinals closed last season with a blowout win over Florida at the Sugar Bowl. The game wasn’t as close as the 33-23 final score indicated.

The victory over the Gators was preceded by head coach Charlie Strong turning down several overtures from other schools, including a lucrative offer from Tennessee. Really, things can’t get a whole lot better for U of L unless…well, it can win a national title in football this season. Rick Pitino just brought the Cardinals their first basketball national title since 1986 and the baseball team made it to the World Series in Omaha.

How realistic is it for U of L to be in the national-title mix late in November? According to 5Dimes, the Cardinals have the eighth-shortest odds to win the BCS Championship (26/1). They have one of the best quarterbacks in America in true junior Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards with a 27/8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2012.

Louisville returns 10 starters on defense and six on offense. Most important, the schedule is a complete joke. In fact, The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas has U of L as a double-digit favorite in every one of its lined games with just once exception, as it is a 3.5-point road ‘chalk’ in its regular-season finale at Cincinnati.

Louisville gets the rest of its toughest American Athletic Conference games at home, including Rutgers and UCF in back-to-back weeks. An Oct. 26 trip to Tampa to meet South Florida could be a dangerous spot.

If Strong’s bunch can stay undefeated, it will need help to get to Pasadena. In other words, U of L’s schedule isn’t strong enough to get a No. 2 BCS ranking ahead of a one-loss SEC team or a one-loss Oregon and/or Ohio St.

But if the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have league champs with two defeats, there will be a very real opportunity for Bridgewater to get his team to Pasadena to face an SEC squad.

Rutgers and Cincinnati share the second-shortest odds to win the first AAC title (+490, risk $100 to win $490). RU is entering its second season under Kyle Flood, who led the Scarlet Knights to a 9-1 start in his first year after replacing Greg Schiano, who should have a statue of his bust erected for the masterful job he did in Piscataway before taking the Buccaneers job.

RU lost its last three games, including a 20-17 defeat vs. Louisville and a 13-10 overtime decision to Va. Tech at the Russell Athletic Bowl. But the Scarlet Knights return 80 percent of their offensive line, QB Gary Nova and All-American candidate Brandon Coleman at wide receiver.

Leading rusher Jawan Jamison bolted for the NFL after eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark as a sophomore. However, junior Savon Huggins demonstrated his ability by rushing for 179 yards in a 10-3 win at Cincinnati when Jamison was injured.

Rutgers had a stout defense last year, finishing fourth in the nation in scoring defense by allowing only 14.2 points per game. But this unit has only four starters back.

Cincinnati made the most stunning off-season hire when it was able to get Tommy Tuberville to leave Texas Tech after Butch Jones took the Tennessee job. The Bearcats hired a veteran head coach that’s a winner in The Riverboat Gambler.

Cincy went 10-3 last season, finishing the year with a miraculous cover thanks to a defensive touchdown on the game’s final play for a 48-34 win over Duke. The Bearcats’ three losses came by 16 combined points at Toledo, at Louisville and vs. Rutgers.

Cincy has seven starters back on offense and six on defense. The entire offensive line is back along with WR Anthony McClung, who had 34 catches for 539 yards last season.

Senior QB Brendon Kay replaced Munchie Legaux late last season and played extremely well down the stretch. Kay connected on 63.0 percent of his throws with a 10/2 TD-INT ratio. He also rushed for 6.4 yards per carry and a pair of scores.

Cincy faces a pair of Big Ten schools in non-conference play, hosting Purdue in the season opener before playing at Illinois in Week 2. The Bearcats play at Rutgers on Nov. 16.

Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU have joined the league from out of Conference USA. UCF is the most highly regarded program by oddsmakers, evidenced by its 10/1 odds to win the AAC.

The Knights won 10 games last year but will be facing tougher competition in the AAC. Junior QB Blake Bortles connected on 69.2 percent of his passes for 3,059 yards with a 25/9 TD-INT ratio. Bortles finished the year by throwing 174 straight passes without an interception.

George O’Leary’s squad has six starters back on offense and four on defense. There are two non-conference games in which UCF will be in underdog situations, at Penn St. and vs. South Carolina.

For more AAC analysis from Brian, click this link at VegasInsider.com.

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