The regular season has come to an end in the AAC. Outside of the bowl games, there are only three teams who have a game left to play. Houston and Cincinnati will play in the AAC Championship Game. Then there is the Army-Navy game, which is technically part of the regular season, but it is a postseason game in all practicality.
This was rivalry week, but in the AAC there aren’t all that many long-standing rivalries that demand to be played in the last week of the regular season. Still, as coaching changes come down and teams fought for bowl eligibility, there was plenty to play for to the bitter end of the 2021 season.
So, with the regular season in the rearview, where did each AAC team finish in the conference power rankings?
1. Cincinnati (12-0, 8-0)
Beat Houston, and Cincinnati is going to the College Football Playoff. There is really no practical way to get around it without opening yourself up to an anti-trust lawsuit. There are teams who have deserved it before them, and other teams are still underappreciated, but everyone who cares about the AAC or the Group of Five should be happy about that fact. They took care of business again, this time against ECU. Their toughest test since Notre Dame is up next, though.
2. Houston (11-1, 8-0)
The Houston Cougars really wish they didn’t collapse in the second half of their Week 1 loss to Texas Tech, or they might be the ones beating down the Playoff door. The Cougars’ defense flies around the field and is full of top-flight athletes. Their offense has steadily improved, and haven’t scored under 30 points since September. They have every ability to beat Cincinnati. If they can do that, then there is a good chance they’re headed to the New Year’s Six.
3. ECU (7-5, 5-3)
ECU may not have held up well against Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are elite after all. A seven-win season is an incredible accomplishment for this program, and they’re headed to a bowl game because of it. The thing is that the Pirates were very close to winning 10 games this season, as they took Houston to overtime, and lost to UCF and South Carolina late.
4. UCF (8-4, 5-3)
Injuries completely derailed the UCF season. Had they been healthier, they probably would have made it to 10 wins. However, you can’t change history and you are ultimately what you put on the field as a program. UCF will need to evaluate itself going forward now and make a decision on if they need to hit the portal to fill gaps going forward, especially after USF kept it close in the War on I-4.
5. SMU (8-4, 4-4)
There isn’t enough space here to break down the situation SMU is in to end the season, but losing your head coach to your local rival and booing him like a WWE heel isn’t a great way to end a season where you were ranked at one point. It didn’t help to then go and blow a 17 point lead to Tulsa. So, yeah, that was ugly. There is still a lot of talent, but this is a program that is about to go through some massive changes.
6. Tulsa (6-6, 5-3)
Halfway through this season, I didn’t think Tulsa had a shot at bowl eligibility, but here we are. Life found a way. I still don’t know how to feel about this team, despite the regular season being over, but maybe that’s the point. I still don’t know what to think of most abstract art I’ve come across, and don’t ask me about what’s going on in Finnegan’s Wake. Maybe that’s the point. Tulsa doesn’t have to make sense. This is a capable team that has some good parts. It also has some faults. On top of that, a poor start to the season meant a lot of people wrote them off early.
7. Navy (3-8, 3-5)
Navy got a much-deserved win over Temple, but their biggest prize is still to come when they play Army. Win that, and their long difficult season won’t look so long or difficult. Navy has improved over the course of the season, especially in their efficiency on offense. The wins never came but the Midshipmen are much better than their record.
8. Memphis (6-6, 2-6)
Memphis needed to win an exciting game over Tulane to become bowl eligible, but they managed to get it with a well-timed turnover on a kickoff return to help them along the way. The biggest bright spot has been Seth Henigan, whose future looks incredibly bright at quarterback. On the other hand, the defense never got things figured out, including against the run game. The run game abandoned the Tigers’ offense too. 2-6 in conference play is an absolute disaster, especially when you’re Temple’s only conference win.
9. Tulane (2-10, 1-7)
The Green Wave is better than their record showed this season. A ridiculously tough out-of-conference schedule, plus being displaced by a hurricane, made it difficult to get going to start the year. Then the spiral started. They just couldn’t get out of it until November, when they started to show life again.
10. USF (2-10, 1-7)
USF has some good young talent on offense. There is a decent base of skill there. They’ve already made a change at defensive coordinator. For one reason or another, they were able to scare UCF on the back of their otherwise terrible defense in the War on I-4. Still, like most close games, they lost and you can put a lot of blame on Jeff Scott’s clock management. That desperately needs to improve for next season.
11. Temple (3-9, 1-7)
Temple, as I’m writing this a day late, has already fired Rod Carey. It’s a big buyout, more than most G5 coaches, which should tell you how bad things were in Philadelphia. They were getting blown out so often, and showing such little life, that it was a surprise when they scored in the first half against Navy — that’s enough said.