It was a tough week for some of the teams in the upper half of The American.
Though Houston and USF — easily the conference’s No. 1 and 2 products five weeks in — came away with convincing wins, Memphis, Cincinnati and Navy all suffered painful losses at the hands of superior competition.
At least seven programs are legitimate bowl contenders, but the AAC continues to remain a top-heavy league with two true leaders, one at the top of each division. There are a few shuffles in the conference power rankings as we move forward to the sixth week of the 2016 college football season:
1. Houston (5-0, 2-0 American; Last week / “LW”: No. 1)
Last week: Won vs. UConn, 42-14
Next up: at Navy, Saturday, Oct. 8
Houston is outscoring conference opponents by an average of 21.7 points in its 10 wins under coach Tom Herman since the start of the 2015 season.
2. South Florida (4-1, 1-0; LW: No. 2)
Last week: Won at Cincinnati, 45-20
Next up: vs. East Carolina, Saturday, Oct. 8
Another slow defensive start was shrugged off as USF outscored Cincinnati 21-0 in the second half, forcing four turnovers in a convincing finish. This was arguably the Bulls’ most difficult game on the schedule until a Nov. 12 road trip to Memphis.
3. Memphis (3-1, 0-0; LW: No. 3)
Last week: Lost at Ole Miss, 48-28
Next up: vs. Temple, Thursday, Oct. 6
It was a solid effort from Memphis, which fought back to make a competitive game after absorbing a 24-7 halftime deficit to a team that went blow-for-blow with No. 1 Alabama a few weeks prior. The Tigers have a real shot at being 8-1 before a brutal November schedule (USF, at Cincinnati, Houston).
4. Tulsa (3-1, 0-0; LW: No. 5)
Last week: Bye week
Next up: vs. SMU, Friday, Oct. 7
ESPN’s FPI predicts a 7-5 regular season record for Tulsa, which would be its best finish since 2012. With tough road games against Houston, Memphis, Navy and UCF still on the slate, that seems like a fair assessment — but don’t be surprised to see the Golden Hurricane take two or three of those.
5. Temple (3-2, 1-0; LW: No. 7)
Last week: Won vs. SMU, 45-20
Next up: at Memphis, Thursday, Oct. 6
It didn’t take long for Temple to jump all over SMU in its AAC opener, bursting through the starting gate for a 35-14 lead in the first 30 minutes of action. Ryquell Armstead led a dominant performance from the Owls’ backfield, which rushed 45 times for 244 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
6. Cincinnati (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 4)
Last week: Lost vs. USF, 45-20
Next up: at UConn, Saturday, Oct. 8
With 24- and 25-point losses at home to the two best teams in the AAC already in the books, the only thing Cincinnati can do now is focus on its remaining schedule and hope for improvement as the season progresses. (And maybe start Gunner Kiel at quarterback?)
7. Navy (3-1, 2-1; LW: No. 6)
Last week: Lost at Air Force, 28-14
Next up: vs. Houston, Saturday, Oct. 8
Without Keenan Reynolds under center (and an experienced offensive line), Navy lacks the explosiveness on offense that led to its first 11-win season in program history. The absence of Tago Smith — a veteran who was supposed to be the most capable replacement for Reynolds — has hurt almost as much. Regardless, the Midshipmen will be in the hunt for their fifth straight postseason appearance come December.
8. Central Florida (3-2, 1-0; LW: No. 8)
Last week: Won at East Carolina, 47-29
Next up: vs. Tulane, Friday, Oct. 7
At this point last season, UCF was 0-5 with crippling losses to FCS-based Furman, plus lowly FBS programs FIU and Tulane. It’s still early, but first-year coach Scott Frost has remarkably changed the direction of the program. The Knights are on track to win at least six games this season, which puts them ahead of schedule in their rebuild.
9. UConn (2-3, 0-2; LW: No. 9)
Last week: Lost at Houston, 42-14
Next up: vs. Cincinnati, Saturday, Oct. 8
There’s really not much shame in losing on the road to the No. 6 team in the nation. UConn can make up for lost ground and even its record at .500 at the midway point with an AAC upset versus Cincinnati at home this weekend.
10. East Carolina (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 10)
Last week: Lost vs. Central Florida, 47-29
Next up: at South Florida, Saturday, Oct. 8
Unfortunately for the Pirates, UCF was probably their best bet at winning a game for the foreseeable future. The Pirates, now on a three-game losing streak, are slated to play USF, Navy, and Cincinnati the next few weeks, with Tulsa and Temple later on.
11. Tulane (3-2, 0-1; LW: No. 11)
Last week: Won at UMass, 31-24
Next up: at Central Florida, Friday, Oct. 7
Wait a minute, Tulane has a winning record and it’s October? Thanks to a turnover margin of plus-8 — No. 4 in the FBS — the Green Wave have rolled to three wins over their last four games and could improve their chances of becoming bowl eligible in Orlando this Friday night.
12. SMU (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 12)
Last week: Lost at Temple, 45-20
Next up: at Tulsa, Friday, Oct. 7
Sophomore defensive back Jordan Wyatt gave SMU its first first-quarter touchdown against an FBS opponent since Week 1 with his 35-yard interception return on the third play from scrimmage. It was all Temple from there, however, as the Mustang allowed 35 consecutive points for their third loss of 25 or more points on the season, this time in AAC competition.