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Rivals.com AAC Roundtable: Offensive Player of the Year?

Representatives from Rivals.com's American Athletic Conference sites have teamed up for a week-long roundtable to discuss various topics regarding AAC football.

We continue our week-long roundtable discussion featuring representatives from the Rivals.com sites covering the American Athletic Conference today with what some may claim a simple question.

A simple question that actually has a variety of answers. Justified answers.

Here are the following individuals who have agreed to participate for Tuesday's question (all names are in alphabetical order):

Kyle Gauss, assistant editor, OwlScoop.com (Temple)

Chris Harmon, publisher, Inside Tulsa Sports (Tulsa)

Brandon Helwig, publisher, UCFSports.com (UCF)

Mike James, publisher, TheMidReport.com (Navy)

Mark Lindsay, publisher, PirateIllustrated.com (East Carolina)

Ben McCool, beat writer, BullsInsider.com (USF)

Jefferson Powell, publisher, Cougars Den (Houston)

Damon Sayles, managing editor, The HillTopics (SMU)

Isaac Simpson, beat writer, TigerSportReport.com (Memphis)

Guerry Smith, publisher, The Wave Report (Tulane)

Jason Stamm, managing editor, BearcatReport.com (Cincinnati)


Who is your pick for AAC Offensive Player of the Year? And why?

GAUSS: Kenneth Gainwell. He struggled a bit in December last year, but before that, he was in the conversation as one of the best running backs in the nation. Despite Mike Norvell leaving for Florida State, Gainwell will have the benefit of working under the same offensive coordinator, Kevin Johns, who got him the ball 282 times last season. Gainwell is just as much of a threat in the receiving game as he is on the ground. Just ask Tulane, which Gainwell torched for 203 receiving yards last season.

Gainwell finished with more than 2,000 offensive yards last season. With a likely shortened season, Gainwell won't put up quite that level of production but he's the most dynamic offensive player in the conference in my mind.

HARMON: My pick is Memphis quarterback Brady White. While the Tigers will have a new head coach in Ryan Silverfield, Kevin Johns is back as the offensive coordinator, and White has plenty of talent around him to improve on last year’s totals of 4,014 yards and 33 touchdowns.

The Memphis offense returns three starters on the offensive line, while tight end Sean Dykes and receiver John Williams return from season-ending injuries. Also returning is receiver Damonte Coxie, who led the team with 76 catches for 1,276 yards and nine scores, and outstanding running back Kenneth Gainwell. Brady should have time in the pocket to pick out his talented options, and another year of experience will help him likely lead the league in passing yards for the second consecutive season.

HELWIG: Everybody at Memphis wondered who would step up in the wake of losing Tony Pollard at running back, and Kenneth Gainwell answered the call, stepping up with a phenomenal redshirt freshman season. His ability to impact the game, playing both running back and wide receiver, makes him the early frontrunner in my opinion.

Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

JAMES: Kenneth Gainwell is an All-American candidate and a dark horse Heisman contender after gaining more than 2,000 yards of total offense in 2019. Defenses won't be able to sell out to stop him, either, since Memphis has excellent receivers and a quarterback who can get the ball to them. He should have another monster year.

LINDSAY: Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell is my pick for AAC Player of the Year. Last season, he rushed for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns to go along with 51 pass receptions for over 610 yards and three touchdowns.

McCOOL: I would be very surprised if anyone can out-produce Brady White, who was a big reason I picked Memphis as the dark horse to win the conference championship. White passed for over 4,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Only three quarterbacks passed for more yards in 2019, and all three of them are signed to NFL teams. Even in their two losses, White still managed over 800 passing yards in those two games.

POWELL: There are a lot of dynamic players in the conference that could ultimately end up contending, especially at the quarterback position which is where I'm leaning.

I have to roll with UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel. I just think he'll be more comfortable this season. As a true freshman last season, he threw for over 3,500 yards and had 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With a year under his belt, I can see those numbers improving as he grows more comfortable with the offense. As the focal point of arguably the conference's most dynamic offense, with the players he has around him he can put up some big time numbers.

SMU quarterback Shane Buechele (Rob Graham)
SMU quarterback Shane Buechele (Rob Graham)

SAYLES: I'm a huge fan of Shane Buechele, and I expect him to put up major numbers in 2020, but something is telling me that Kenneth Gainwell -- if he remains healthy -- is the scariest player in all of the AAC. He's a stat producer in rushing and receiving. He's got speed, elusiveness and deceptive power that makes him such a threat in the backfield.

I also love how Gainwell plays every game for his older brother. Curtis Gainwell's story of battling from a stroke has been Kenneth's motivation. I think this is the year where he really plays for the name on his back and the team on his chest.

SIMPSON: I think this will be a close race between SMU quarterback Shane Buechele and Memphis quarterback Brady White, but I'm going to go with the former. Buechele is the AAC returning passing leader throwing for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. They return senior playmaker Reggie Roberson Jr., tight end Kylan Granson and a plethora of other young receivers.

With the losses of running backs Xavier Jones and Ke'Mon Freeman, I expect the Mustangs to rely even more on that dynamic passing game than they did last season, affording Buechele opportunities to post massive numbers week in and week out.

SMITH: Desmond Ridder. He slumped as a sophomore while slowed down by injury, but he proved how dangerous he could be when healthy in 2018, winning AAC Rookie of the Year honors. SMU quarterback Shane Buechele and UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel will provide stiff competition, but Ridder can do damage with his arm and his feet.

STAMM: Hands down, it's got to be Shane Buechele. Again, I think he produces numbers similar to last season -- and that was for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns. It'll depend on the guys around him stepping up, but in that offense, I think he's in for another big season.

Memphis quarterback Brady White (Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Memphis quarterback Brady White (Tim Warner/Getty Images)


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