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Undefeated AAC Teams Still Searching for Respect

It is time to address one of the great mysteries of the universe – at least in terms of college football.

How can there be four undefeated teams in the American Athletic Conference and still none of them are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25?

Schools from the Power Five can stop laughing now. Everyone understands how those conferences look down on the AAC, with no desire to include the American in their social circle.

The only other conferences with four undefeated teams are the Big Ten and the Big 12. But there is no rule that ranked teams must come from the elite group of conferences. It simply continues to be difficult for the AAC to be noticed.

Coaches Tom Herman at Houston, Matt Rhule at Temple, Justin Fuente at Memphis, and Ken Niumatalolo at Navy are all trying to figure out the formula this week. They have been well prepared for the battle.

Houston, Navy and Temple all stand 4-0. Memphis is 5-0 and the Tigers actually find themselves ranked No. 25 in the Coaches Poll this week. The ESPN Power Rankings, a composite of 13 voters from the network’s platforms, lifted Temple and Houston into a tie for No. 25 this week. Both were unranked last week.

The ESPN Power Rankings note that Temple is 4-0 for the first time since 1974 and “has won back-to-back road games for the first time in school history.” In the comment on Houston, ESPN writes that the Cougars are averaging an American Conference-high 602.5 yards per game and how interesting that will be Thursday, given that Houston goes against an SMU defense surrendering 593 yards per game.

Yes, SMU, even that shred of respect for the AAC has limitations.

Memphis shouldn’t be hard for poll voters to find. The Tigers extended their winning streak to 12 games with a win over USF last Thursday. Ohio State (18 straight) and TCU (13) are the only schools with longer streaks.

Navy has won its last eight games, a streak that ranks fifth longest in the nation.

There are nine one-loss teams ranked higher than Memphis in the Coaches Poll, including No. 24 Boise State (4-1). Boise State fell out of the rankings last week but returned after crushing Hawaii 55-0 in a Mountain West Conference game.

“It’s a bit confusing to me, how there can be a non-Power Five school with a loss in the Top 25 in both polls, but yet we’ve got four teams that are undefeated … and yet none of us are in the Top 25,” Herman said on the conference’s weekly coaches media conference call Monday. “I’m not really concerned about it. We’ve got eight or nine weeks to go.”

Toledo (5-0), from the MAC, is 24th in the AP poll and unranked by the coaches.

“That’s part of our charge as a league, to continue to fight and battle for that respect – as a whole,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “There’s some fine coaches and football players in this league, and I do not think that we need to be bashful about raising the banner and waving the flag and boasting about this conference, because it is very good, very competent from top to bottom.

“Once we get full on into the conference schedule, I believe there’s going to be a lot of back and forth. It’s going to hard, week-to-week, playing a high level.”

At this point in the season, the American is 3-3 against its closest rival the Atlantic Coast Conference. Houston edged Louisville 34-41, East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech 35-28, and Cincinnati came away with a 34-23 victory over Miami (Fla.) last week.

On the other hand, the AAC is a combined 2-4 against the Big 12 and Big Ten. Memphis crushed Kansas 55-23 and Temple has its historic 27-10 victory over Penn State.

Navy has a huge opportunity Saturday at No. 15 Notre Dame. The Midshipmen, led by quarterback Keenan Reynolds, pose a threat to every opponent with their triple option offense. How about this stat? Navy has committed just one turnover this season and has played three straight games without a turnover. In Navy’s win over Air Force last week, the Midshipmen forced four turnovers.

Niumatalolo has a pretty standard answer when asked about rankings or any other national recognition for his team.

“I don’t worry about that,” he said on Monday’s call. “We’re the Naval Academy. We just try to do the best we can. The other stuff. . . it is what it is. All we can do is try to control what we can control and that’s on the field. We’re playing very well right now but we’re also going to play the best team on our schedule.”

There was talk at AAC media day in August about the American striving to be the sixth conference in the Power Five. Leaving out the nation’s independent teams, the AAC has accomplished that, with a comfortable lead over the MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt.

After beating Cincinnati in the conference opener, Temple appeared ready for some Top 25 exposure. But voters clearly became hesitant when the Owls struggled against UMass and needed a late surge to win 25-23.

“We’ve had the chance to play teams from the so-called Power Five conferences and I think we’ve competed at a high level,” Rhule said. “Our teams have shown that we can play at that level. I think this is a really good football league, there’s a lot of really good teams and I think we’re as diverse and well-rounded a conference that there is.”

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