The penultimate week of American Conference play cleared the title picture a little… but not enough to prevent drama in the final weekend. This past weekend’s slate set the stage for an exciting Rivalry Week filled with bowl play-in games and conference title elimination clashes.
From curtain calls to dominant running back performances, we saw no shortage of thrillers in the AAC in Week 12.
Frank Harris Electrifies the Alamodome One Last Time
There can be no doubt that UTSA QB Frank Harris is the greatest player in that school’s short football history. Harris has put up over 13,000 total yards and 119 touchdowns in his illustrious career.
His performance this past Friday night reminded America of his greatness. He threw for 411 yards and ran for another 112 in a 49-21 win over South Florida. He also put up three touchdowns apiece — both passing and rushing — and averaged over ten yards/carry when he ran the rock. His curtain call in front of a raucous Alamodome crowd accentuated a bittersweet night. WR Joshua Cephus also played fantastically well in his final UTSA home game, putting up 9 receptions for 163 yards.
With the win, the stage has been set for a winner-take-all showdown against fellow AAC unbeaten Tulane on Black Friday. The winner will go on to face Southern Methodist in the American Conference Championship Game.
Speaking of Tulane…
Tulane Makes a Statement
Reports of Tulanes’s demise appear premature. After multiple weeks of close games against inferior teams, the Green Wave dominated a Florida Atlantic squad fighting for bowl eligibility, 24-8. Even though Tulane RB Makhi Hughes’ six-game 100-yard rushing game streak ended, QB Michael Pratt picked up the slack with three passing touchdowns. Then, too, the Green Wave defense exposed FAU’s O-Line. That unit has now allowed five sacks two weeks-in-a-row.
Though it came in a losing effort, FAU WR LaJohntay Wester cemented his place as the AAC’s best overall receiver. Wester caught 11 passes, bringing his season total to 104 on the year. That’s *40* more catches than Ohio State Heisman Trophy candidate Marvin Harrison Jr. has.
Somehow, the Biletnikoff semifinalist list doesn’t include Wester. That, friends, is a crime against football.
SMU Survives Memphis, Stays Unbeaten
SMU-Memphis was the easy pick for Week 12’s AAC Game of the Week.
It did not disappoint.
The Tigers fell just short of victory, losing to the Mustangs 38-34. Memphis’s offense played well in defeat. QB Seth Hennigan threw for 402 yards, and WRs Roc Taylor and Demeer Blankumsee each posted 100-yard receiving performances. Even so, they couldn’t match SMU QB Preston Stone’s 286 passing yards, nor SMU RB L.J. Johnson Jr., who rushed for a buck-fifteen on the ground. The ‘Stangs’ balanced attack created a one-two punch that Memphis couldn’t quite match.
SMU remains undefeated in the conference. While not a frontrunner for the New Year’s Six, they can still make a realistic case. Their only losses came to TCU and Oklahoma. They now hold a win over Memphis, and if they can beat a ranked one-loss Tulane team in the American Conference Championship, it would make their overall resume comparable to other Group of Five contenders.
Navy’s Defense Sinks the Pirates
Navy’s defense continued their outstanding run, posting a shutout 10-0 win over East Carolina. The Midshipmen held the Pirates to a mere 189 yards of total offense, including just 34 yards rushing.
On offense, Navy finally gave FB Alex Tezca a significant workload, handing him the ball 24 times for 94 yards and a touchdown. This eclipsed his previous season-high 17 carries against North Texas, though he ran for a whopping 137 total yards against the Mean Green. Meanwhile, Navy QB Xavier Arline broke Marco Pagnanelli’s 41-year-old single-game completion percentage record, going an outstanding 10/11 through the air for 102 yards.
The Mids are now 5-5. They play SMU this weekend in what’s likely to be the final rendition of the Gansz Trophy game. Navy comes in as a 23-point underdog. With that in mind, the Army-Navy Game might well become a bowl “play-in” game for the first time since 2009.
COLIN RAMOS BACK TO BACK DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK!— Navy Football (@NavyFB) November 20, 2023
Ramos registered his fourth straight game with double-figure tackles as he had 10 stops, with 1.5 tackles for loss. Ramos ranks second in The American with 8.8 tackles per game.#GoNavy | #RollGoats pic.twitter.com/8A2duyaLzO
RB Dean Connors Keeps Rice’s Bowl Hopes Alive
With Rice QB J.T. Daniels still out due to injury, the Owls turned to RB Dean Connors. He delivered. Connors ran for a career-high 184 yards and set the stage for a 28-7 Rice victory over Charlotte. With this performance, Connors broke the 1000 all-purpose yards mark for the season. The Owls defense also held firm, stifling Charlotte and holding them to just 158 yards of total offense. The 49ers played three different quarterbacks in the game but absolutely could not strike gold, finishing just 11/25 through the air for all of 74 yards plus an interception.
Rice advanced to 5-6 on the season with the win. They will host FAU (4-7) this weekend. If they win, the Owls will clinch back-to-back bowl berths for the first time since 2012 and 2013.
AAC’s Worst Teams Provide Excitement
Maybe you overlooked the AAC’s 3-7 teams coming into Week 12, but the AFF Crew did not! Both games exceeded expectations. North Texas beat Tulsa, 35-28, and then UAB pulled away from Temple in a back-and-forth affair that saw the Blazers finish up 34-24.
The Mean Green running game led them to victory. RBs Oscar Adaway III and Ayo Adeyi each ran for over 100 yards. In the other game, RB Jermaine Brown Jr. starred for the Blazers, posting 153 rushing yards. Temple QB E.J. Warner again shined in the loss, putting up 323 passing yards and 2 touchdowns.