And then there were five.
Last week we addressed the fact that there were seven teams still in contention for The American, but that number dropped by two after a Week 8 schedule that featured losses by UCF in the East and Memphis in the West. The Knights weren’t supposed to beat Houston, but held a 21-3 halftime lead before collapsing in the final 30 minutes for a 31-24 loss; on the other side, the Tigers were blown away at home by Tulsa, 59-30. They turned the ball over four times and allowed 362 rushing yards.
As we move forward, things become tight for our conference leaders. With two AAC losses, Houston needs a lot of help from its friends in the bottom half of the standings. South Florida must keep winning and hope that Temple slips. Navy still controls its own destiny, but has Tulsa breathing down its neck.
It’s going to be a wild finish, and you’re not going to want to miss any of the action these next few weeks.
Here are our Week 9 power rankings as we head into November:
1. Houston (7-2, 4-2; Last week / “LW”: No. 1)
Last week: Won vs. UCF, 31-24
Next up: Bye week
A week off couldn’t have come at a better time for Houston after yet another puzzling performance. Since starting 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 33 points, the Cougars are 2-2 and have been outscored 139-125. We’ve seen what this team is capable of, so it’s hard to drop it from the top spot — but time is running out, and the same group that was considered a playoff sleeper just a few weeks ago needs some luck to win its own division over the next few weeks.
2. South Florida (7-2, 4-1; LW: No. 2)
Last week: Won vs. Navy, 52-45
Next up: Bye week
After taking a 28-0 first-quarter lead and then 42-14 at halftime, South Florida was outscored 31-10 in the final 30 minutes of regulation in a seven-point win at home versus Navy. If you’re a Bulls fan you obviously would have preferred to have seen a better second-half effort, but one thing remains apparent: Temple must lose one of its next three games (and USF needs to win out) for the team to gain a title game appearance.
3. Temple (6-3, 4-1; LW: No. 4)
Last week: Won vs. Cincinnati, 34-13
Next up: at UConn, Friday, Nov. 4
That season-opening loss to Army seems like forever ago. Beat UConn, Tulane, and East Carolina — the bottom three teams in the conference — and you’re playing in your second straight AAC championship, Temple. It’s that simple.
4. Navy (5-2, 4-1; LW: No. 3)
Last week: Lost at South Florida, 52-45
Next up: vs. Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 5
With four games still on the schedule (plus the annual Dec. 10 matchup with Army), a lot can happen between now and the postseason for Navy, but it seems a Nov. 12 home date with Tulsa will decide the Middies’ final outcome in the West.
5. Tulsa (6-2, 3-1; LW: No. 6)
Last week: Won at Memphis, 59-30
Next up: vs. East Carolina, Saturday, Nov. 5
Senior running back James Flanders was on a mission last week when he took 33 carries for 249 yards and five touchdowns in what what Tulsa’s most important game of the season to date. After a slow start to the 2016 campaign, Flanders now has 742 yards and 10 scores over his last five games, helping the Golden Hurricane improve to the No. 12-ranked scoring offense (42.1 ppg). Tulsa has become a legitimate threat in the AAC West.
6. UCF (4-4, 2-2; LW: No. 7)
Last week: Lost at Houston, 31-24
Next up: vs. Tulane, Saturday, Nov. 5
While UCF’s failure to capitalize on a 21-point halftime lead on the road against Houston is less than ideal, the fact that it was in that position in the first place is a testament to the new culture coach Scott Frost has built in his first season as an Orlando resident. Remember: The Knights lost to UH at home by 49 points (59-10) in 2015. The fact that this team is in contention for a bowl game is a remarkable accomplishment.
7. Memphis (5-3, 2-2; LW: No. 5)
Last week: Lost vs. Tulsa, 59-30
Next up: at SMU, Saturday, Nov. 5
Memphis’ loss to Tulsa gives it a 1-3 record against teams with a winning record in 2016, and ESPN’s FPI predicts that will drop to 1-5 by the end of the season.
8. SMU (4-4, 2-2; LW: No. 9)
Last week: Won at Tulane, 35-31
Next up: vs. Memphis, Saturday, Nov. 5
That’s now 113 points in three games for this maturing SMU offense. Freshman quarterback Ben Hicks has thrown for 788 yards (262.7 per game) and seven touchdowns. Good things are on the horizon for coach Chad Morris and his young Mustangs.
9. Cincinnati (4-4, 1-4; LW: No. 8)
Last week: Lost at Temple, 34-13
Next up: vs. BYU, Saturday, Nov. 5
With another uninspiring effort in the books, it might be time to close the door on the 2016 campaign for Cincinnati. You’d be hard-pressed to find another win on the schedule.
10. East Carolina (3-5, 1-3; LW: No. 11)
Last week: Won vs. UConn, 41-3
Next up: at Tulsa, Saturday, Nov. 5
Were you aware that East Carolina ranks 12th in the FBS with 503.3 yards per game on offense? Probably not, considering the Pirates had averaged just 20.4 points during their five-game losing streak. The 41 points against UConn were a fresh of breath air for not only the fans and players, but Scottie Montgomery and the offensive staff.
11. Tulane (3-5, 0-4; LW: No. 12)
Last week: Lost vs. SMU, 35-31
Next up: at UCF, Saturday, Nov. 5
Four of Tulane’s five losses have come by 10 points or fewer, and all were against opponents with a combined 25-14 record.
12. UConn (3-6, 1-4; LW: No. 10)
Last week: Lost at East Carolina, 41-3
Next up: vs. Temple, Friday, Nov. 4
UConn has now lost five of its last six games by an average of 19.2 points. With Temple, Boston College and Tulane remaining on the schedule, the Huskies will need a miracle to avoid sitting on the couch during postseason play.