As we march toward bowl season, the American Athletic Conference treated college football fans to another thrilling week. We saw something for everyone. We got upsets, defensive struggles, and even a few offensive shootouts. The AAC may even have seen the emergence of a new future face of the conference.
SMU and UTSA Stay on Path
Southern Methodist (7-2, 5-0) and Texas-San Antonio (6-3, 5-0) both took care of business against in-state rivals, staying perfect in the conference. But not without a scare! SMU fought off a late Rice (4-5, 2-3) rally to win 36-31. SMU QB Preston Stone shined with 217 passing yards and 2 touchdowns plus 81 rushing yards on only 8 carries. Stone’s rushing performance showed an element the SMU offense has lacked in previous years.
UTSA similarly survived another North Texas comeback to win, 37-29. The Roadrunners led by as much as 17 before North Texas (3-6, 1-4) closed the gap to just eight points with six minutes left to go. But the Roadrunners held on. UTSA QB Frank Harris had only 134 yards, but UTSA ran the ball well with RB Kevorian Barnes, who finished with 129 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns.
Both teams are headed into high-leverage games that ought to clear the AAC title picture considerably. SMU plays Memphis (7-2, 4-1) on November 18th, while UTSA plays Tulane (8-1, 5-0) on ABC on Black Friday.
Speaking of Tulane…
Time to get in the game and VOTE! #PonyUpDallas-like your QB’s photo on @daveyobrien official accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The QBs leading the fan vote will receive bonus Selection Committee votes as we decide our National Quarterback of the Year! #DaveyQBs pic.twitter.com/3HXOawoWjV— Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award (@daveyobrien) October 31, 2023
Tulane Escapes Hapless East Carolina
No team benefited more from results outside the conference than #24 Tulane. Air Force’s puzzling loss to Army increased the Green Wave’s lead for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six Bowl spot. Unfortunately, Tulane failed to create any real distance for themselves beyond that. They spotted East Carolina (1-8, 0-5) ten first-quarter points and only took the lead in the fourth quarter. The Green Wave wound up winning by a score of just 13-10.
This follows an overall conference trend of letting inferior teams hang around, something prevalent in both the Alabama-Birmingham (3-6, 2-3) and North Texas games. If they’re not careful, performances like this from the Green Wave will lead to losses to UTSA on Black Friday or in the AAC Championship Game.
Byrum Brown Shines
South Florida (4-5, 2-3) has one of the best stories in the country right now. The Bulls have created very real bowl prospects for themselves after winning just one FBS game since 2020. Leading the charge is standout freshman QB Byrum Brown, who introduced himself to the country with a gritty 92-yard rushing performance against Alabama back in Week 3.
Brown cemented himself as a star of the AAC this past weekend with an electric stat line of 357 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, and 100 rushing yards. Unfortunately, Memphis QB Seth Henigan threw for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns of his own, allowing Memphis to escape with a 59-50 win.
That kept the Tigers’ conference championship hopes alive.
Specific results aside, it looks like the sleeping giant that is USF might just be waking up. For years, USF fans have longed to make the national-level breakthrough that UCF made. Now it appears that breakout might finally be coming. Brown could well become a Heisman dark horse in the next couple of years.
.@byrumbrown17 is:— USF Football (@USFFootball) November 7, 2023
⚪️ #6 in FBS in total offense
⚪️ #11 in Points Responsible For
⚪️ #3 in QB rushing
⚪️ 1 of 2 players in the nation with 2,200+ passing & 600+ rushing yards
🔘 All of the Above#ComeToTheBay | #StayInTheBay pic.twitter.com/mKUqwX2XOq
UAB Knocks Florida Atlantic Out of Conference Title Contention
This season has seen a tale of two UABs. Sometimes, the bad UAB — the one that loses to Louisiana by three touchdowns — shows up. Other times, the good UAB — the one that beats USF, 56-35, and nearly upsets Tulane on the road — shows up. This week, the good UAB showed up. QB Jacob Zeno threw for 484 yards and 5 touchdowns in a back-and-forth affair. FAU QB Daniel Richardson’s 293 passing yards and 3 touchdowns were not nearly enough to keep FAU (4-5, 3-2) either in the game or in title contention overall.
The Owls had a chance to cause chaos in the American with a game against Tulane on November 18th. Had they won out, we might’ve seen five one-loss teams tied at the top of the conference’s standings. Now, however, the Owls must settle for playing New Year’s Six spoiler while looking to get bowl eligible in the next few weeks.
UAB travels to Annapolis this coming Saturday for an AAC contest at Navy on Veterans Day.— UAB Football (@UAB_FB) November 7, 2023
Ahead of UAB's trip to Navy, Coach Dilfer previewed the matchup at his weekly press conference.
Bowl Eligibility Hopes Dwindle For Tulsa and Navy
In last week’s preview, we noted how Tulsa (3-6, 1-4) needed to beat Charlotte (3-6, 2-3) to keep any hope of a bowl berth alive. Alas, the Golden Hurricane couldn’t get it done. They blew a 14-point lead to “Biff’s Boys” down at Charlotte and lost in overtime. Tulsa now stands just 3-6 with a game against Tulane this weekend. That one will likely end their postseason hopes once and for all.
Navy (3-5, 2-3) also lost a must-win game to league cellar-dweller Temple (3-6, 1-4). The Owls raced to a 17-0 lead and never looked back, buoyed by QB E.J. Warner’s return. Warner threw for 402 yards and 4 touchdowns, leading his team to a 32-18 win over the Squids. Temple looks like an entirely different team with Warner under center, keeping their slim bowl hopes alive — for now.
Navy has UAB, East Carolina, SMU, and Army remaining. The Mids could theoretically get to six wins before America’s Game, but that seems unlikely given that they’d have to beat SMU. However, if they can go 2-1 before the Army-Navy Game, it will create a playoff scenario where they might play against Army for bowl eligibility. Bowl committees would dread this scenario as multiple bowls might have to put ticket sales on hold while waiting to see how the game played out.
But can Navy reach five wins before America’s Game? UAB looked much improved last week and then opened as a three-point favorite on the road this week. Meanwhile, ECU only lost to Tulane by three. So yeah, the Mids can theoretically still make it to a bowl game, but that looks at least somewhat unlikely.
Current Bowl Projections
Tulane vs. Alabama
Memphis vs. Northwestern**
We’re projecting that the ACC will not be able to fill their bowl tie-ins, so 5-7 Northwestern takes their place with the highest APR of remaining teams.
UTSA vs. Syracuse
First Responder Bowl
SMU vs. West Virginia
Rice vs. Boise State
USF vs. Georgia Tech