The Week 12 American Conference slate may not look as eye-opening as other weeks, but multiple teams will play to keep their bowl hopes alive. Additionally, one showdown will clear the picture for a spot in the conference championship game. Above all else, most of the league’s teams will play for pride this week.
Can Tulane Avoid An Upset?
We seem like a broken record asking each week if New Year’s Six frontrunner Tulane (9-1, 6-0) will finally lose. However, each week brings us closer to that reality. Last week, the Green Wave struggled against a bad Tulsa team that lost to SMU, 69-10. The Golden Hurricane came within a two-point conversion of taking Tulane to overtime.
FAU (4-6, 3-3) hosts the Green Wave this week. The Owls need a win in the worst way after a loss to struggling East Carolina decreased their bowl hopes immensely. The Owls now need to win out to play in their first bowl since 2020. Could this plus home-field advantage be the recipe for the Owls to pull an upset?
If they are to have any hope of getting that upset, the Owls need WR LaJohntay Wester, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, to have a big game. East Carolina shut Wester down and held him to 38 receiving yards, well below his season average of 112 yards/game. The Owls must also stop Tulane RB Makhi Hughes, who’s put together six straight 100-yard games on the ground.
Memphis and SMU Clash for AAC Title Hopes
The undisputed conference game of the week takes place in the “Home of the Blues.” SMU (8-2, 6-0) and Memphis (8-0, 5-1) will play a de facto AAC playoff game this Saturday.
Memphis needs this game more than SMU. A loss eliminates the Tigers from contention outright. An SMU loss leaves the Mustangs at the mercy of a computer tiebreaker. More importantly, this game could have New Year’s Six implications for both teams. Both can keep their hopes alive with a win, while a loss virtually eliminates them from the race.
To top it all off, this game will see two of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country face off.. SMU’s QB Preston Stone and Memphis’ QB Seth Hennigan are both well on their way to 3000 passing yards with a combined 45 touchdowns through the air.
Kickoff goes at Noon on ESPN2.
Four-headed dragon 🐉— SMU Football (@SMUFB) November 16, 2023
RBs last Friday vs. UNT: @Jaylan_Knighton:
17 carries for 129 yds (7.6 avg), 1 TD@LJ_Johnson_Jr :
20 carries for 106 yds (5.3 avg), 1 TD@CamarWheaton:
7 carries for 51 yds (7.3 avg), 1 TD@TylerLavine:
1 cowboy collar, 1 TD pic.twitter.com/nmmpOX18hC
A Rookie QB Phenom Battles a Seasoned QB Vet in San Antonio
Last week, our AAC preview touted the USF-Temple matchup for its duel between the conference’s two best young quarterbacks, Byrum Brown of USF and Temple’s E.J. Warner. This week, Brown faces off against one of the Group of Five’s most esteemed quarterbacks, Frank Harris of UTSA.
Brown continued his domination of AAC defenses with 316 pass yards versus Temple. Harris has come back from injury nicely with 1897 pass yards and 14 touchdowns in just eight starts for the Roadrunners.
USF (5-5, 3-3) can get a signature win for their turnaround with a Friday night victory at the Alamodome. More to the point, Bulls stand just one win away from bowl eligibility. They will likely hit the six-win mark next week against Charlotte regardless, but a win against UTSA (7-3, 6-0) would prove a point and remove significant pressure next week.
This game has all the makings of a trap for UTSA. The Roadrunners could get caught looking ahead to their Black Friday showdown against Tulane if they’re not careful. Worse yet, reports have noted that UTSA Head Coach Jeff Traylor interviewed for the Texas A&M position recently.
Last year saw Liberty suffer an inexplicable loss to New Mexico State at home under similar circumstances. UTSA must take care not to repeat history in the Alamodome if they’re not careful.
Navy and Rice Play to Keep Bowl Hopes Alive
Navy (4-5, 3-3) and Rice (4-6, 2-4) both have must-win games for their bowl hopes this weekend. The Midshipmen host East Carolina (2-8, 1-5) at noon, while the Owls visit Charlotte (3-7, 2-4). Both will be playing with some momentum. East Carolina comes fresh off an upset over Florida Atlantic, while Charlotte took one of the league’s top teams, Memphis, to overtime. A Navy loss will force the Midshipmen to win against both SMU and Army. A Rice loss will eliminate the Owls from bowl contention altogether.
Navy and Rice have quarterback situations trending in different directions. For Navy, the fourth quarterback has been the charm. Senior QB Xavier Arline helped the Mids’ offense find its groove last week against UAB. By comparison, Rice’s offense struggled mightily in a 34-14 loss to UTSA after QB A.J. Padgett replaced the injured J.T. Daniels.
If Navy wins, the national bowl situation might get complicated. Will a bowl be willing to await the outcome of Army-Navy? 2016 saw a similar potential when the Midshipmen played for the American Conference Championship. Had they won, it would have put multiple bowls in flux, making Army-Navy a New Year’s Six play-in for them. Alas, things didn’t work out that way…
3-7 Teams Play For Pride
A strange twist of fate has the conference slate featuring two matchups between 3-7 teams. Tulsa (3-7, 1-5) hosts North Texas (3-7, 1-5). The Golden Hurricane hope to build on last week’s near-upset of Tulane. Freshman QB Kirk Francis starred for Tulsa last week with 345 passing yards. Meanwhile, North Texas QB Chandler Rogers has shined all year with 23 passing touchdowns against just 4 interceptions.
In Birmingham, UAB (3-7, 2-4) hosts Temple (3-7, 2-4). UAB’s offense hopes to get back on track after a six-point performance against Navy last weekend. On the other side, Temple QB E.J. Warner needs just 577 yards in the next two games to eclipse the 3000-yard mark for the second season in a row.
First-year head coaches Trent Dilfer of UAB, Kevin Wilson of Tulsa, and Eric Morris of North Texas can all use a win to build momentum for next year, while at Temple, Coach Stan Drayton’s seat could be getting warm in his second year. Ending the season with a whimper would only make that worse.
Enjoy the games this weekend!