Our final AAC Power Rankings are here. Sad, I know. The conference produced some thrilling games, with a bunch of unexpected results. We saw teams surprise and disappoint us, rise to the occasion and crumble under pressure. One team had its star player sit out for the year, while others found new ones. It was an entertaining 2019 season, that’s for sure. We’ll give a little recap of each team here, and stay tuned for our Way Too Early Power Rankings for the 2020 season as well!
1. Memphis Tigers (11-1)
Tabbed by many as the AAC West favorite, the Tigers started the season strong at 5-0. A trip to Temple resulted in the Tigers only loss of the season, but that didn’t faze them. Including a visit from ESPN’s College GameDay (where the Tigers put on a show offensively), Memphis finished the year 6-0 and will play in the AAC Championship Game against Cincinnati. Kenneth Gainwell’s emergence (rather, explosion) at running back elevated the Tigers offense after Patrick Taylor went down.
2. Cincinnati Bearcats (10-2)
Arguably the biggest surprise in the conference. Luke Fickell took a team that many pegged to finish 6-6 and brought them to the conference championship. A 42-0 beatdown by Ohio State brought up concerns for this team, but they rattled off nine consecutive wins before falling to Memphis last week. Michael Warren was great once again, and the defense picked up where it left off in 2018. They’ll face Memphis next week for a chance at a conference title.
3. Navy Midshipmen (9-2)
Another big surprise. Navy went from 3-9 to potentially winning 10 games. Their rivalry game with Army is in two weeks. Navy’s only conference loss came against Memphis, and they put themselves in position to potentially get into the conference championship game if the Tigers lost again. Malcolm Perry deserves the MVP trophy for this team, as his reemergence at quarterback was the biggest difference for the Midshipmen this year.
4. SMU Mustangs (10-2)
Ok, so there were a bunch of surprises this year, and the Mustangs are the fourth team to add to that list. Shane Buechele took over at quarterback, and SMU never looked back. Buechele threw for 3,626 yards with 33 touchdowns, Xavier Jones rushed for 1,249 yards and 21 touchdowns, and James Proche and Reggie Roberson combined for 1,942 yards and 20 touchdowns receiving. SMU started 8-0 and sat at the top of our Power Rankings, but their loss to Memphis pushed them back. Still, an impressive season under Sonny Dykes.
5. UCF Knights (9-3)
With how the last two years went, this year was a disappointment in comparison. Yet, the Knights weren’t far away from a third consecutive undefeated regular season. Their three losses came by a combined seven points. The Knights dominated their first three games before falling to Pitt on the road, With the conference still theirs to lose, they lost another road game, this time to Cincinnati (after beating UConn). Sitting at 4-2, the Knights regrouped to win the next three in a row before a bad loss to Tulsa. Three losses on three road games is nothing to hang your head on, and UCF still finished 9-3 and will be a competitor again in 2020.
6. Temple Owls (8-4)
Temple started 2-0, including a win over a ranked Maryland team. They followed that up with a loss to a Buffalo team with a losing record. Neither the Maryland win or the Buffalo loss looks like it did at the time, but it was confusing when it happened. The Owls gave Memphis their only loss this year before losing to SMU and UCF in consecutive weeks. Their hopes of winning the AAC East came to an end when a blocked extra points lost them the game against Cincinnati. Overall, Rod Carey did a great job with this team, even if there are still things to address offensively.
7. Tulane Green Wave (6-6)
If you consider the hype this team received coming into the season, and then the excitement after a wild win over Houston, this was a disappointment. A 5-1 start was followed with a 1-5 finish. Three of those final five losses came by one score, but they couldn’t find a way to win them. Willie Fritz’s squad is headed to a bowl game, but many expected them to do so with a better record than last year. They didn’t take a step back, but they didn’t move forward either.
8. Houston Cougars (4-8)
We could probably write an entire article based solely on the Houston Cougars season. Really, it would be a series. That’s how much went down in Dana Holgorsen’s first year. A 1-3 start wasn’t surprising, but the aftermath shocked college football. D’Eriq King and Keith Corbin decided to sit out the rest of the season to preserve their redshirts and play in 2020. A handful of injuries left Houston thin at multiple positions, and it showed. Young players received valuable reps earlier tan expected, but that helps them build depth for next year. A 4-8 finish isn’t what fans expected, but it was always about the big picture when this season began.
9. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-8)
It’s tough to summarize Tulsa’s season. They proved to be competitive against better teams (Michigan State, Oklahoma State, SMU), but couldn’t pull off the upset. A win over UCF towards the end of the season was surprising, but they followed that up with a loss to Houston. Phillip Montgomery’s now won one more game than the presvious season for a third consecutive year, but is that enough to keep his job? Wins over UCF, Wyoming, and San Jose State are impressive, but they lost eight games. If he stays, Montgomery must make a bowl game in 2020.
10. USF Bulls (4-8)
A 49-0 beatdown was just the beginning. A 2-3 start featured zero impressive wins (or performances for that matter) until the Bulls stunned BYU at home. A 3-3 first half turned into a 1-5 second half, though USF made things interesting with Temple and Cincinnati (lost by a combined 13 points). Charlie Strong’s program took a step backwards this year, and it produced talk of his exit as head coach. Injuries didn’t help matters at all, but it was still a rough year even without injuries.
11. ECU Pirates (4-8)
The Pirates find themselves in a familiar position at second to last, but it feels a little different. A 3-2 start featured wins over two FCS teams and Old Dominion, and ECU finished the year 1-6. Yikes. Mike Houston’s first year as head coach produced a confident Holton Ahlers (who tore it up in the second half of the season) and a little bit of hope for the future. A 4-8 season is a little disappointing, but this team’s headed in the right direction (though, the seven point win against UConn and loss to Tulsa aren’t great).
12. UConn Huskies (2-10)
UConn finished 2019 as a much better team than last year, but that yielded just one more win. Wins over Wagner and UMass were the highlights, but the Huskies were only in three other games this year. Their defense didn’t give as much as they did in 2018, but opposing teams still found little resistance on the scoreboard. Kevin Mensah was the best player for this team, and his 164-yard, four touchdown performance at UMass is the highlight of their season.