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Front Runners Emerging for AAC Championship Game

After a big weekend for the American Athletic Conference, the race to make the conference championship game is starting to take shape

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In a de facto elimination game Memphis came back from a 21 point deficit, before Dillon Gabriel drove UCF into field goal range as time dwindled. That’s when kicker Daniel Obarski pulled a go ahead field goal wide left. He left the field, only to get into a heated exchange with the third string QB, Quadry Jones, who seemed to blame Obarksi for giving up 50 points.

More than a sore ego, UCF left the game with a second conference loss, and in a season without divisions, the Knights will need major chaos to end up in the conference championship game. Memphis, meanwhile, spoiled Dillon Gabriel 601 yard passing and 5 touchdown (not to mention 49 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground) performance. The Tigers also avoided a second conference loss, keeping them firmly in the discussion for the conference championship game.

With all that being said, SMU and Cincinnati came into this week with the best shot at the AAC Championship Game. The Bearcats, ranked in the top 10, didn’t have the chance to expand on their 1-0 conference record. Their game with Tulsa was postponed due to COVID-19 issues. Meanwhile, SMU survived Tulane on Friday night. With their win over the Green Wave, the Mustangs improved to 2-0 in conference play.

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Houston Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their issues, Navy has improved to 3-0 in conference play with wins over Tulane, Temple, and now ECU. The Midshipmen seem to have their sea legs under them after an awful start to their 2020 season. Still, they’ve yet to play anyone considered to be a top tier AAC team, and that’s when we’ll find out if Navy is a pretender or contender in the conference.

Tulsa is also unbeaten in conference play, with their win over UCF. The Golden Hurricanes have clearly been improving in the past two seasons, and while they’re likely still on the outside looking in, they are a legitimate dark horse.

Houston seems to be a wild card in the AAC. They have an explosive offense, and started out 1-0 with a come from behind victory over Tulane. The Cougars aren’t without their flaws, which BYU exposed several of on Friday night. This included a secondary that just couldn’t slow BYU down and issues with discipline.

Four teams don’t seem to have any shot to make the conference championship game. USF is awful. At 0-3 in conference play, the Bulls are going to struggle in every game going forward. Temple, who barely beat USF on Saturday, is 1-1 in conference. So, they do have a realistic path. The Owls have just neither looked the part in flashes nor for any extended stretches. Finally, ECU has taken strides forward in year two under Mike Houston, but they’re still not ready to compete with the top tier teams.

Next week, Cincinnati is scheduled to travel to SMU. Issues at Cincinnati are what led to the postponement of the Tulsa game. Hopefully those issues don’t carry into next week’s game, because the winner will be in the driver’s seat to host the AAC Championship Game and go to a New Year’s Six Bowl.