Saturday, May 18, 2024

American Conference Preview: Week 10

As the calendar turns to November, most teams in the American Athletic Conference still have a lot they’d like to accomplish. Tulane has suddenly become a New Year’s Six frontrunner, and several teams in the middle of the league’s pack can strengthen their bowl cases with wins this week. While the Week 10 slate offers no blockbusters, plenty of games provide compelling reasons for Group of Five fans to watch. 

Rivalries Take Centerstage

For the first time since 2012, back when they were both members of Conference USA, Rice (4-4, 2-2) and Southern Methodist (6-2, 4-0) will face off. The two former Southwest Conference rivals play for the 91st time — and possibly for the last time for a good, long while given SMU’s upcoming departure for the ACC. 

SMU’s QB Preston Stone and Rice’s QB JT Daniels of Rice have both thrown for 19 touchdowns and more than 2100 yards through their first eight games. SMU now controls its own destiny for the AAC Title Game, but that means they cannot afford to look ahead to their showdown with Memphis on November 18. Meanwhile, Rice has become a threat to beat anyone in the league as evidenced by their shocking near-comeback against Tulane just this past week.

Another thrilling quarterback battle in the Lone Star State will take place when North Texas (3-5, 1-3) and Texas-San Antonio (5-3, 4-0) renew their own rivalry, also forged back in their Conference USA days. Former Louisiana-Monroe QB Chandler Rogers has had an efficient year quarterbacking the Mean Green with 2173 yards and 19 touchdowns against only 1 interception. UTSA QB Frank Harris has regained his old form, too, after missing a couple of games due to an early injury. Can the Mean Green play spoiler once again after they nearly eliminated Memphis from conference title contention just this past week? WR Ja’Mori Maclin of North Texas has become a dark horse Biletnikoff candidate with 11 touchdowns on 39 catches

On the eastern side of the conference, Temple (2-6, 0-4) and Navy (3-4, 2-2) continue the conference’s preeminent (only?) Northeastern rivalry. That rivalry started in 1988 and preceded the start of five conference football programs — Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, South Florida, and UTSA. Alas, the Owls ought to have their hands full against Navy’s triple-option attack. The Midshipmen are coming off a bye week, while Temple ranks near the bottom of the country in run defense. They’ve allowed a whopping 206 rushing yards/game.

Tulsa Fights To Keep Bowl Chances Alive

No team in the AAC needs a win more than Tulsa (3-5, 1-3). After a promising 3-2 start, the Golden Hurricane have now lost three straight, including their last two by a combined score of 111-20. Luckily, Tulsa plays Charlotte (2-6, 1-3) this week. Still, to say they need this game is a monumental understatement. The Golden Hurricanes have two more winnable games on their schedule after this one, but they’ve now left themselves little room for error. A loss this week will create a scenario in which Tulsa must beat Tulane on the road in order to keep their flagging bowl hopes alive.

Tulane is a New Year’s Six Frontrunner

Tuesday’s first College Football Playoff rankings release came with its fair share of surprise and outrage. Tulane got the best surprise in the Group of 5 in the form of the #24 ranking, one spot ahead of Air Force. Should the Green Wave win out, they will likely receive a second straight New Year’s Six Bowl bid.

This comes as bad news for the Fenway Bowl. Given that most projections previously had Air Force in the New Year’s Six, many experts expected Tulane to play an ACC squad in Boston under the shadow of the Green Monster. Now, the Beantown Bowl will most likely have to settle for a 9- or 10-win team from Memphis or SMU. Both have had perfectly solid seasons, but they don’t compare to getting a would-be 12-win conference champion fresh off a New Year’s Six bowl victory in 2022. 

But maybe this works to the Fenway Bowl’s advantage. A game between Memphis or SMU and Syracuse or Boston College would probably be a good bit more competitive than any potential match-up against powerhouse Tulane. The 2020 Birmingham Bowl, for example, saw AAC runner-up Cincinnati (10-3) play a Boston College team (6-6) that had barely earned bowl eligibility. To no one’s surprise, the Bearcats smoked Boston College 38-6 in one of the biggest wastes of time that year’s bowl season had to offer. 

No one wants to see that kind of thing again.

Games We Almost Missed

USF (4-4, 2-2) and Memphis (6-2, 3-1) meet for the first time since 2020 with USF looking for its first win in the series since 2016. FAU (4-4, 3-1) and Alabama-Birmingham (2-6, 1-3) also face off in what was once yet another marquee match-up in C-USA. From 2017 to 2020, either UAB and FAU won that conference all four years, with the two schools meeting in 2019 to decide the conference title overall.

No matter what you’re watching, this should be an interesting week of action. Check back with us next week, and we’ll catch you up on everything you might have missed over the weekend!

Cover image via @UTSAFTBL.



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