We tend to talk about the AAC in terms of Cincinnati. Can Cincinnati make the College Football Playoff? Could anyone catch the Bearcats? Will the AAC be a good enough conference to boost the Cincinnati strength of schedule? The list goes on and on. This is, in its own way, unfortunate. It takes away from the other teams doing great things in the conference, and it’s for no good reason because Cincinnati isn’t going to the Playoff no matter what.
All eleven AAC teams were in action during Week 10, and there were a few great games to see. That means that there is going to be some shakeup in the power rankings, but where will that shakeup come?
1. Cincinnati (9-0, 5-0)
Part of me wanted to punish Cincinnati for three straight close wins, including a game that they easily could have lost at home to Tulsa. It’s just that behind them SMU is going to keep losing and Houston let USF give them a good scare. Oftentimes, we look at college football as a very Playoff-centric sport. We don’t put emphasis on winning conference championships, except as a resume point for the Playoff. Bowl games matter less, even New Year’s Six Bowl matter less if they’re not a semifinal. That’s why we talk about Cincinnati’s ability to make the Playoff and the hits their resume takes. Well, I’m questioning their ability, even with all that talent, to win the AAC while they’re playing like this.
2. Houston (8-1, 6-0)
Houston let USF jump out ahead of them, but did a good job showing resiliency to come back and win. That included shutting down USF’s running game and scoring 21 points in the third quarter on their way to a shootout win. On the whole, each week, it’s more and more frustrating that Houston lost to a Texas Tech team that they’re better than. The defensive speed on Houston is amazing. Clayton Tune has grown up a ton from the interception happy quarterback he used to be. They should be ranked in the top-25 and Cincinnati should be scared of them.
3. UCF (6-3, 4-2)
UCF only scoring 14 points against Tulane feels like there is an issue with the offense in Gus Malzahn’s first season. There might be, to an extent, but a lot of that goes back to Dillon Gabriel’s injury. However, as is often the case, you need to pay closer attention to detail to truly know what's going on offensively. Mikey Keene, Gabriel’s replacement, is a true freshman. He has had some struggles, but the past two weeks he’s looked solid. Throwing 7 TDs and for the two highest passing yard totals of his career. That’s important growth. The Knights’ defense has also been insanely strong as the season has gone on. In the past three weeks, they’ve allowed a total of 24 points, the secondary has been in blanket coverage and the pass rush is swarming. This is an imperfect team, but it’s also a rapidly improving one.
4. ECU (5-4, 3-2)
ECU continues to be a feel-good story in the AAC this season as they dominated Temple to the tune of a 45-3 blowout. It was, of course, never a close game. There wasn’t a second of this game that Temple scared ECU at all. That’s not something that we’re used to saying about an ECU team that has struggled to find consistency at times this season. The great strength of ECU has been their secondary, who dominated Temple and has been dominant this entire season. The Pirates have finally found a running game after years of looking, and Holton Ahlers is a very capable quarterback when he’s on. One more win and ECU is bowling for the first time since 2014.
5. Memphis (5-4, 2-3)
Memphis, dealing with an injury issue to their freshman quarterback Seth Henigan, had dropped four of their last five coming into their game against one of the conference’s top teams, SMU. The Mustangs, a high-flying offense, should have been able to exploit a bad secondary for Memphis, but they really couldn’t. Part of this is the lack of balance that SMU has had with the injury issues that starting running back Ulysses Bentley has had. Now, through all their struggles, you can still point to some consistencies in Memphis, and that’s it is almost impossible to win in the Liberty Bowl as a visitor.
6. SMU (7-2, 3-2)
You can’t lose two games in a row, even on the road, while you control your own destiny and expect to get away with it. You just can’t. So, SMU is being moved to six, for the time being, because their offense has refused to show up in the first quarter of back-to-back weeks, most recently against a bad Memphis defense. The Mustangs' secondary is atrocious too. They’re easy to pick apart and that’s becoming a major issue. So, they fell behind several teams that held serve.
7. Navy (2-7, 2-3)
Navy beat Tulsa on 0 yards passing a week ago. Against Notre Dame, they had 18 yards passing, which was clearly too many as they got beaten down by the Irish. This tends to happen when Navy plays Notre Dame, and you really can’t hold it against Navy. They don’t recruit at nearly the same level as one another. Still, Notre Dame dominated them on both sides of the ball.
8. Tulsa (3-6, 2-3)
Tulsa could’ve, should’ve, would’ve beaten Cincinnati. Except they didn’t. This is the difficulty in judging Tulsa. They have some talent, but not enough. Tulsa keeps some games close, but never closes out. It’s incredibly frustrating because they should be better on paper than what they’ve been in reality. There is a lot of talent in the running game for Tulsa, but Davis Brin needs to play better.
9. USF (2-7, 1-4)
USF is a young team with talent issues. However, they’re doing a great job finding themselves over the course of the season. They’re learning about what type of team they’re going to be under Jeff Scott and they’re gaining confidence with every passing week. This week, they gave Houston a scare that no one really saw coming after a great win over SMU. The really great thing is that USF has its identity as a run-first team, as well as their quarterback of the future.
10. Tulane (1-8, 0-5)
Tulane is an absolute mess. Even only allowing 14 points to UCF, their defense is one of the worst in the conference. On the offensive side of the ball, something is clearly not clicking with Chip Long’s new offensive system. They turn the ball over a ton, struggle in blocking assignments, can’t find much of a running game, and generally don’t do the little things right. That’s a surprise, given how good a coaching staff Tulane has, but it’s time to hit the reset button and try to forget how things have gone to this point.
11. Temple (3-6, 1-4)
Temple has quit on this season. That much is obvious. They start games slowly, dig themselves into big holes, and don’t try to respond to get out of them. It’s easy to compare Temple to USF this season because they’re both young teams trying to figure things out this season. However, the difference is buy-in and effort. Right now, the Owls look like they’re just trying to get through this season.