Had Temple pulled off the comeback against Penn State, it would have been a really strong week for The American.
Instead, the conference went 5-3 against outside competition in Week 3, with the Owls dropping their all-time record to 4-40-1 against the Nittany Lions. East Carolina came up just short at South Carolina, 20-15, as did UCF, falling in overtime to Maryland at home, 30-24.
Thankfully, Memphis, UConn, Tulsa, USF, and SMU all picked up solid wins and head into Week 4 with some momentum.
Here’s how the AAC checks out as we move forward to the fourth week of the 2016 college football season:
1. Houston (3-0, 1-0 American; Last Week / “LW”: No. 1)
Last week: Won at Cincinnati, 40-16
Houston left on a short week and traveled over 1,000 miles to play a solid Cincinnati team for a Thursday night ESPN game in front of the biggest crowd in Nippert Stadium’s 92-year history. Yes, it was a struggle for three quarters, but the Cougars left with a 40-16 win, and that includes several missed opportunities in the red zone. Do not question Houston’s playoff credentials based on 45 minutes.
Next up: at Texas State, Saturday, Sept. 24
2. USF (3-0, 0-0; LW: No. 2)
Last week: Won at Syracuse, 45-20
After digging itself an early hole — down 17-0 in the first quarter — USF’s tremendous backfield took over and the Bulls went on a 45-3 run to end the game against Syracuse. Running backs Marlon Mack and Rodney Adams, and quarterback Quinton Flowers, combined for 205 yards (8.5 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, and the bend-don’t-break defense forced three timely turnovers. USF is now 3-0 for the first time since 2011 and will host No. 13 Florida State in Week 4.
Next up: vs. Florida State, Saturday, Sept. 24
3. Cincinnati (2-1, 0-1; LW: No. 3)
Last week: Lost vs. Houston, 40-16
No, I’m not moving Cincinnati down even after its gigantic fourth-quarter collapse against Houston. For one, it was playing the No. 6 team in the country — a legitimate playoff contender. As I wrote last Friday, the Bearcats still have what it takes to compete for the AAC East; they just need to play Gunner Kiel at quarterback.
Next up: vs. Miami (Ohio), Saturday, Sept. 24
4. Tulsa (2-1, 0-0; LW: No. 7)
Last week: Won vs. North Carolina AT&T, 58-21
Tulsa isn’t getting credit for blowing out North Carolina AT&T (though a 48-0 halftime lead was impressive, regardless). Instead, I’m giving the Golden Hurricane some late love for hanging with Ohio State for as long as it did. Poor coaching decisions and weather conditions aside, Tulsa gave Ohio State issues for the first 27 minutes before being exploited for its lack of depth and inexperience on a big stage. The Buckeyes just obliterated Oklahoma on the road, which is why I like Tulsa to do well in conference play and appear in a second straight bowl game.
Next up: at Fresno State, Saturday, Sept. 24
5. Navy (3-0, 2-0; LW: No. 4)
Last week: Won at Tulane, 21-14
Games with a combined 24 pass attempts between both teams are rare these days, but that’s what happened when Navy beat Tulane, 21-14. It was an even contest for most of the day, until backup quarterback Will Worth found the end zone with 2:57 remaining. The Midshipmen will have to continue winning close games like this if they want to reach double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
Next up: BYE WEEK
6. Memphis (2-0, 0-0; LW: No. 8)
Last week: Won vs. Kansas, 43-7
It was reassuring to see quarterback Riley Ferguson have a turnover-free performance after handing the ball over three times in the opener against Southeast Missouri State. Yes, this was against Kansas, but it’s still a step forward. We’ll have a better indication of what Memphis is about when it hosts Bowling Green this weekend.
Next up: vs. Bowling Green, Saturday, Sept. 24
7. UConn (2-1, 0-1; LW: No. 5)
Last week: Won vs. Virginia, 13-10
At this point it would be a safe assumption to say that Bob Diaco loves to win ugly. The third-year coach now has 10 wins under his belt at UConn. Not only have eight of them come by one score (average difference of 7.9 points), but half have come in wins when the Huskies have scored 20 points or fewer. (All but three are 24 or fewer.)
Next up: vs. Syracuse, Saturday, Sept. 24
8. East Carolina (2-1, 0-0, LW: No. 6)
Last week: Lost at South Carolina, 20-15
Wide receiver Zay Jones caught a school-record 22 passes in the loss to South Carolina, which is one shy of the FBS record set by UNLV’s Randy Gatewood in 1994. It wasn’t enough to secure the upset, but it’s an impressive performance nonetheless and something the Pirates can build from.
Memo to ECU: Cut down the red-zone turnovers, though.
Next up: at Virginia Tech, Saturday, Sept. 24
9. Temple (1-2, 0-0; LW: No. 9)
Last week: Lost at Penn State, 34-27
Following Temple’s 34-27 loss to Penn State, the Owls are now 6-13 when Phillip Walker finishes with 30 pass attempts or more. He ended with a season-high 286 yards and his best QBR (65.4) since Week 12 versus Memphis in 2015, but the team’s struggles to run the ball (38 rushing yards) spelled doom for the offense.
Next up: vs. Charlotte, Saturday, Sept. 24
10. UCF (1-2, 0-0; LW: No. 11)
Last week: Lost vs. Maryland, 30-24 (OT)
Life. That’s what UCF displayed in its 30-24 overtime loss to Maryland. True freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton, whom I wrote about as the future of the Knights’ offense under Scott Frost’s uptempo scheme back in January, led an admirable charge by completing 21-of-36 (58.3 percent) pass attempts for 260 yards and two touchdowns. However, losing the turnover battle 4-0 is the sign of a young team that still has a lot of work to do.
Next up: at FIU, Saturday, Sept. 24
11. Tulane (1-2, 0-1; LW: No. 12)
Last week: Lost vs. Navy, 21-14
Through three weeks, Tulane ranks No. 22 in scoring defense (16.3 points per game) and total defense (285.3 yards).
Next up: vs. UL-Lafayette, Saturday, Sept. 24
12. SMU (2-1, 0-0; LW: No. 10)
Last week: Won vs. Liberty, 29-14
Taking a five-point lead into the fourth quarter against FCS Liberty is a bit concerning, but SMU will have an opportunity to soar up the rankings with a huge upset win over TCU at home this weekend.
Next up: vs. TCU, Friday, Sept. 23