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AAC Preview: Week 3 (Part 2)

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at South Florida
Fourth-year USF head coach Willie Taggart has the Bulls playing excellent football. The Bulls are looking to build on last year’s 8-win campaign.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

South Florida (2-0) @ Syracuse (1-1)

Carrier Dome—3:30 p.m.

The 2015 season was a much-needed step in the right direction for the USF program under Willie Taggart.

The Bulls’ ascent is seemingly continuing this year, as they are off to a very strong start with blowout victories of Towson (56-20) and Northern Illinois (48-17).

Despite the huge win over the Tigers, quarterback Quinton Flowers wasn’t particularly sharp in the opener. He responded by throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns in the rout of the Huskies a week ago.

The USF ground game also rolled up 293 yards—including 120 by Darius Trice.

They will travel to the Carrier Dome to face a Syracuse team that suffered a 62-28 home loss to Louisville the last time out.

The Orange have received pretty good quarterback play from Eric Dungey (59-91, 610 yards, 5 td, 1 int), but it will seek a stronger start after falling behind the Cardinals 28-7 after just a single quarter a week ago.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at East Carolina
East Carolina seeks to improve to 3-0 with a road win at SEC foe South Carolina.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

East Carolina (2-0) @ South Carolina (1-1)

Williams-Brice Stadium—SEC Network—4:00 p.m.

Two programs with first-year head coaches will do battle this weekend in Columbia.

East Carolina enters the match-up seeking a second P5 win in as many weeks after taking down NC State, 33-30, last weekend.

After some inconsistency at quarterback last year, the Pirates have gotten stellar play from senior Philip Nelson. The former Minnesota starter (2012 & 2013) has completed over 80 percent of his passes while throwing for nearly 700 yards and six scores. Senior wideout Zay Jones leads the team with 17 catches for 253 yards.

The defense is a work in progress after allowing nearly 500 yards—including 215 on the ground—to the Wolfpack.

The Gamecocks, who won 13-10 via a last second field goal in their opener at Vandy, and present a two-quarterback system that ECU will have to contend with.

Redshirt senior Perry Orth, a former walk-on, has been the more consistent passer while true freshman Brandon McIlwain is more of a dual threat. McIlwain was 11-of-22 for 126 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in last week’s 27-14 loss at Mississippi State.

They haven’t received much help from the ground game and it mustered just 34 yards against the Bulldogs.

Expect a fourth quarter battle in this one, but don’t be surprised if ECU spoils Will Muschamp’s home debut.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Michigan
UCF and first-year head coach Scott Frost suffered a 51-14 loss in the Big House last weekend.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland (2-0) @ UCF (1-1)

Bright House Network Stadium—CBS Sports Network—7:00 p.m.

The bright spot of last week’s 51-14 loss at Michigan had to be that the Knights managed to rush for 275 yards against the Wolverines—and did so despite no semblance of a passing game (56 yards).

UCF quarterbacks Nick Patti and Justin Holman both finished 3-for-11.

Now, the Knights—who stomped South Carolina State, 38-0, in their home and season opener—will look to mend things in a home date with Big Ten foe Maryland.

Scott Frost’s team defense allowed Michigan starter Wilton Speight to pass for 312 yards and four touchdowns.

The Terps, who also have a first-year head coach in D.J. Durkin, are playing their second game in the Sunshine State in as many weeks after routing FIU, 41-14, last Saturday.

Maryland’s offense produced a very balanced output against the Panthers, as it rushed for 239 yards and threw for 238. Additionally, the Terps played turnover free football.

With the game being at Bright House Network Stadium, I expect the Knights to compete but fall short—largely due to being too one-dimensional offensively.

SMU v Baylor
The Mustangs dropped a 40-13 decision at Baylor last week.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Liberty (1-1) @ SMU (1-1)

Gerald J. Ford Stadium—ESPN3—7:00 p.m.

The Mustangs were solid in the first half last week in Waco, as they were knotted with Baylor at the break (6-6). However, the Bears busted things open in the third quarter and went on to a 40-13 victory.

Chad Morris and SMU played that contest without senior quarterback Matt Davis and have since found out that he is done for the year with a torn ACL.

Therefore, Ben Hicks—a highly-regarded freshman who started against Baylor—will remain the starter. The 6’1, 214-pounder was just 17-of-44 with three picks in his first career start.

Braeden West (89 yards) and Ke’Mon Freeman (81 yards) led a Mustangs’ rushing game that produced 176 yards.

Defensively, SMU surrendered 536 yards—including 275 on the ground.

This week’s opponent Liberty will be playing its second game of the season against FBS competition. The Flames fell 36-13 at Virginia Tech in their opener before responding with a 55-7 blowout of Jacksonville.

In that defeat to the Hokies, Turner Gill’s club turned the ball over four times and managed just 160 yards of offense. Quarterback Stephon Masha was just 9-for-25 with a pair of picks versus Virginia Tech, but was 13-for-19 for 181 yards and three touchdowns against the Dolphins.

The Flames will probably compete for a half like in Blacksburg, but Chad Morris’ club should win going away to match last season’s win total.

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Navy
Navy linebacker Brandon Jones (3) and defensive end Amos Mason (52) celebrate after last week’s 28-24 American Conference win over UCONN in Annapolis.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Navy (2-0) @ Tulane (1-1)

Yulman Stadium—ESPN3—7:00 p.m.

The Midshipmen’s season-opening blowout of Fordham was a costly one as starting quarterback Tago Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL).

Smith’s replacement Will Worth recorded his first career start last week against UCONN and it was a victorious one. Navy built a 21-0 lead before being forced to make a stop at the 1-yard line on the game’s final play to hold on for a 28-24 win.

Worth, who completed 6-of-8 passes for 130 yards, scored the game’s winning touchdown with just over three minutes to play.

Defensively, the Middies allowed Bryant Shirreffs to go 23-of-26 for 239 yards.

Now, Ken Niumatalolo’s club heads to the Big Easy to tangle with Tulane.

Following a 7-3 loss at Wake Forest to begin the Willie Fritz era, the Green Wave responded with a 66-21 blowout of FCS foe Southern.

Tulane (1-1) took a 49-7 lead into the half and finished the game with 437 yards rushing compared to just 12 yards passing. However, it attempted just six passes.

Quarterback Johnathan Brantley (11-119) and running back Dontrell Hilliard (10-103-3) had 100-yard days for the Green Wave.

Now, how will the unit produce against a much stronger opponent in last year’s East Division Champ, Navy (2-0, 1-0)?

The Middies’ triple option attack isn’t as potent as it was a season ago. With this game being played in New Orleans, this AAC match-up could be very interesting and come down to the fourth quarter.