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Breaking down every AAC Championship Game scenario for Tulane, SMU, UTSA

Tulane, SMU, and UTSA are alive for the AAC title game. They can all host the game. They can all also miss it.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Tulane at Florida Atlantic Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Several conference championship matchups are set for the first week of December. And most ones that aren’t already in stone have seen at least one team punch a ticket. And then there’s the AAC Championship Game — the only league, along with the Big 12 and Mountain West, to be completely decided in the final week of the regulation.

The AAC Championship Game race dwindled down to three teams Saturday after SMU knocked off Memphis, 38-34, thus eliminating the Tigers from their first appearance since 2019. The remaining candidates are Tulane, SMU, and UTSA, which all sport perfect 7-0 conference records headed into the final week of the regular season. But all three boast varying overall records, which certainly factors into the rankings and the New Year’s Six picture. Tulane is 10-1, SMU is 9-2, and UTSA is 8-3.

There are just two matchups that hold AAC Championship Game stakes during the final week of the regular season. Tulane hosts UTSA on Black Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC and SMU hosts Navy on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN2. With only two pertinent games, math tells us there are four possible scenarios in determining the conference title game matchup.

Simply put, here are the expected title game matchups based on all possible Week 13 outcomes. But several assumptions need to be applied to this model, and there is elaboration below.

Steve Helwick

Before breaking down each scenario, let’s break out the AAC Championship Game tiebreaker rulebook and explain some background detail.

The AAC scrapped divisions in 2020, altering its structure to send the best two teams into the conference championship game. The host site belongs to the team with the best conference record, and if two teams share 8-0 records, the higher ranked team in the College Football Playoff standings gets the nod. This tiebreaker is crucial to remember, as the head-to-head tiebreaker doesn’t apply in any tiebreakers since SMU didn’t play Tulane or UTSA this season.

As of the latest College Football Playoff rankings released Nov. 14, the only ranked AAC team is Tulane at No. 24. If Tulane remains the highest-ranked AAC team and wins Saturday, the Green Wave host the title game for the second-straight season. There is a slight chance SMU could pop into the rankings after earning its most quality victory of the season Saturday — upending Memphis on the road — but the only teams that could realistically fall out of the CFP standings to free up a spot for the Mustangs are No. 18 Tennessee (lost 38-10 to No. 1 Georgia) and No. 22 Utah (lost 42-18 to No. 17 Arizona).

That being said, it’s likely the CFP standings cannot be utilized to settle tiebreakers between 8-0 SMU and 8-0 UTSA, 7-1 Tulane and 7-1 SMU, or 7-1 SMU and 7-1 UTSA. So what happens if neither team is ranked in a tiebreaker scenario, or if a ranked team loses?

Then, the tiebreaker will be awarded to the higher ranked team based on a composite average of selected computer rankings (Anderson & Hester, Billingsley, Colley, and Wolfe). If these names are unfamiliar, they are the computer rankings that contributed to the BCS standings until that system was scrapped in 2014. These computer rankings will be applied after the regular season concludes Saturday to assess the tiebreakers, if needed. Here’s how each of these rankings shape up as of the latest update:

All ratings suggest one general consensus: Tulane will defeat SMU in a tiebreaker and SMU will defeat UTSA in a tiebreaker.

Now that we’re caught up on the complex tiebreakers, let’s dive into the four scenarios from the graphic above:

Scenario 1:

  • UTSA (9-3, 8-0 AAC) defeats Tulane (10-2, 7-1 AAC)
  • Navy defeats SMU (9-3, 7-1 AAC)

This is the least likely scenario according to the oddsmakers as the Roadrunners and Midshipmen are road underdogs heading into the final week of the season. In this scenario, UTSA is the guaranteed host of the AAC Championship Game. The visitor is likely Tulane which edges SMU via the computerized ranking tiebreaker, as both teams should be unranked with losses Saturday.

Likely result: Tulane @ UTSA

Scenario 2:

  • UTSA (9-3, 8-0 AAC) defeats Tulane (10-2, 7-1 AAC)
  • SMU (10-2, 8-0 AAC) defeats Navy

In this scenario, both Texas teams finish 8-0 in the AAC standings and the matchup is clearly UTSA vs. SMU. But which team gets hosting duties? If neither are ranked in the CFP standings Tuesday, the computerized rankings tiebreaker will apply. All signs point to the Mustangs claiming the tiebreaker, unless the Roadrunners’ road win at Tulane is enough to move the needle by a substantial margin. In all likelihood, this is the only path for SMU to claim host duties.

Likely result: UTSA @ SMU

Scenario 3:

  • Tulane (11-1, 8-0 AAC) defeats UTSA (8-4, 7-1 AAC)
  • Navy defeats SMU (9-3, 7-1 AAC)

Tulane is essentially in “win-and-host” mode, barring an unlikely scenario where Tulane is ranked higher in the Nov. 21 CFP standings. So if the Green Wave knock off the Roadrunners on Saturday, the AAC Championship Game returns to New Orleans. But that is 100 percent true in this scenario where SMU and UTSA both drop their first conference game. In the tiebreaker between 7-1 SMU and 7-1 UTSA, the Mustangs likely punch a ticket to the Big Easy based on the current computer rankings.

Likely result: SMU @ Tulane

Scenario 4:

  • Tulane (11-1, 8-0 AAC) defeats UTSA (8-4, 7-1 AAC)
  • SMU (10-2, 8-0 AAC) defeats Navy

This is the scenario where both home favorites win Saturday — the most likely one according to the oddsmakers. Tulane and SMU would both share spotless 8-0 AAC records, but the CFP standings suggest the Green Wave win hosting duties in this situation. Tulane vs. SMU is the definite AAC Championship Game if both win, and this matchup probably comes attached with New Year’s Six stakes for both programs involved.

Likely result: SMU @ Tulane

The 2023 AAC Championship Game will kick off on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. ET on ABC.