NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Louisville is the overwhelming favorite to win the American Athletic Conference in its last season as a member of the league formerly known as the Big East.
The Cardinals, who are led by star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, received 28 of 30 first-place votes from a media panel. Louisville moves into the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, but hopes it can grab a second straight league title and BCS bid before it goes.
The Cardinals started last season as the favorites in the conference and went on to earn their second BCS bid, finishing 11-2 with a victory in the Sugar Bowl against Florida.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong said he doesn’t want his players thinking of themselves as favorites.
“We’ll always be a team that’s going to be the hunter,” he said Tuesday during American media day.
Louisville returns 14 starters and could be in line to add another talented player to an already potent offense. Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer, the MVP of the 2011 BCS national title game as a freshman, has been on campus, met with coaches and taken steps toward enrolling at the school.
As a sophomore, Dyer gained 1,242 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, but he was suspended for the Tigers’ bowl game and eventually left the team. He transferred to Arkansas State, but was dismissed from the team before ever playing after having a run-in with the law, though he has never been charged with a crime.
He would be eligible to play immediately. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from speaking publicly about prospective athletes.
Bridgewater is the league’s biggest star and is already being touted as the top quarterback prospect in next year’s NFL draft.
“We’re ready and I’m ready also,” said Bridgewater, who passed for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. “We have coaches who prepare us for everything. We set on ourselves this level of expectations and we’re ready to handle them.”
Cincinnati, with new coach Tommy Tuberville, received the other two first-place votes and was picked second in the American. Rutgers was third. The Scarlet Knights are also leaving the conference after this season. They’ll be in the Big Ten in 2014.
“Cincinnati has been one of the bright spots in college football for the last six or seven years, four times winning ten games,” Tuberville said. “That doesn’t happen very often. Playing in two BCS Bowl games, having the opportunity to be on the big stage. And so being at Cincinnati for me, I’m excited to try to keep it going and improve it.”
Central Florida is one of four schools moving from Conference USA to the American this season, along with Houston, SMU and Memphis. The Knights were picked fourth, followed by South Florida, Houston, Connecticut and SMU.
Temple was picked ninth and Memphis 10th.
NOTES: The American is still in the process of completing its bowl lineup for the next cycle, starting in 2014, and holding out hope that some type of deal can be struck with the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The game has hosted the Conference USA champion for years, but now many of those teams will be playing in the American. But the American could be squeezed out by the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference. The best-case scenario for the American appears to be some type of rotation that would allow the league to occasionally send a team to the Liberty Bowl, especially in years when the conference champion does not qualify for one of the six bowls that make up the semifinal rotation for the college football playoff. … SMU coach June Jones said he will share play-calling duties with new offensive coordinator and longtime friend Hal Mumme. Jones and Mumme are two passing game pioneers, among the first to employ almost exclusively four-wide receiver formations. “We’ve combined some of the approaches, and I’m going to kind of enjoy watching what happens this fall, because I think we stumbled upon some pretty good concepts,” Jones said.