The elephant in the room for all group of five conferences heading into 2015 was the possibility of a going undefeated and making it to the playoff. While I do not believe that an undefeated G5 team would make the playoff this season unless several teams dropped more than one game, playing in a New Year’s Day bowl is more than possible.
Going undefeated would be a huge advantage in going to a New Year’s Day bowl for any team. We have three undefeated teams in the American Athletic Conference. Memphis (5-0), Houston (5-0), and Temple (5-0) are three of four G5 undefeated teams and part of the 16 overall FBS undefeated programs.
Let’s take a look at each team and their chances at winning the AAC and heading to a bowl at 13-0.
The Memphis Tigers have the offense, led by quarterback Paxton Lynch, to put a scare into any team in the nation. Memphis has scored 40 or more points in four of five games. The only team to hold them below 40 was South Florida and their underrated defense. While Memphis is #12 in passing (335.0 ypg.), #29 in rushing (206.2 ypg.), and #7 in scoring (47.0 ppg.), defense has been a bit of an issue.
The Tigers defense is ranked #99 in the nation in IsoPPP, a statistic that measures the explosiveness of an offense on only successful plays. Teams are also successful on 41.7% of all plays versus the Memphis defense. Pass defense has been the Achilles heel with a ranking of #95 or worse in S&P+, success rate allowed, and passing IsoPPP allowed. Offenses are averaging 306.8 yards per game in the air versus Memphis.
The Tigers have experienced too many close calls (BGSU, USF, Cincinnati) and still have Ole Miss, Navy, Houston, and Temple on the schedule. Their chance of winning the AAC is still high, but the chance of going undefeated is very low.
Some people see the Houston Cougars as a G5 teams that can beat anyone, but others see Houston as a team that beat a disappointing Louisville team and that’s it. Led by dual threat quarterback Greg Ward Jr., the Cougars are top 25 nationally in passing (#25/286.2 ypg.), rushing (#8/287.2 ypg.), and scoring (#9/46.0 ppg.). Overall, Houston is #6 nationally in total offense with 573.4 yards per game.
The defense has been one of the best in overall versus the rush, but some of that has to be tempered by the lack of big time competition in the opening five games. Houston is #9 nationally in rush defense with offenses averaging 95.8 yards per game and only 2.8 yards per carry. The rush defense is #20 in S&P+ (125.5), #43 in success rate allowed (37.7%), and #17 in IsoPPP allowed (0.89). Teams have been more successful passing the ball, but Houston does a good job of limiting damage with an IsoPPP of 1.28, good for #23 nationally.
It is hard to deny detractors that say Houston has not played anyone impressive. With games versus Tulane and UCF upcoming, that criticism will stay valid. A three game stretch of Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, Memphis will tell us just how good Houston can be. My guess is that they lose two of those games and finish a respectable second in the division behind Memphis, but no undefeated season this year.
The Temple Owls have been impressive in beating Penn State and Cincinnati in the opening two weeks of the season. Statistics say that Temple is not very good on offense. I am inclined to agree as they are only putting up 195.8 yards per game in air and 151.8 yards per game on the ground. They have benefitted from a combination of special teams and defense that gives the offense the best field position in the nation at the 38-yard line. A stuff rate of 29.1% is one of the worst run game statistics in the nation and must be remedied.
The defense is again one of the best in the nation, allowing a success rate of only 31.3% (#10 nationally). Teams are only able to score 3.43 points per trip inside the 40 and only 14.4 points per game. The Owls are #11 nationally in rush defense, allowing 97.2 yards per game. That forces offenses to go almost exclusively to the passing game, throwing for 231.2 yards per game. Overall, Temple has the #29 defense in the nation (328.4 ypg.).
Temple has three games that will determine the season: Notre Dame, Memphis, and East Carolina. I would expect them to get be ECU, though not easily, before falling to Notre Dame. Temple will play for the AAC title as the east division winner, but will not be undefeated.