By Lucas Owens
The final week of the regular season in the American Athletic Conference has come to a close, and it brings a lot of closure. Not only has the AAC Championship matchup been set, but this week also marks the end of UCONN’s horrible run of seasons in the conference and marked the end of college careers of senior and draft-declaring juniors at five schools.
No. 19 Cincinnati (24) – (34) No. 18 Memphis
Memphis had to do one thing to win the AAC west after their loss to Temple: win. And win they did, as their victory over AAC East champion Cincinnati marked their sixth in a row. Now, they get to host the AAC Championship in Memphis for the first-time next week, against the Cincinnati team they just beat.
Memphis did so behind a good defensive performance and the offense contributing where and when they had to. Quarterback Brady White’s 233 yards and two touchdowns passing may look small compared to his usual numbers, but he had a huge impact on this game, especially with his touchdown at the beginning of the fourth which gave Memphis a two-score lead. The rushing attack also was a large factor in their victory, as both Kendrick Gainwell and Antonio Gibson had long rushes and great play.
The bigger factor in what made this game so close was not necessarily the Cincinnati defense, although they did have a fine game. It was instead backup quarterback Ben Bryant coming in for injured Desmond Ridder and matching the output of White. His inclusion in the game was unexpected, but well welcomed for the Bearcats. Without his 229 yards and two touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground, Cincinnati could have very well been blown out in Memphis.
Now this brings us to the current situation, where Memphis and Cincinnati now have a rematch next week in Memphis. The game will be full of mania as I’m sure Cincinnati will want revenge, and we can expect a great game at the Liberty Bowl.
USF (7) – (34) UCF
USF has fallen hard since they took UCF to the brink two years ago in that crazy Black Friday game, but this game marked what could be even more monumental for USF: Charlie Strong’s firing.
This game likely had little to do with Strong being relieved of his duties, but it could not have helped his case. Although his Bulls held UCF to 34 points, a number which seems low for the Knights, the offensive performance left a lot on the table. Paramount to this was quarterback Jordan McCloud who passed for just 116 yards. This usually would not be too concerning as he is traditionally a running quarterback, but the line could not get much going for him their either and he ended with 38 rushing yards.
It feels weird to say UCF going 9-3 in the regular season is a disappointment but look at how they got there and you see why. A one-point loss to Pittsburgh, and a couple of three-point losses to Cincinnati and Tulsa led the Knights here in what was a phenomenal season considering they were starting a true freshman in Dillon Gabriel at quarterback. The Knights have a solid foundation to build on, and if they can keep coach Josh Heupel they will have a lot to look forward to next year.
Tulsa (49) – (24) ECU
Neither of these teams had particularly good luck this season, but it is nice to see Tulsa get a huge victory to build on over the offseason and into next year. Both teams now finish at 4-8, but I could see both getting close or to bowl eligibility next year. Tulsa has one tough game in out of conference play in Oklahoma State, but the rest of their games are very winnable, and they do not have nearly as horrible of a conference schedule next year. ECU, on the other hand, faces both Marshall and South Carolina, as well as losing a likely win in UCONN.
As for this game, it was the Zach Smith show all day. The Tulsa quarterback tossed five touchdowns and 331 yards. Running back Shaman Brooks did not let Smith have all the fun however, as the junior rushed for 202 yards himself. Tulsa’s offense just could not be stopped Saturday, and they earned themselves another win in a tough year for the Golden Hurricane.
ECU’s Holton Ahlers did not do bad himself, throwing for 308 yards and all three of ECU’s touchdowns, but the Pirates ultimately just relied far too much on him. Outside of Ahlers running and passing the ball, ECU had 40 yards of offense. The inability to push Tulsa anywhere else cost the Pirates big time. While ECU had a great chance coming into this game to get a victory, that went out the window once the offense became one-dimensional and the defense could not be stopped.
UCONN (17) – (49) Temple
UCONN might have given Temple fans panic attacks based on their lead at halftime, but luckily for them the Owls figured things out quickly after the half and shut the UCONN offense out in the second half. On the forefront of Temple’s “comeback” was quarterback Anthony Russo, who commanded the offense exceptionally while passing for 247 yards and two touchdowns himself, with another coming on an eight-yard run. While the sophomore quarterback did not have as good of a run as he did to end last year, his performance down the stretch was still phenomenal. In fact, he even ended up passing last year’s yardage total by a healthy margin, although it did come on more attempts.
The real story of this game instead of Temple’s collapse was a fitting end to UCONN football’s disastrous time in the AAC. Coming in hot, playing great for a second, then falling apart completely. I have to hand it to quarterback Jack Zergiotis though, as he had 250 yards and one touchdown against a phenomenal Temple defense. UCONN might not have won a single AAC game this year, but now they can take revenge by not losing a single game in conference for all of next year!
Tulane (20) – (37) SMU
SMU’s glorious season ends in more glory as the Mustangs, who failed to gain bowl eligibility last season, now are 10-2 and looking at a great bowl matchup. SMU, instead of relying on quarterback Shane Buchele, looked to their running attack just as much to beat the Green Wave and it was hugely successful. Buchele had just 180 yards passing, although he was incredibly efficient at getting the ball in the end zone with three touchdowns. SMU combined for 197 yards rushing with 125 of those and two touchdowns coming from Xandry Jones.
Where SMU succeeded, Tulane fell. The Mustangs were incredibly efficient with their yardage, while Tulane both out passed and outran SMU and had a 17-point loss to show for it. The two fumbles had to hurt the Green Wave but truly it was just their lack of big plays where SMU had them that cost them the game. The Green Wave cooled off a lot from their hot start, and while they will be going to a bowl, more was expected.
Navy (56) – (41) Houston
While the Midshipmen gave up more than they would have liked, any Navy victory is good for Navy, as if Memphis would have lost they would have been in their first AAC Championship next week. However, Navy won behind some big time offense, but this game left a lot to be desired from their defense. On the other hand, Houston has to be ecstatic right now about quarterback Clayton Tune. Tune passed for a career high 393 yards and four touchdowns, although he did throw four interceptions. If Houston had a better running attack, they have a good chance to win this game, but alas, they do not with all their redshirts.
Tune might have just earned himself the starting job next year considering D’Eriq King’s future with the program is still up in the air. Opposite Tune was Malcolm Perry, who passed for 107 yards on two completions, a rare feat for a triple option offense. That could be the good thing to come out of this game for Navy, as if Perry can pass it more that adds yet another complicated layer to their offense ahead of a huge bowl matchup.
Americ6n Team of the Week: Memphis
Memphis did an incredible job securing the AAC west, and now have a chance to go to a great New Year’s Six bowl with a win next Saturday.
With there only being the championship game next week, I will not be doing The Most Americ6n Preview, which means no power rankings later in the week. Don’t worry, The Most Americ6n Previer/Recap will return for bowl season.
- No. 18 Memphis 11-1 (7-1)
- Navy 9-2 (7-1)
- No. 19 Cincinnati 10-2 (7-1)
- SMU 10-2 (6-2)
- UCF 9-3 (6-2)
- Temple 8-4 (5-3)
- Tulane 6-6 (3-5)
- USF 4-8 (2-6)
- Houston 4-8 (2-6)
- Tulsa 4-8 (2-6)
- ECU 4-8 (1-7)
And, for the last time
- UCONN 2-10 (0-8)
Memphis: Cotton Bowl
Navy: Military Bowl
SMU: Birmingham Bowl
Cincinnati: Liberty Bowl
Tulane: Frisco Bowl
Temple: Gasparilla Bowl
UCF: First Responder Bowl
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org