By now, the AAC has divided itself into tiers. There is currently a narrow top tier, while the middle tier is much larger than it had been in recent memory. Then, there is the consistently disappointing bottom layer. Nothing happened to disrupt those tiers too much, with no major upsets in the conference during Week 11.
It is worth starting to ask the question about Cincinnati, “Are they actually the best team in the conference right now?” Because the Bearcats aren’t playing like the best team in the conference. They’re not playing like a team that thinks it has a shot at the College Football Playoff. They’re playing like a team that’s sleepwalking through the season, and that’s a major issue.
So, here are the power rankings through Week 11 in the AAC:
1. Houston (9-1, 7-0)
Yeah, the College Football Playoff discourse is all around Cincinnati and not Houston, who lost to the Power Five team they played (and led at the half). However, if Houston and Cincinnati were to play this week, I’d expect the Cougars to win. They’re playing better all around football right now. Credit to Dana Holgorsen for turning around this program after a couple really weird and bad seasons.
2. Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0)
The Bearcats keep winning, but they look bad doing it. That is to say, they’re starting slow against teams who aren’t going to a bowl game and they’re not playing a full 60 minute game. They’ve had their wake-up call too, so there shouldn’t be any excuses. They’ve actually had several wake-up calls. At a certain point, you have to wonder if it isn’t a matter of needing to play better on offense and not being able to play better on offense.
3. SMU (8-2, 4-2)
SMU’s offense was back to its dominating fashion against UCF, as they turned things around ahead of their game against Cincinnati. In particular, Ulysses Bentley looked healthy and Tre Siggers looked unstoppable. If those two get going and defenses have to defend both the pass and the run against SMU, then this offensive weapon will be in full effect. That’s a scary thing, even if they have more than a few issues on defense.
4. ECU (6-4, 4-2)
ECU is bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. Let’s say that again, ECU is bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. Wait, there’s more, ECU is one of the last four teams to have a path to the AAC Championship Game. Meanwhile, three out of four of their losses, the Pirates probably should have won. The offense has found a running game and their secondary is dominant. The wide receivers are deep and talented. Holton Ahlers, while not perfect, has been capable. It’s hard not to be excited about ECU right now.
5. UCF (6-4, 4-3)
With their loss to SMU, UCF is officially eliminated from the race for a trip to the AAC Championship Game and they mathematically will not be able to win 10 games this season. At some point, the injuries are just too much to get over. So, while it’s been nice to see Mikey Keene grow and mature over the course of this season, at some point you need your All-AAC quarterback to compete with the best teams in this conference. The Knights don’t have that right now, and while they’re developing as the season goes on, they’re in a rough position for the time being.
6. Memphis (5-5, 2-4)
Memphis has been a tough team to judge this season, but they’ve been a mess in conference play. After all, they lost to Temple but beat SMU. That’s a weird season. The biggest issue for Memphis seems to be that their offense lost its identity as a dominant rushing team, and the passing game is a bit predictable, though highly explosive and exciting. Still, the slide continues after a hot start to the season. With Houston and Tulane remaining, Memphis should make it to bowl eligibility, but only by the skin of their neck.
7. Navy (2-7, 2-3)
Navy got a much needed bye week after an awfully difficult stretch that included Tai Lavatai leaving the Notre Dame game in a sling. Over the course of the season, it’s felt like the Midshipmen have found their identity again, even if the wins haven’t come this season.
8. Tulsa (4-6, 3-3)
Tulsa tried to lose to Tulane. blowing a 13-3 lead late and throwing an interception to set up a field goal that the Green Wave ultimately missed. Yes, they got the win in the end, but it’s frustrating how inconsistently the Golden Hurricanes have played this season. This is a team that should be better, especially in the trenches. Davis Brin, meanwhile, has struggled this year. It’s a bit of a mess, but Temple and SMU left, there is still an outside shot at making it to a bowl game.
9. USF (2-8, 1-5)
Make no mistake, USF has figured out a lot about itself and its offense this year. The Bulls have young freshmen at quarterback, wide receiver, and running back. USF has also begun to establish its identity on that side of the ball, and they played well against an elite Cincinnati defense. The problem is that the Bulls’ defense is a complete mess that isn’t getting any better. It may be time for a change there.
10. Tulane (1-9, 0-6)
Tulane is a mess. Over the course of this season, when the offense has played well, the defense has disappeared. When the defense has played well, the offense has disappeared. This has led to a bunch of close games, including giving Oklahoma a legitimate scare. It’s also led to only one actual win, against FCS Morgan State. There is a big question as to the development of Michael Pratt, and if Chip Long was the right hire to replace offensive coordinator Will Hall or not.
11. Temple (3-7, 1-5)
Since their now shocking win over Memphis, Temple is averaging 7 points per game. In their last three games, they haven’t scored outside of the 4th quarter, when each game was well into the 4th quarter. Their defense hasn’t held a team to less than 30 points in conference play. Worse than all that, it seems like they’re just trying to get through the rest of the season as quickly as possible.