We’ve approached the midseason barometer for the 2023 college football season.
It’s a new era for the American Athletic Conference which expanded to 14 teams this offseason — the most members the league has ever juggled at once. Six CUSA newcomers replaced three Big 12 departures to join eight incumbent members, manufacturing an all-geographically encompassing league which ranges from Annapolis, MD to Boca Raton, FL to Memphis, TN to Dallas, TX.
The AAC is currently riding a 6-year streak of sending its champion to the New Year’s Six. The conference crown currently belongs to the Tulane Green Wave, which are the league’s only ranked team at No. 23 in the AP Poll, unquestionably holding the top spot in the current power rankings. But how are the other 13 teams situated at the season’s midway point?
Our full power rankings are here:
14. Charlotte 49ers
Record: 1-5, 0-2 AAC
Best win: 24-3 vs. South Carolina State (FCS), Week 1
Worst loss: 14-0 vs. Navy, Week 7
Not many programs started from square one this year more than Charlotte. Roughly two-thirds of the 49ers’ two-deep are first-year transfers from other programs, and assembling a hodgepodge of new arrivals is never a simple task. First-year head coach Biff Poggi is as interesting of a character as there is in college football, a former hedge fund manager renowned for his cutoff t-shirts, cookie reviews, and his love of cigars. But the former Michigan assistant realizes he has a significant rebuilding project on his hands, as Charlotte is one of 10 FBS programs yet to defeat another FBS team this year. The defense hasn’t been bad, allowing the team to hang with the likes of Maryland and Florida for roughly three quarters. But fresh off a shutout at the hands of Navy, the 49ers need substantially more offensive production to remove that goose egg from their AAC win column.
13. East Carolina Pirates
Record: 1-5, 0-2 AAC
Best win: 44-0 vs. Gardner-Webb (FCS), Week 4
Worst loss: 24-17 at Rice, Week 5
East Carolina was one of the best stories over the last two years in college football. The Pirates fell on hard times in the mid-to-late 2010s, but Mike Houston rebuilt them and manufactured back-to-back winning seasons, complete with a Birmingham Bowl win over Coastal Carolina last December. The problem with that Birmingham Bowl? It was the sendoff performance for most of the team’s significant contributors, ranging from longtime quarterback Holton Ahlers to star running back Keaton Mitchell. East Carolina was zapped of its experience this offseason, only returning one offensive starter who started at least half of the games in 2022. The lack of offensive experience — highlighted by a still-ongoing quarterback competition between Mason Garcia and Alex Flinn — continues to show for a squad averaging 19.2 points per game, but the Pirates have been solid defensively at times. Like Charlotte, they’ve yet to take down an FBS opponent but a golden opportunity arises for both programs this Saturday in the AAC’s first-ever in-state matchup to transpire in North Carolina.
12. Temple Owls
Record: 2-5, 0-3 AAC
Best win: 24-21 vs. Akron, Week 1
Worst loss: 45-14 at North Texas, Week 7
Temple gained significant momentum last November to conclude Stan Drayton’s first year at the helm. The Owls averaged 34.5 points per game that month, guided by monstrous passing performances by true freshman quarterback E.J. Warner. The son of Hall of Fame gunslinger Kurt Warner, E.J. remains a force as a true sophomore as suggested by his 472-yard, 5-touchdown, 0-interception outing two weeks ago. But outside of the nation’s 38th ranked passing game, nothing has gone right for Temple. Until Week 7, the Owls hadn’t seen a 50-yard rusher against an FBS opponent. And the defense continues to be a heel, yielding over 40 points to four consecutive opponents to secure a bottom 10 scoring defense in the nation. The highlight of Temple’s season thus far was storming back down 21-7 to beat a 1-6 Akron team. But it’s brutal to say the least, and last Saturday’s 45-14 annihilation at North Texas — bereft of Warner — was a harsh reality check for the Owls.
11. North Texas Mean Green
Record: 3-3, 1-1 AAC
Best win: 45-14 vs. Temple, Week 7
Worst loss: 46-39 at FIU, Week 2
There is a significant gap between the conference’s bottom three teams and the next tier, as suggested by North Texas’ 31-point disposal of Temple this past Saturday. The Mean Green exhibited the country’s worst scoring defense at the end of September and allowing explosive plays contributed to a stunning shootout loss to FIU. But that unit is making midseason strides under first-year defensive coordinator Matt Caponi and all-conference playmakers Mazin Richards and Ridge Texada. Offensively, this team has been potent since inserting ULM transfer quarterback Chandler Rogers into the lineup, and he has thrown 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four starts this year. In that span, North Texas is averaging 38.5 points per game, and Rogers is assisted with the nation’s 21st ranked rushing attack to power the offense. However, the Mean Green have the so-called “stretch of death” looming, battling the top four teams in these power rankings in four consecutive weeks — a stretch which will make or break its inaugural AAC season.
10. Rice Owls
Record: 3-3, 1-1 AAC
Best win: 43-41 vs. Houston, Week 2
Worst loss: 38-31 vs. UConn, Week 6
Rice made one of the biggest splashes in the transfer portal this offseason to acquire former USC, Georgia, and West Virginia quarterback — JT Daniels. The former 5-star quarterback fit seamlessly into an offense which had been long looking for an aerial spark, and he displays a tremendous pairing with wide receiver Luke McCaffrey who ranks third in the AAC in receiving yards. Thanks to that duo, the Owls launched the season in promising fashion with a 43-41 overtime victory over Houston — arguably the best non-conference win by any AAC team. But the last few weeks haven’t been easy, as the team folded in second halves against sub-.500 South Florida and UConn teams. UConn was previously winless heading into Rice, and the Huskies erased an early 14-0 deficit due to a commanding 4-0 advantage in the turnover battle. Establishing a run and preventing turnovers are focuses for the Owls going forward. They know what they’re capable of after downing Houston, and that performance must be replicated in order to prevent a ninth consecutive losing season.
9. Navy Midshipmen
Record: 3-3, 2-2 AAC
Best win: 27-24 vs. North Texas, Week 6
Worst loss: 44-30 vs. South Florida, Week 5
It’s a new coach, but Navy is following its usual script from the past few seasons. The Midshipmen started slow in a 42-3 thrashing at the hands of Notre Dame in Ireland, falling to 0-4 with an aggregate score of 160-20 in the last four openers. But as usual, the tackling improves, the option scheme looks more polished, and the wins start mounting. That has transpired this October and Navy rides a two-game win streak after downing North Texas and Charlotte in consecutive weeks — pitching a shutout in the latter of the two. The increased utilization of sophomore fullback Alex Tecza has translated to tangible success. Tecza produced 457 yards and four touchdowns on 9.0 yards per carry across Navy’s last four games, and the Midshipmen ground game poses a threat to anybody if this sustains. The remaining AAC schedule features four sub-.500 teams, so Navy has an opportunity to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2019 in Brian Newberry’s first year.
8. South Florida Bulls
Record: 3-4, 2-2 AAC
Best win: 44-30 at Navy, Week 5
Worst loss: 56-14 vs. Florida Atlantic, Week 7
South Florida might be the most confusing team in this conference. The Bulls started this year out with a 41-24 loss to Western Kentucky. Two weeks later, this same team had Alabama’s offense in hell. South Florida fell in 17-3 fashion, but the Bulls gave the Crimson Tide a sustained scare with heaps of pressure in the backfield, generating five sacks and forcing Alabama to 10 completions on 23 attempts. The momentum gained from that performance came to fruition, as South Florida snapped an FBS-high 18-game skid against FBS opponents the following week to upend Rice. Then, the Bulls defeated Navy 44-30 to improve to 2-0 in AAC play. Once it seemed this team was a force in Alex Golesh’s first year at the helm, disaster unfolded. That same South Florida defense which gave Alabama fits yielded 56 points in consecutive weeks to UAB and Florida Atlantic. Bowl eligibility remains in play and quarterback Byrum Brown is a dynamic playmaker as the conference’s leading rusher with a more-than-viable arm. But defensive inconsistencies and offensive line miscues might prevent South Florida from becoming the breakout team it appeared to be two weeks ago.
7. UAB Blazers
Record: 2-5, 1-1 AAC
Best win: 56-35 vs. South Florida, Week 6
Worst loss: 41-21 vs. Louisiana, Week 3
UAB demonstrated remarkable consistency ever returning from its infamous two-year hiatus. The Blazers have not finished below .500 since their return in 2017, and bowl eligibility is usually an annual guarantee. But there have been growing pains in year one of the Trent Dilfer era, and the team is one loss away from tying its most in a year since 2017. But there is certainly potential within this UAB team, which saw its record plagued by a difficult non-conference schedule featuring Georgia and two of the Sun Belt’s top teams in Louisiana and Georgia Southern. The Blazers responded to non-conference struggles by going punch-for-punch with Tulane in New Orleans and then posting 56 points on South Florida the following week. Quarterback Jacob Zeno is first in the conference in passing yards, while running back Jermaine Brown Jr. reigns supreme in rushing touchdowns. The offensive talent is in place, but the defense is third-to-last in points allowed per game at 36.6. Improvement on that end is the key to keeping the bowl eligibility streak in tact.
6. Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Record: 3-3, 1-1 AAC
Best win: 22-14 at Northern Illinois, Week 4
Worst loss: 20-17 at Florida Atlantic, Week 6
Tulsa went in a different direction this offseason, hiring Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to lead the program after eight years under Philip Montgomery. The Golden Hurricane are sitting at .500, but two of those blowout losses were highly excusable. Tulsa spent Weeks 2 and 3 squaring off against current top six teams Washington and Oklahoma and their Heisman-caliber quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and Dillon Gabriel. It’s been more smooth-sailing for Wilson’s squad since, which has established a tremendous ground presence that accumulates nearly 200 yards per game — 26th in the FBS. The Golden Hurricane have shuffled through quarterbacks due to injuries and other factors this year, and they are still searching for similar success through the air. Tulsa fell from a top 25 passing attack to the bottom 25 from 2022 to 2023, and no program in the country has currently thrown more interceptions. Still, Tulsa remains .500 thanks to a defense which has progressed throughout the season, allowing 20 points per contest in its last three outings.
5. Florida Atlantic Owls
Record: 3-3, 2-0 AAC
Best win: 56-14 at South Florida, Week 7
Worst loss: 23-17 at Illinois, Week 4
Of the seven AAC programs showcasing first-year head coaches, it’s hard to argue Florida Atlantic has seen the most success. Winning is simply what Tom Herman has done at each stop, elevating Houston to a New Year’s Six bowl win in his first year at the helm in 2015 and replicating that feat with Texas during his second year on campus in 2018. The Owls have yet to lose an AAC match since joining the conference, taking out incumbent members Tulsa and South Florida. The South Florida win was especially impressive as the Owls stormed into Tampa, posted 587 yards of offense, stifled the Bulls to a 3-of-15 showing on third down, and exited with a 42-point thrashing. Florida Atlantic’s offense hasn’t missed a beat since the unfortunate season-ending injury to starting quarterback Casey Thompson. Central Michigan transfer Daniel Richardson has unleashed his cannon arm, utilizing the talented receiving tandem of LaJohntay Wester (first in FBS in receptions) and Tony Johnson to keep the Owls trucking along offensively. Non-conference matchups against Clemson, Ohio, and Illinois spoiled FAU’s record in the early going, but at the moment, Herman seems to have this program on track for its first bowl since 2019.
4. UTSA Roadrunners
Record: 3-3, 2-0 AAC
Best win: 20-13 vs. Texas State, Week 2
Worst loss: 37-29 vs. Army, Week 3
It’s been a tale of two seasons for UTSA already, and the Roadrunners have only participated in six games. They entered the AAC with lofty expectations, selected to finish second in the preseason poll after consecutive CUSA titles. Non-conference play unfolded in nightmarish fashion. UTSA dropped contests to Houston, Army, and Tennessee to start 1-3 — albeit a quality win over a much-improved Texas State team was sprinkled in between. The Roadrunners haven’t lost more than three contests since 2020, but they’ve rebounded from their poor start. UTSA is now 2-0 in AAC play, posting 45 points per game against conference competition after averaging under 20 in non-conference play. One reason for the sudden turnaround — star quarterback Frank Harris returned to the lineup Week 6 against Temple after missing the Army and Tennessee games with turf toe. While Harris has the Roadrunners flying high again offensively, the defense is finally creating the havoc they desperately craved. After securing one takeaway in non-conference play, UTSA has snatched five turnovers in its last two outings, led by disruptive pass rusher Trey Moore — the AAC’s leader in sacks.
3. SMU Mustangs
Record: 4-2, 2-0 AAC
Best win: 38-14 vs. Louisiana Tech, Week 1
Worst loss: 34-17 at TCU, Week 4
One day before SMU made its 2023 season opener, the Mustangs realized this year is their farewell tour in the AAC. SMU will bring the Dallas market to the ACC next season as a significant geographic outlier for the conference, but for now, the program looks to break through and claim its first AAC Championship Game appearance. So far, the start has been promising. SMU is 2-0 in AAC play with a manageable schedule ahead that features Memphis as the only above-.500 opponent remaining. The Mustangs dropped non-conference games in Big 12 country to Oklahoma and TCU, but they fought hard for the majority of both contests before bowing out in the fourth quarter. When looking at recent year statistics, SMU is renowned for high-flying offenses and less than stellar defenses, but this year’s Mustangs team has finally made the leap defensively. This program hasn’t fared better than 75th in scoring defense since 2012 but currently ranks 17th in the FBS with a per game allotment of 17 points — thanks to a suffocating defensive line. Offensively, Preston Stone is still developing in year one as a starter and SMU hopes he progresses enough to host the conference title game come the first week of December.
2. Memphis Tigers
Record: 4-2, 1-1 AAC
Best win: 35-32 vs. Boise State, Week 5
Worst loss: 31-21 vs. Tulane, Week 7
Memphis is one of two current AAC programs to qualify for the coveted New Year’s Six stage. It’s been four years since Ryan Silverfield coached this team in a Cotton Bowl, but the Tigers still possess an outside shot to return to that prestigious slate of bowls. However, Memphis fell short in what might have been the AAC game of the year last Friday — dropping a rare home game after squandering a 21-10 second half lead to Tulane. The good news for the Tigers is they control their own destiny for a rematch with the Green Wave in December. Memphis possesses an explosive offense averaging 34 points per game, headlined by quarterback Seth Henigan and Old Dominion transfer running back Blake Watson. And defensive coordinator Matt Barnes is leading a well-disciplined defense which ranks top 20 in third down stop rate, fourth down stop rate, and fewest penalties committed. Memphis’ only two losses are relatively close calls to ranked opponents, so the Tigers’ odds of returning to their first AAC Championship Game since 2019 likely hinge on the result of a Nov. 18 battle with SMU.
1. Tulane Green Wave
Record: 5-1, 2-0 AAC
Best win: 31-21 at Memphis, Week 7
Worst loss: 37-20 vs. Ole Miss, Week 2
The gold standard remains the Tulane Green Wave. Expectations have never been higher in the Big Easy. Tulane started with a ranking beside its name for the first time ever, fresh off a season featuring an AAC title, a Cotton Bowl victory over USC, and a final season AP ranking of No. 9. The preseason AAC favorites are living up to the hype, flaunting a No. 23 ranking in the current poll. Tulane dropped one contest to Ole Miss in Week 2 where it led for the majority of the game, despite playing without star quarterback Michael Pratt who sat that afternoon with a knee injury. But Pratt has since returned and he’s completing 70.7 percent of passes with nine touchdowns, one interception, and a group of receivers even more explosive than last year’s bunch. Defensively, Tulane presents the best front in the conference as the Patrick Jenkins-led line registers 3.3 sacks per game — good for eighth in the FBS. There aren’t many glaring weaknesses for this team which exhibits stellar offensive line play, a potent run game, and a knack for generating consistent takeaways. For the second-straight year, the AAC runs through the Green Wave.