Rivalry Week is here, and it is bittersweet. Time-tested battles and games with significant playoff implications dot the national landscape. While the American lacks these kinds of storied rivalries, multiple games have very high stakes.
Black Friday Showdown in the Big Easy
If Oregon-Oregon State were not on Black Friday, one could argue that UTSA-Tulane would be the Game of the Day. Both UTSA and Tulane come into this game undefeated in AAC play. Two of the country’s most underrated quarterbacks, Frank Harris and Michael Pratt, hope for one more signature performance in front of a national audience on ABC. The winner punches their ticket to the AAC Championship Game on December 2nd. The loser can still theoretically make the title game but will need a loss by SMU and help from computer rankings to earn the tiebreaker.
This game also has New Year’s Six ripple effects. #23 Tulane remains the highest-ranked Group of Five team and is in line for a New Year’s Six bid if they win out. However, the committee ranked Liberty two spots behind the Green Wave. If UTSA wins this game and the AAC Championship Game the following week, the committee will put 13-0 Liberty in the New Year’s Six over UTSA.
Memphis Hopes to Improve Bowl Prospects on Black Friday
Last season, only 5 of 42 bowls pitted a Power Conference team against a Group of Five team. Three of the five involved AAC teams.
Memphis (8-3, 5-2) was eliminated from the AAC title race but still has much to play for. The Tigers travel to Philadelphia on Black Friday to play Temple (3-8, 1-6). The Tigers have eight wins. One more would strengthen their case to play in either the Fenway or Military Bowl against an ACC team. An 8-4 finish makes it easier for the AAC to send the Tigers to an ESPN-owned bowl against another formidable Group of Five squad.
Iowa-Nebraska ought to be a defensive struggles. The quarterback between Temple’s E.J. Warner and Memphis’s Seth Henigan likely won’t be like that at all. Warner averages over 300 passing yards/game and needs just 254 yards to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark despite missing two games. Henigan has already thrown for 3200+ yards and 24 touchdowns. Besides Henigan, the Tigers boast RB Blake Watson, who has 13 rushing touchdowns, and WR Roc Taylor, who’s just 75 yards shy of 1000 for the season.
A Trio of Teams Fight For Bowl Eligibility
Many pundits will focus on SMU’s (9-2, 7-0) win-and-in scenario in their game against Navy. Nevertheless, multiple bowls will monitor this game. Navy (5-6, 4-3) needs a win over either SMU or Army to reach bowl eligibility. The Mids could put multiple bowl selections on hold should they lose to SMU.
To win, the Mids’ defense must continue to dominate against an SMU squad that averages 40 points per game.
Meanwhile, Rice (5-6, 3-4) hopes to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2012 and 2013 with a win over FAU (4-7, 3-4). QB JT Daniels’ status remains the question for Rice. Daniels missed the last two games after he suffered a concussion against SMU. The Owls’ defense will hope to take advantage of a weak FAU offensive line that has allowed ten sacks in the past two weeks.
Finally, USF (5-6, 3-4) must win over Charlotte (3-8, 2-5) to reach its first bowl since 2018. QB Byrum Brown needs 175 yards to exceed 3000 for the season. The Bulls will also need a solid game from WR Sean Atkins, who has 900 yards on the season.
If this week’s quarterback matchups were Thanksgiving dishes, Michael Pratt versus Frank Harris would be the turkey, Seth Hennigan versus E.J. Warner would be the mash potatoes, and North Texas’ Chandler Rogers versus UAB’s Jacob Zeno would be the stuffing. North Texas (4-7, 2-5) and UAB (4-7, 2-5) are both out of the bowl picture but should still provide an intriguing quarterback battle. Chandler Rogers of North Texas can surpass 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns with a solid performance, while UAB’s Jacob Zeno has over 2800 yards on the year.
East Carolina (2-9, 1-6) hopes to continue its defensive hot streak against Tulsa (3-8, 1-6). The Pirates have allowed just 17 points in their last two games. Tulsa is 95th in the FBS in scoring, making them a formidable foe for the Pirates. DB James Wood leads the Pirates in tackles with 80.
Enjoy the games this weekend, friends. There’s a lot to love out there!
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
Cover image via @SMUFB.