We’ve officially hit the midway point of the 2016 college football season, meaning conference championship races are beginning to take early form as we head into the fourth weekend of October.
That is reflected in this week’s American Athletic Conference power rankings, which features just one minor change following a relatively uneventful Week 7 slate.
The only “surprise” came from the Temple-UCF game, which included one heck of a finish. Down 25-20 with 32 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and at their own 30-yard line, Owls quarterback Phillip Walker led the offense down the field and tossed the game-winning touchdown to Keith Kirkwood with one tick on the clock to spare.
That last-second comeback gave Temple its fourth win of the season while UCF dropped to an even 3-3 after winning two in a row.
So with both teams flip-flopped, here are the AAC power rankings as we move forward to Week 8:
1. Houston (6-1, 3-1 American; Last week / “LW”: No. 1)
Last week: Won vs. Tulsa, 38-31
Next up: at SMU, Saturday, Oct. 22
Um, does Houston have a problem? Needing a smooth performance against Tulsa after losing 46-40 to Navy the week prior, it took a 24-yard fumble return touchdown with 1:21 left in the game for the Cougars to take a seven-point lead and seal the deal in TDECU Stadium. That’s now two straight performances with three turnovers after losing just five in the previous five games. A clean, turnover-free game vs. last-place SMU will be vital.
2. South Florida (6-1, 3-0; LW: No. 2)
Last week: Won vs. UConn, 42-27
Next up: at Temple, Friday, Oct. 21
USF may have let UConn stay in the game with 24 second-half points, but in reality, there was no way the Huskies could have kept up with its explosive offense, which now ranks No. 10 nationally with an impressive 6.95 yards per play.
3. Memphis (5-1, 2-0; LW: No. 3)
Last week: Won at Tulane, 24-14
Next up: at Navy, Saturday, Oct. 22
Memphis could have easily folded on a short week in New Orleans (and on a Friday night, at that) but first-year coach Mike Norvell had his team fully prepared to win. The Tigers were able to hold Tulane’s top 25 rushing offense to 169 yards (3.8 YPC) and made quarterback Glen Cuiellette one-dimensional, limiting him to 11-of-30 passing. That Nov. 25 matchup with Houston at home looks better and better with each passing week.
4. Navy (4-1, 3-0; LW: No. 4)
Last week: Game vs. East Carolina postponed to Nov. 19
Next up: vs. Memphis, Saturday, Oct. 22
Somehow, with a second-string quarterback and no Keenan Reynolds, coach Ken Niumatalolo has returned Navy to the top 25 rankings in the AP poll. Beating Memphis — the other legitimate West contender outside of Houston — would put the Midshipmen in strong position to be a contender all the way to the end.
5. Temple (4-3, 2-1; LW: No. 6)
Last week: Won at UCF, 26-25
Next up: vs. South Florida, Friday, Oct. 21
Erasing an 18-point deficit was crucial for Temple’s bowl chances as its schedule does it no favors from here on out. Matt Rhule could become the first coach Owls history to lead the program to back-to-back postseason appearances.
6. UCF (3-3, 1-1; LW: No. 5)
Last week: Lost vs. Temple, 26-25
Next up: at UConn, Saturday, Oct. 22
That one hurts. Instead of improving to 4-2 with a chance to make some noise in the East, UCF showed its immaturity by surrendering a big second-half lead to an opponent equal in talent. That’s part of the rebuilding process, however, and coach Scott Frost will use this as a lesson for similar situations in the future.
7. Tulsa (4-2, 1-1; LW: No. 7)
Last week: Lost at Houston, 38-31
Next up: vs. Tulane, Saturday, Oct. 22
Tulsa entered as a heavy underdog and ended up taking a ranked Houston team to the wire. There aren’t any moral victories, but there’s also no shame for the Golden Hurricane as they look to rebound against their next opponent in Tulane.
8. East Carolina (2-4, 0-2; LW: No. 8)
Last week: Game vs. Navy postponed to Nov. 19
Next up: at Cincinnati, Saturday, Oct. 22
Having already faced three Power 5 opponents and USF in Tampa, ECU had a challenging start to the Scottie Montgomery era. But after a week off to regroup and get healthy, can the Pirates put together a worthy game plan to beat Cincinnati on the road and compete for bowl eligibility? It will be close.
9. UConn (3-4, 1-3; LW: No. 9)
Last week: Lost at South Florida, 42-27
Next up: vs. UCF, Saturday, Oct. 22
For UConn, its recent loss to South Florida is actually rather encouraging. Despite allowing 42 points and over 500 yards of offense, quarterback Bryant Shirreffs threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns (with no interceptions) as he led the Huskies’ offense to a season-high 27 points. If UConn continues to get that kind of production, it will certainly remain in the hunt for postseason play.
10. Cincinnati (3-3, 0-3; LW: No. 10)
Last week: Bye week
Next up: vs. East Carolina, Saturday, Oct. 22
As I wrote last week, Cincinnati is projected by most advanced metrics to finish the season 4-8 and miss a bowl game for the first time since 2010. Its only projected win left on the schedule: East Carolina.
11. Tulane (3-3, 0-2; LW: No. 11)
Last week: Lost vs. Memphis, 24-14
Next up: at Tulsa, Saturday, Oct. 22
Tulane’s 10-point loss to Memphis is a good example of just how close teams ranked No. 5-11 are in the AAC, because you can make a compelling argument to shift around any of them without much room for disagreement. But the Green Wave are 0-2 in conference play and have a crucial matchup with Tulsa in Oklahoma this Saturday that will determine whether they move up at all next week.
12. SMU (2-4, 0-2; LW: No. 12)
Last week: Bye week
Next up: vs. Houston, Saturday, Oct. 22
Two weeks to prepare for Houston was extremely important for an SMU defense that ranks 97th in points allowed (32.7 per game).