The fifth season of the American Athletic Conference is officially complete following Tulane’s win over Southern Miss in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The conference finished bowl season with a 4-3 record, an improvement from their 2-5 mark in postseason play a year ago. The troublesome stat is that three teams allowed 50-plus points.
Let’s recap all the action in the AAC this bowl season.
Florida Atlantic Owls defeated SMU Mustangs, 52-28
This was arguably this biggest surprise in the conference during the bowl season. No one expected FAU to compete in this one with Lane Kiffin accepting the job at Ole Miss, numerous FAU starts not suiting up, and SMU being one of the elite offenses in the country. With the win, the Owls are now 4-0 in bowl appearances. While the end result was not what Sonny Dykes and the Mustangs hoped for, the season was a success. SMU set numerous school records, were ranked for the first time since 1986 and recorded double-digit wins for the first time since 1984. Dykes looks to have the program moving into the right direction, evident by the contract extension he signed before the game.
For more in-depth coverage of this game, check out our Boca Raton Bowl recap.
UCF Knights defeated Marshall Thundering Herd, 48-25
Defense was not the AAC’s strong suit for many of these bowl games, but UCF jumped out to a quick lead with two defensive scores starting. Richie Grant returned an interception for a touchdown on the third play of the game and the rout was on following Tre’Mon Morris-Brash’s scoop and score as the Knights led 21-0 just eight minutes into the game. Marshall would turn the ball over four times in the first half and five times total. The UCF offense did their part as well, racking up 587 yards, including 310 on the ground. Many have proclaimed that the Knights’ run is over, but another season with double-digit wins and the expected growth of Gabriel should have them right back in the thick of that discussion again in 2020.
Here is a complete breakdown of UCF’s win over Marshall.
North Carolina Tar Heels defeated Temple Owls, 55-13
The Owls will want to steer clear of another ACC team in postseason play next season. After allowing Duke to put up 56 points in last year’s Independence Bowl, Temple gave up another 50-plus in a bowl game. North Carolina never trailed, scoring 31 unanswered points at one point, as the Owls struggled throughout the contest. Rod Carey is now 0-7 for his career in bowl games and the Owls face major turnover heading into 2020. Temple will lose 16 seniors, and suffered a huge blow when AAC Defensive Player of the Year Quincy Roche announced he would enter the transfer portal.
Read all about the Owls crushing loss to the Tar Heels here.
No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions defeated No. 17 Memphis Tigers, 53-39
This game was a lot closer than the score indicates. Memphis’ offense put up the most points and yards the Nittany Lions allowed all season, but could not find the end zone as they were forced to settle for a Cotton Bowl-record six field goals. Brady White threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, and was sacked six times, which was a season high. The season was not lost for Memphis as they won the AAC Championship and set a school record for wins, but they feel they could have won this game if they convert those field goals to touchdowns.
Underdog Dynasty was at the Cotton Bowl, and you can read our coverage here.
No. 23 Navy Midshipmen defeated Kansas State Wildcats, 20-17
After going 3-10 last year, Navy finished the season 11-2 on the legs of Malcolm Perry. He ran for 2,017 yards on the season, a FBS record for a quarterback, but it was a trick play on fourth down that earned the Midshipmen the win in the final minute. The turnaround was the second largest in FBS history and tied Navy’s program record for wins in a season. They also will finish the season in the AP Top 25 for only the third time in the last 56 years. It was a remarkable season for the Mids, but they will lose Perry’s massive producation to graduation.
For complete coverage of the Liberty Bowl, visit Against All Enemies, SB Nation’s home for the service academies.
No. 21 Cincinnati Bearcats defeated Boston College Eagles, 38-6
Torrential downpours seem to follow Boston College in bowl games. Last season’s game was cancelled and they are probably wishing this one was as well. Desmond Ridder scored four times, including three rushing touchdowns as the Bearcats dismantled BC with ease. Cincinnati finished with 11 wins for the second straight season and only the fourth time in school history. Luke Fickell might be one of the most underrated coaches in the nation as he builds something special in Cincinnati.
Visit Down the Drive, SB Nation’s home of the Bearcats, for more coverage of the Birmingham Bowl.
Tulane Green Wave defeated Southern Miss Golden Eagles, 30-13
The rivalry was renewed in the “Battle of the Bell” as these charter members of Conference USA met for the first time since 2003. Southern Miss jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, but from that point forward, Tulane dominated the game on both sides of the ball. Justin McMillan threw three touchdowns in the third quarter as the Green Wave scored 30 unanswered points. With the win, Tulane finished with bowl wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
Check out our recap of the Armed Forces Bowl.