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Three things we learned from the AAC in Week 8

An exciting week full of national potential for the AAC.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Southern Methodist Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

In the past, these have been tough to write because there’s always been something frustrating about this conference. This week, we’re only talking good things. A week with a ranked matchup didn’t disappoint, and we have things to address nationally. Like a playoff team and a Defensive Player of the Year.

Zaven Collins is having a monster year

Even when Cooper Edmiston was the leader of the defense, Zaven Collins was making plays. Now, Collins is proving that he can be a leader for the Golden Hurricane defense without sacrificing his production. Our own Steven Helwick wrote why Collins deserves to be considered one of the best defensive players in college football, and he’s right. He does it all. He’s produced 22 tackles, four for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. There’s nothing he can’t do defensively, and he’s improved his draft stock already through three games. His play and the improvement of the defense is the biggest reason why Tulsa’s a contender in the AAC, and it seems like they’re just getting started.

Memphis’ offense has a new explosive playmaker

Calvin Austin came into the 2020 season as a supplemental weapon to the Memphis offense. With Damonte Coxie returning, the Tigers just needed someone to take the pressure off of their star. Austin started the season well, and this week he took his game to a new level. With Coxie opting out of the 2020 season this week, Brady White needed a new top target. Austin showed he could do it last week, and added another great performance against Temple. He only caught six passes, but turned them into 184 yards and a touchdown. We knew Memphis would turn to a receiver to be their top playmaker after Kenny Gainwell opted out, and Coxie’s absence left another hole. Luckily for Memphis, Austin is the next guy in line for that role.

Cincinnati: a College Football Playoff contender?

It’s still a long shot, but Cincinnati is showing why they belong in the College Football Playoff. At least parts of their team do. The Bearcats have one of the best defenses in college football, so much so that you could probably count on one hand the number of defenses that are as good or maybe better than them. They held an SMU offense that was averaging 563 yards per game to just 300 yards. I think this team can compete with nearly anyone defensively, but there are plenty of question marks on the other side of the ball.

From beginning to end, Cincinnati dominated their ranked matchup against SMU, but the Mustangs defense didn’t exactly test the Bearcats offense. Desmond Ridder only threw for 126 yards, and only a couple were more than five yards downfield. While his legs will make this offense tough to stop, a good defensive team will force Ridder to beat them with his arm, which he’s yet to prove he can do. For now, this team remains the best Group of 5 team in college football, but they still have some work to do.