Matt Forte, Jason Pierre-Paul headline All-AAC active alumni team
When J. Peterman hands control of his catalog over to Elaine during an episode of Seinfeld, he does so by informing her that he has relocated to Burma.
"Burma?" Elaine responds skeptically.
"You most likely know it as Myanmar," Peterman says, "but it will always be Burma to me."
And that's sort of how most people feel about the American Athletic Conference, which was so named after it split away from the Big East during a recent rash of NCAA conference realignment. The Big East still exists as a non-football entity, featuring schools such as Butler, Creighton and Marquette. But the Big East's football days are over, with the AAC taking its place.
The AAC itself continues to wax and wane, too. Out for this season are Louisville (now in the ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten), with East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa joining the mix. Navy will hop on board next season.
So, the All-AAC NFL alumni team as it stands right now may not mirror how it might look in 2015 or '16, nor does it resemble any imaginary 2013 squads. On the other hand, as you'll notice momentarily, having to omit Louisville and Rutgers leaves a couple of voids on this team.
The first of our all-college conference active NFL teams follows. As the offseason continues, we'll continue this series with a look at each of the conference's that made up the now-defunct BCS:
Quarterback: Blake Bortles (UCF)
Second team: Case Keenum (Houston)
Oh, what drama we might have had on the first position of our first NFL all-college conference team had Louisville not jumped ship to the ACC. The quarterback options from this conference are scant at best, so that top spot would have circled back to the Bortles-vs.-Teddy Bridgewater debate.
Alas, Louisville is gone, leaving Bortles and little else of note at QB. Keenum's claim to second-team honors amounts to a coin flip -- Dan Orlovsky (UConn) and David Garrard (East Carolina) probably have just as much reason to be included.
This is the position where the AAC's 2014 additions of Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina had the largest impact. The changes provided the entirety of the first team, plus pushed out Donald Brown (UConn). The conference's loss of Rutgers came into play here, too, since it scrapped Ray Rice from consideration. That alteration opened the door for Pierce to join the squad. He may soon also replace Rice as the Ravens' No. 1 back, what with Rice facing a suspension and all.
A year or two ago, there was little doubt that Leach stood atop the NFL's fullback rankings. But headed into the 2014 season, he finds himself without a team while the younger Miller plays a key role in San Francisco's physical ground attack.
There is Marshall and then a drop-off to a crowded second tier of receivers from this conference. Sanders, off an impressive year in Pittsburgh and with numbers sure to keep coming in Denver, leapfrogged his peers to nail down the other first-team spot.
Streater deserves a spot on the strength of his 888-yard 2013. Picking another second-teamer was a bit of a chore, with Kenbrell Thompkins (Cincinnati), Cole Beasley (SMU) and Dwayne Harris (East Carolina) among the possibilities. Avery's 100 combined catches over the previous two NFL seasons pushed him above the others.
A disappointing 2013 season from Celek coincided with Clay's career year -- 66 catches, 759 yards, six touchdowns -- so there wasn't much debate at this position. There also were not all that many legitimate contenders beyond that duo. The next closest hopeful probably is another Cincinnati product, Travis Kelce, who sat out the entirety of his rookie season.
Not much trouble picking one of the two first-teamers, thanks to Vollmer's continued excellence. He did miss half the 2013 season with an injury but is a key cog up front for the Patriots when he's healthy. Beachum has established himself in similar (albeit less impressive) fashion along the Steelers' line. A guard earlier in his career, Beachum moved to a starting role at tackle and thrived. Beatty, Eli Manning's blindside protector, did not miss first-team inclusion by much.
Beachum could have been in the mix here had the Steelers not moved him semi-permanently to a starting OT job last season. Without him, this is one of the thinner AAC talent spots. Sitton's an obvious inclusion as he continues to be one of the game's top guards. The versatile and athletic Thomas was just starting to tap into his potential when a quad injury sidelined him for 14 games last season; he'll be a starter for the Colts, if healthy.
Center: Jason Kelce (Cincinnati)
Second team: Jeremiah Warren (South Florida)
The losses of Louisville and Rutgers are felt here, as well -- Eric Wood (Louisville) and Jeremy Zuttah (Rutgers) both are cemented in as starters, with the Ravens even trading for Zuttah this offseason. Without them, the gap between Kelce and the rest of the AAC's performers at center is cavernous. Warren was an undrafted free agent last year, then stuck on Cleveland's practice squad. The Browns list him as an "offensive lineman" without a specific position designation.
Pierre-Paul and Selvie paired up for the Bulls in 2009, combining for 9.5 sacks. That's five sacks shy of the total Selvie posted by his lonesome two years earlier, as the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year. South Florida made the move to the AAC last season.
Reyes started all 16 games for the Chargers last season but was wholly ineffective, so he needs a bounceback campaign. Hunt has yet to earn himself much playing time in Cincinnati, though Michael Johnson's departure via free agency should open up a few more snaps.
Now we're talking. Along with running back, the DT spot arguably features the most talented collection of former AAC players currently dotting NFL rosters. Joseph, who moved from the Giants to Minnesota this offseason, is a rising star up front, and "Pot Roast" Knighton was instrumental in Denver's run to an AFC title.
Neither had a chance of unseating either Poe or Wilkerson, two of the league's better in-the-trenches defensive linemen. Technically, Wilkerson is an end in the Jets' 3-4 -- similar to how the aforementioned Reyes lines up for San Diego. But the Jets play multiple fronts and Wilkerson actually earned an All-Pro nod this past season as a tackle, so he lands here. Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati) is first in line for an honorable mention.
As you'll see next with the linebackers and as was discussed often heading into the draft, positional designations for defensive players are becoming murkier and murkier on account of how varied schemes have become.
Rather than try to pick out worthy OLBs and ILBs separately, we're bunching all the linebackers together. (Cards on the table, part of the reasoning is that the overall choices were few and far between.) Barwin and Cole both play in Philadelphia as outside backers in a 3-4 scheme, as of 2013. They combined for 13 sacks last season.
Moore is one to watch for the future. He turned in 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks playing the strongside in Oakland's 4-3 defense last season, and he'll slide over to the weakside this year to make room for Khalil Mack. Together, Moore and Mack give the Raiders a nice foundation on defense.
Junior Galette lost out on a technicality. He opened his college career at Temple but finished it, following a transfer, at Stillman College.
The brothers McCourty from House Rutgers would have made the AAC secondary much more prolific -- Jason at cornerback and Devin at safety. It's a Connecticut-heavy crapshoot without Jason McCourty here. Butler re-emerged for the Colts last season after four shaky years spread between Carolina, New England and Indianapolis. Hayden was hardly a shut-down guy in his rookie season, but the upside remains.
Gratz in Jacksonville and Wreh-Wilson in Tennessee are ticketed for starting roles.
Branch landing with Allen on the first-team is a leap of faith -- the Raiders' safety played just two games last season due to a leg injury, but he was emerging as a reliable starter before that. It is also the result of this position being an AAC wasteland. Allen does have four seasons as a starter for Philadelphia under his belt, while Raymond and Jarrett at least have held onto backup roles.
An argument could be made for Gostkowski to supplant Prater on the first-team, starting with Gostkowski's 38 made field goals last season -- 13 more than Prater hit. Of course, that's because Denver was scoring touchdowns all the time. Prater missed just one kick in all of 2013 (with a 75-for-75 showing on extra points), including a record-setting 64-yarder against Tennessee in Mile High's thin air.
Morstead is one of the more consistent punters in the league, as evidenced by his 41.8 net yardage last season, fourth-best in the NFL. Huber finished 12th in that category at 40.2 yards. Either guy would make for a perfectly respectable special-teams star.