UCF won its 20th straight game on Saturday, beating East Carolina 37-10 on the road. The Knights (7-0, 4-0 AAC) are still No. 10 in the AP Poll entering their bye week. They return to Spectrum Stadium on Nov. 1 to host Temple, but before we get there, let’s check on what else went down around the AAC in week eight.
Temple: The Owls (5-3, 4-0 AAC) upset then-No. 20 Cincinnati at home on Saturday, scoring the final 14 points in a 24-17 overtime victory. Quarterback Anthony Russo connected with Branden Mack from 20 yards out to tie the game with 49 seconds to go, forcing overtime. Russo made the most of Temple’s opening possession, finding Isaiah Wright for a 25-yard go-ahead touchdown. From there, the Owl defense stepped up and pushed the Bearcats back before Shaun Bradley clinched the win with an interception. Russo finished the afternoon with three touchdown passes to three different receivers. Up Next: at No. 10 UCF (Nov. 1)
South Florida: The No. 21 Bulls (7-0, 3-0 AAC) remained undefeated with a closer-than-expected 38-30 victory over UConn on Saturday. It took a while for South Florida to get going, but a 17-0 run from the end of the second quarter to the last three minutes of the third allowed for some separation. The Bulls went up 31-14 early in the fourth quarter, but the Huskies tried to stick around until the end. Johnny Ford led the way for South Florida, running for 164 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries. He was a big part of the offense’s 611-yard performance, though three turnovers allowed UConn to hang in the game. Up Next: at Houston
Cincinnati: The Bearcats (6-1, 2-1 AAC) fell out of the AP Top 25 this week after losing 24-17 in overtime at Temple. They fell behind 10-0 early, but fought back with a 17-0 run that spanned from the end of the first quarter to the final minute of the fourth. Leading 17-10, the Cincinnati defense allowed a touchdown with 49 seconds left in the game, which brought on overtime. The Owls scored to open the overtime period before the Bearcat offense went backward and ultimately turned the ball over. Quarterback Desmond Ridder completed just 14 of his 33 passes for 111 yards and an interception, but Michael Warren II picked up the slack with 132 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Up Next: at SMU
East Carolina: The Pirates (2-5, 0-4) remained winless in conference play on Saturday night, falling 37-10 at home to No. 10 UCF. East Carolina might have thought it was catching a break when backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. took the field for the Knights instead of McKenzie Milton, but the defending conference champions didn’t miss much of a beat. ECU did have a chance to bring the score to 23-17 early in the fourth quarter, but a Holton Ahlers fumble inside the 10-yard line was scooped up and taken 94 yards the other way for a UCF touchdown. It was a frustrating performance for the Pirate offense, which put up 496 yards but turned the ball over five times. Ahlers threw for 406 yards and ran for 69 in the loss. Up Next: vs. Memphis (Nov. 3)
UConn: The Huskies (1-6, 0-4 AAC) gave No. 21 South Florida a tough game in Tampa on Saturday night, but ultimately fell 38-30. They went up 7-0 early on and held on for most of the first half. It wasn’t until a Johnny Ford touchdown run with 43 seconds left in the second quarter that the Bulls took control. UConn fell behind 31-14 at one point, but fought back to 31-23 with 7:20 left in the fourth. Even after a Bulls touchdown seemingly clinched the game, quarterback David Pindell brought the score to a respectable 38-30 with a touchdown run. Pindell threw for just 133 yards, but ran for 197 and two scores on 28 carries. Up Next: vs. UMass
Houston: The Cougars (6-1, 3-0 AAC) survived an early deficit to beat Navy 49-36 on Saturday in Annapolis. The Midshipmen held a 24-14 lead at the five-minute mark in the second quarter, but the Houston offense took off after that. Quarterback D’Eriq King accounted for three touchdowns in the Cougars’ 35-0 run the put Navy down 49-24 with 6:01 left in the game. Overall, King finished the day with 469 total yards and four total touchdowns. Houston outgained Navy 570-527 in its fourth straight win. Up Next: vs. No. 21 South Florida
SMU: The Mustangs (3-4, 2-1 AAC) kept themselves in the AAC West conversation with a 27-23 road win over Tulane on Saturday. The Green Wave held a 23-14 lead early in the fourth quarter before SMU fought back with the final 13 points of the game. Braeden West ran for a 29-yard touchdown with 11:29 left in the fourth quarter to bring the Mustangs within 23-21 before quarterback Ben Hicks hit James Proche for a 67-yard go-ahead touchdown with 1:15 to go. Hicks, making his first start since Sept. 15, threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns (to one interception) on 21-of-40 passing. His offense got some help from the Mustang defense, which forced three turnovers in the win. Up Next: vs. Cincinnati
Tulane: The Green Wave (2-5, 1-2 AAC) blew a 23-14 fourth-quarter lead en route to a 27-23 loss at home to SMU on Saturday. Three turnovers forced by the Mustang defense made a difference, as Tulane failed to score after the 12:58 mark in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jonathan Banks completed 14 of his 22 passes, but only threw for 153 yards and an interception. He ran for 34 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, but also lost two fumbles. Darius Bradwell led all rushers with 72 yards and a touchdown on 13 touches. Up Next: at Tulsa
Memphis: The Tigers (4-4, 1-3 AAC) got blown out, 65-33, by Missouri on Saturday. They were without Darrell Henderson, the country’s leading rusher, for most of the game after he went down with an injury in the first quarter. Memphis may not have had a chance to hang around anyway, as it fell behind 21-0 early. After the defending AAC West champions got within 21-17, Missouri went on another run to go up 41-17. By halftime, it was 48-20. Quarterback Brady White threw for two touchdowns and two interceptions on just 15-of-37 passing in the loss. The defense allowed 646 total yards, surrendering 350 yards and four touchdowns to Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. Up Next: at East Carolina (Nov. 3)
Navy: The Midshipmen (2-5, 1-3 AAC) held a 24-14 lead over Houston at one point in Saturday’s game before giving up 35 straight points on their way to a 49-36 loss. Malcolm Perry, Zach Abey and Tazh Maloy each had a rushing touchdown in the first half to build that early lead, but Navy didn’t score again until there was 1:58 left in the fourth quarter. Perry led all rushers with 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. The Midshipmen held possession for 42:33 in the game, but couldn’t hold off the Cougars’ quick-strike offense. Up Next: vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane (1-6, 0-3 AAC) lost 23-0 at Arkansas on Saturday. It was just 10-0 lead at halftime for the Razorbacks, but Tulsa’s offense never got going. Quarterback Seth Boomer only completed eight of his 25 passes for 127 yards. The offense as a whole posted just 260 yards and turned the ball over twice. The defense picked up two turnovers of its own, but failed to keep up with Arkansas in the long run. Up Next: vs. Tulane
What does this all mean for UCF?
The top of the AAC East saw a bit of a shakeup this weekend, with Cincinnati falling to Temple in overtime. In recent weeks, the focus has been on UCF, South Florida and Cincinnati. Temple was there too with an undefeated conference record, but still felt like the fourth-most likely team to win the division. That changed this weekend with the Owls’ comeback win over the Bearcats. All hope isn’t lost for Cincinnati, but its road to the AAC Championship Game just got a lot tougher.
With the season nearing its final stretch, the race for the AAC East title is going to heat up. The Bulls head to Houston this week for what is their first tough conference game of the season. With as shaky as South Florida looked against UConn (and Tulsa last week), the final stretch will be extremely telling for Charlie Strong and his team. After facing Houston, the Bulls still have meetings with Temple, Cincinnati and, of course, UCF. Whether they are still in the conversation for the conference championship game by that Black Friday matchup with the Knights is a legitimate question right now.
The Owls are off this week before their trip to Orlando next Thursday. That Nov. 1 matchup for the Knights will be crucial, considering that both teams will enter with undefeated records in AAC play. Temple has been hot and cold at different times this year, but it has a fighting chance to play for the conference crown in December.
While the AAC East is basically decided with a round-robin tournament in November, the AAC West is more of a two-team race. Houston is 100 percent the favorite to win that division. SMU is pretty much the only team left that could still challenge for it, but the Cougars are the better team. Memphis, Tulsa and Navy might not be mathematically eliminated, but they’re not coming back from the depths of the division this year. The four-team race in the AAC East, in all likelihood, is for a date with Houston on Dec. 1.