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Although the AAC is less talented at the top this season, it is now deeper than ever. The AAC had multiple wins vs Power 5 teams in the nonconference, and through 5 weeks, only 2 teams doesn’t have a winning record. Since it is October and we’ve seen every team at least 4 times, I wanted to take a look at how the AAC stacks up. The top of the conference is obvious, but the rest of the AAC has a lot of sorting out to do before December.
1) Houston (5-0) – West
The class of the league. It started with their 33-23 win over Oklahoma to start the season, and since then they have added 4 more victories, including 2 in conference. Offensively we knew that Houston would be great, Ward has the 7th best QBR in the nation, and they are 12th in the nation in points scored, averaging over 44 points per game. The defense was a question mark as they graduated 6 starters from last year’s team; but the young Cougars have stepped up, as they allow the 6th fewest yards per game in the nation. Freshman DT Ed Oliver has been very impressive, recording 20 tackles (5 TFL) through the first 5 games. Houston has a difficult schedule, as they end their season at home vs Louisville, then at Memphis on November 25th.
2) South Florida (4-1) – East
South Florida was labeled the favorite to win the East this season, and through 4 games, I think they still deserve that title. The Bulls have been getting it done with their high powered offense. USF is averaging an incredible 47 points per game, which is good enough for 4th in the nation. It is lead by their 15th ranked rushing attack of QB Quinton Flowers, and RBs Marlon Mack and D’Ernest Johnson, all of whom are averaging 6 yards per carry. The Bulls registered a power 5 win over Syracuse 45-20 earlier this year, and put up 35 points on Florida State’s defense in a losing effort, but their most impressive victory was the 25 point beat down they put on Cincinnati last week on the road.
3) Memphis (3-1) – West
After graduating Paxton Lynch and losing head coach Justin Fuente, the Tigers had a lot to reload, and high expectations to manage. Through 4 games, new HC Mike Norvell and QB Riley Ferguson have this offense humming. Riley Ferguson has thrown for 1186 yards and 11 touchdowns through 4 games. In the first 3 games, Memphis looked like the Tigers of last year: 43-7 victory over Kansas and a 77-3 victory over Bowling Green. Their only loss came last week to Ole Miss, where the Tigers looked competitive offensively, but could not get a stop on defense. If the Tigers will challenge Houston for the West, they will need to get stops like they did in the first 3 weeks. This Thursday Memphis and their talented offense hosts the Temple Owls, which will be a good chance to highlight both team’s offensive and defensive units.
4) Cincinnati (3-2) – East
The Bearcats are just weathering the storm right now. Cincy has already hosted the two best AAC teams, and were blown out in both games (granted the Houston game was close until the 4th quarter). To make it even more difficult, QB Hayden Moore has been absent from the previous two games due to injury. When Moore has played this season, he has shown off his talented arm, but the Bearcats need to start getting stops defensively if they are going to challenge South Florida for the East crown. Cincinnati did register a power 5 win earlier this season with a 38-20 victory over Purdue.
5) Temple (3-2) – East
After winning 10 games last year, Temple expects to compete for the East title this year as well. However, the loss of their stud LB LB Tyler Matakevich, and defensive linemen Nate D. Smith and Matt Ioannidis has proven costly. Temple’s rush defense ranks 71st this year, a far cry from last year’s team that ranked 24th. Offensively, the Owls have excelled with QB P.J. Walker and RB Jahad Thomas leading the way. After a surprising week 1 loss to Army, Temple nearly upset Penn State for the second straight year, but fell 34-27. Temple is now 1-0 in conference after their 45-20 win over SMU last week. Despite having a rough start to the season, Temple has all the tools to make a run at the East division title.
6) Tulsa (3-1) – West
Tulsa’s season has been characterized by brilliant play at times, then regression to down right awful play. When it’s been good, Dane has found Keevan for long touchdowns, and the defense has gotten stops; but when its been bad, the defense has missed tackles and Dane has been careless with the ball. The one thing that has been constant has been junior RB D’Angelo Brewer; he is averaging over 5 yards a carry, and over 130 yards per game. If Dane and Keevan start playing like they did last season, and the defense plays like it has for most of the season, Tulsa will be up there with Memphis and Houston at the top of the west.
7) Navy (3-1) – West
Losing Keenan Reynolds was surely going to hurt, but losing replacement QB Tago Smith to an ACL tear has stifled the Midshipmen offensively. After starting the season 3-0 with close conference wins vs UConn and Tulane, Navy lost to an Air Force team (now 4-0) last week 28-14. I wouldn’t count out head coach Ken Niumatalolo, he has been around for awhile, but I still need to see more from the Naval Academy before ranking them above Tulsa. This week they have a chance to impress as they host Houston.
8) UCF (3-2) – East
What an improvement for the Black Knights. After their 0-12 campaign last season, HC George O’Leary finally resigned. A new man, Oregon OC Scott Frost was brought aboard. What Frost has brought to UCF this year reminds me a lot of what Montgomery brought to Tulsa last year; confidence, swagger, and a explosive offense. UCF has a fast-paced, spread offense that is built on running the ball, and it has worked to the tune of 100 total points in their past 2 games. A slew of players have carried the ball for UCF this year, as an incredible 8 players have rushed for a touchdown through 5 games! UCF is much-improved, and their 47-29 road stomping of ECU last weekend sent a message to the league, the Black Knights are back.
9) UConn (3-2) – East
UConn’s first four games were decided by 7 points or less, and in week 3 they registered a power 5 win over Virginia 13-10. That win built a lot of momentum for the Huskies, but they then entered a daunting 4-game stretch: vs Syracuse, @ Houston, vs Cincy, @ USF. The Huskies have started that stretch 0-2, and will need more accurate passes from their QB Bryant Shireffs if they are to win 1 of those remaining games.
10) Tulane (3-2) – West
Tulane has a new head ball coach, Willie Fritz. Fritz has been a head coach since 1997 on multiple levels, but most recently with Georgia Southern for 2 years. Fritz brings a business like, no-nonsense style to a talented, but underperforming Green Wave team. So far this season, Fritz’s run oriented attack has shown promise, Tulane has already equaled their win total from last year, and their two losses to Wake and Navy were by a combined 10 points. The Green Wave is averaging 246.6 yards per game on the ground, good enough for 19th in the country. Defensively, senior DT Tanzel Smart has recorded 3 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. Tulane has a tough schedule remaining because the AAC is deep, but they are in good position to possibly qualify for a bowl game.
11) ECU (2-3) – East
For this ECU team to be ranked 11th in the rankings speaks volumes to the depth of the AAC. This team beat NC State 33-30 in week 2, and nearly upset South Carolina the following week! The Pirates and first-time HC Scottie Montgomery have now lost 3 straight, and have some questions to answer after last week’s home loss to UCF. One of the biggest problems for the Pirates has been their inabilty to run the ball; averaging less than 4 yards per carry, close to last in the NCAA. ECU is also next to last in turnover margin, turning the ball over 13 times through 5 games. Montgomery is a player’s coach, so now will be a good time to see if he can get his players to buy-in during adversity.
12) SMU (2-3) – West
SMU has made strides defensively, and impressively they lead the NCAA in interceptions. 2 players (Jordan Wyatt and Horace Richardson) are tied for first in the nation with 4 picks each. Unfortunately for Chad Morris and the Mustangs, senior QB Matt Davis tore his ACL in the first few weeks of the season, which has put a governor on their usual up-tempo spread offense. SMU will have to find the offensive rhythm they had last year and continue to force turnovers if they are going to win a few more games this season.