As early as four days ago, the American Athletic Conference title game picture looked pretty clear. It was going to be Temple and whoever survives this Saturday's cage match between Houston and Memphis. Then Navy steamrolled the Tigers last week.
Now, things are murkier. Once Houston and Memphis maul each other on Saturday, the picture will be clearer, but for now, let's look at the possible scenarios for the AAC championship.
Temple is coming out of the East...probably
The #21 Owls have been the class of the AAC East all season long. Undefeated in the conference, Temple had Notre Dame - a top 5 team with final four potential - on the ropes. Led by the dynamic one-two punch of QB P.J. Walker and RB Jahad Thomas on offense and the conference's best defense statistically, Temple is a team that'll be no fun at all to play in the AAC title game.
Still, the remaining schedule for the Owls is filled with land mines. They still have a formidable USF team, UConn, and a potential title game preview with Memphis left on the schedule. Memphis seems like the only legit stumbling block there, but with the way USF is playing right now, the Owls need to be very careful. Temple only has to win one of their remaining three games to get the spot in the title game, so in all likelihood, they should end up there.
The crowded West
As it stands right now, the undefeated #16 Houston Cougars sit atop the AAC West. The Cougars are 5-0 in conference and aside from last Saturday's 33-30 win over Cincinnati, haven't really been challenged. That's all about to change, though. Just below them sits Navy, which is also 5-0 in conference and is coming off the aforementioned beat down of Memphis, who is in third in the West at 4-1.
Houston and Memphis go up against each other this weekend in what should be a classic. The Coogs and Tigers are one-two in the AAC in scoring offense (Memphis is number one averaging 44.8 ppg while Houston is averaging 44.4 ppg.) Once they get through that, Houston has UConn and Navy left on the schedule, while Memphis has Temple and SMU. A win this Saturday for Houston certainly would put them in the driver's seat, but a win over both Memphis and Navy is far, far from a guarantee.
The #23 Middies are probably the hottest team in the AAC right now. They lead the conference in rushing yards per game at 326.5 and have QB Keenan Reynolds, who is one rushing touchdown away from breaking the all-time NCAA record. Navy also has the number three ranked defense in the AAC, so watch out for them as their season winds down with games against Houston, Tulsa and Army.
Finally, the #25 Tigers have Houston, Temple and SMU left on the schedule. Memphis had probably the best resume of the three before last weekend, but Navy wrecked that, too. Still, the Tigers have Paxton Lynch and the second-ranked offense in the conference.
Here are the scenarios:
Temple - Houston
Probably the most likely matchup and what a great one it would be. Houston is built around a scary good running game, with Greg Ward Jr. and Kenneth Farrow churning out huge yards and point totals. Conversely, Temple is built around a defense that lives to stop the run. Tyler Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis and the rest of the Temple defense is allowing only 110 rushing yards per game.
Temple - Memphis
We get this one the following week anyway, but there's still a chance we could see it again on December 5th in the championship game. The Owls have the defense to slow down the Tigers and enough offense to give Memphis' defense (allowing 437.2 ypg) headaches. This would also be either amazing or terrible, depending on how next weekend's matchup goes and your general opinion on conference title game rematches.
Which brings us to....
Temple - Navy
If the Middies win out (not out of the question, given the hot streak they're on), they'll represent the West in the AAC title game. Which brings up an interesting development. The AAC title game is set for December 5th. The next week (December 12th) is the second Saturday in December, traditionally the date of the Army-Navy Game.
That means Navy would play in the conference title game against Temple and then against Army the next week. Navy against Temple is strength on strength, with Navy's rushing attack going up against Temple's defense. One step further, the winner of Temple and Navy (if both of their records hold) would have the inside track on a high profile bowl bid.
If Navy were to beat Temple, they would have to put that New Year's Day bowl bid on the line against their biggest rival. Oh boy. Not only that, but the announcement of said New Years Bowl would have to wait an extra week, which might piss off a few people, to say the least.
For the AAC, these are all good problems to have. No matter how things shake out, they have three very alluring possible championship matchups between nationally ranked teams. One thing is certain whichever team comes out on top will have definitely earned it.