This was supposed to be the year Houston ran away with the AAC and made a charge at a College Football Playoff berth. That seems so long ago.
The AAC took another left turn when South Florida upset No. 22 Navy, 52-45, on Friday night in Tampa in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score.
It’s true Navy (5-2, 4-1 AAC West) still controls its destiny. The Midshipmen’s wins over Houston (6-2, 3-2 AAC West) and Memphis (5-2, 2-1 AAC West) give them tiebreakers over those foes for the AAC West’s berth to the AAC Championship Game.
With Navy’s first loss, Tulsa (5-2, 2-1 AAC West) is now in play. Navy faces Tulsa Nov. 12 in Annapolis.
Navy may miss senior inside linebacker, team co-captain and second-leading tackler Daniel Gonzales more than was previously thought. Gonzales went down with a foot injury in the Air Force game that was Navy’s first loss of the season.
The Midshipmen managed to win their next two games, outscoring Houston 46-40 and Memphis 42-28. Momentum was always on Navy’s side, or neutral at worst, in those victories. The Midshipmen made enough defensive stops to dictate the flow of play.
Against South Florida, Navy’s defense didn’t give the offense a chance. The Bulls scored four first-quarter touchdowns for a 28-0 lead. South Florida, which finished with 629 total yards, also led 42-14 at halftime and 45-14 after three quarters. It’s not the Navy blueprint to overcome a four touchdown deficit.
Navy quarterback Will Worth was again productive. He finished with 428 total yards, rushing 28 times for 129 yards and four touchdowns and completing 15 of 25 passes for 299 yards and two TDs with one interception.
Too many of his yards were part of 24 fourth-quarter points.
As for South Florida, the school is being rewarded for showing patience with head coach Willie Taggart. In this age of quick triggers to fire coaches, Taggart survived a 2-10 record his first year and a 4-8 mark his second season to turn the corner last year with an 8-5 mark.
Taggart’s offense has the skill players to keep up in the high-scoring AAC. Junior quarterback Quinton Flowers nearly matched Worth’s total yards with 395. He was one of three backs with 100 yards rushing as the Bulls ran for 412.
Flowers, a 6-foot, 210-pounder from Miami, carried 13 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns and completed 19 of 29 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Marlon Mack rushed 11 times for 125 yards and one TD and D’Ernest Johnson 19 for 107 and two scores.
South Florida (7-2, 4-1 AAC East) was in control of its destiny before the Bulls lost last week to Temple (5-3, 3-1 AAC East) to yield the tiebreaker to the Owls. However, the AAC has been such a wild ride that the Bulls can regain the driver’s seat if Temple stumbles and the Bulls win out.
South Florida’s remaining conference games are Memphis, SMU and Central Florida. Temple has four more AAC games against Cincinnati (Saturday), Connecticut, Tulane and East Carolina.
The first night of the final weekend of October play in the AAC is off to a surprising start. The conference that once was an easy read remains wide open.
All we know is there is a lot of AAC football left to be played in November.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter @shanny4055