UCF is No. 9 in the AP Poll heading into the season’s final stretch. The Knights (7-0, 4-0 AAC) will play host to Temple on Thursday night, but before we get there, let’s check in on what went down around the AAC during the bye week.
Temple: The Owls (5-3, 4-0 AAC) were off this week. Up Next: at No. 9 UCF
Cincinnati: The Bearcats (7-1, 3-1 AAC) survived a scare from SMU on Saturday, winning 26-20 in overtime. They led 17-7 with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter before the Mustangs went on a 13-0 run. With under a minute and a half left, Cincinnati gained possession and set up Cole Smith for a game-tying 41-yard field goal as time expired. From there, the Bearcats didn’t even need an overtime possession as James Wiggins picked off Ben Hicks and returned the ball 86 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Quarterback Desmond Ridder had an up-and-down game, finishing with 352 yards and two touchdowns on 33-of-50 passing while turning the ball over three times. Up Next: vs. Navy
South Florida: The Bulls (7-1, 3-1 AAC) dropped out of the AP Top 25 after a 57-36 loss at Houston on Saturday afternoon. They fell behind 14-0 early before bringing it to a 28-21 deficit by halftime. The South Florida offense put up 466 yards and kept the game close, but the defense couldn’t contain D’Eriq King. The Cougars scored the game’s final 14 points after the Bulls brought the game to 43-36 at the end of the third quarter. Johnny Ford ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in the loss. Up Next: vs. Tulane
East Carolina: The Pirates (2-5, 0-4 AAC) were off this week. Up Next: vs. Memphis
UConn: The Huskies (1-7, 0-4 AAC) led UMass 17-9 in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but eventually lost 22-17. With 12:12 left, Ross Comis found Zak Simon for a 67-yard touchdown to bring the Minutemen within 17-15 before they later went on an 11-play, 81-yard drive that lasted 6:48. The scoring drive was capped by the go-ahead three-yard touchdown run by Marquis Young. On the very first play of UConn’s next drive, quarterback David Pindell was intercepted. Pindell threw just six times on the day, but ran for 120 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the loss. Up Next: at Tulsa
Houston: The Cougars (7-1, 4-0 AAC) beat down then-No. 21 South Florida on Saturday afternoon by a score of 57-36. A fast start had Houston up 14-0 after two possessions, but the Bulls fought back into the game in the second quarter. The game turned into even more of a shootout in the second half, but South Florida couldn’t keep up with Houston quarterback D’Eriq King. The junior threw for 519 yards and five touchdowns on 28-of-40 passing while also racking up a team-high 132 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Cougars entered the AP Top 25 this week at No. 17. Up Next: at SMU
SMU: The Mustangs (3-5, 2-2 AAC) nearly had a home upset over Cincinnati on Saturday, but couldn’t finish in a 26-20 overtime loss. A 13-0 run between the 4:05 mark in the third quarter and the final seconds of the fourth had SMU up 20-17, but the Bearcats tied the game on a 41-yard field goal as time expired. With two yards to go on third down in overtime, SMU quarterback Ben Hicks threw a pick six that sent the Mustangs to a tough loss. Hicks threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-43 passing, connecting with Reggie Roberson Jr. seven times for 147 yards and two scores. SMU just couldn’t get its ground game going, totaling 26 rushing yards. Up Next: vs. Houston
Tulane: The Green Wave (3-5, 2-2 AAC) turned a 17-7 second-half deficit into a 24-17 win at Tulsa on Saturday. Quarterback Justin McMillan only threw for 92 yards on 10-of-19 passing, but he ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. His one-yard touchdown run with 4:16 left in the third quarter brought the game to 17-14 before a 20-yard field goal by Merek Glover tied it with 12:06 to go in the fourth. McMillan then put Tulane up for good with a 39-yard touchdown run with 3:46 left. Up Next: at South Florida
Navy: The Midshipmen (2-6, 1-3 AAC) fell 44-22 to No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday. The Fighting Irish took a 27-0 lead into halftime and Navy never recovered. Zach Abey got the game as close as 30-14, but the final result was never in doubt. Abey had the two touchdowns, but Michael Perry led the rushing attack for the Midshipmen with 133 yards on 12 carries. The Navy defense allowed 584 yards in the loss. Up Next: at Cincinnati
Memphis: The Tigers (4-4, 1-3 AAC) were off this week. Up Next: at East Carolina
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane (1-7, 0-4 AAC) led Tulane 17-7 in the third quarter of Saturday’s game before ultimately falling 24-17. A Nathan Walker field goal and a 28-yard touchdown pass from Seth Boomer to Keylon Stokes got Tulsa out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. After the Green Wave cut it to 10-7, Stokes ran for a 14-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 17-7. But from there, Tulane took over and scored the game’s final 17 points. Boomer finished the game with 180 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-26 passing. Up Next: vs. UConn
What does this all mean for UCF?
The AAC East now has just two teams that are unbeaten in conference play: UCF and Temple. The two will face off on Thursday night, with the winner taking control of its own destiny heading into the final three weeks of the regular season. With that said, Cincinnati and South Florida aren’t yet out of the division race. The Knights have to face all three within the next four weeks, which will be a major test. With losses from the Bearcats and Bulls in the last two weeks, UCF no longer has a ranked opponent on its schedule. It’s possible that one of the two makes its way back into the rankings before meeting the defending champions, but as of now, the Knights might not play a ranked team until a potential AAC Championship Game appearance.
The AAC West belongs solely to Houston right now. The Cougars dominated South Florida to improve to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in conference play. They debuted in the AP Top 25 this week at No. 17, which puts them just eight spots behind the Knights. There is next to no competition left for Houston in the AAC West, with every other team in the division having two or more conference losses.
Considering the proficiency of the Cougars’ offense, a potential matchup with the Knights in the conference title game would likely produce a lot of points. But with the level of competition in the AAC East, there’s no guarantee that UCF plays on Dec. 1. It’s far more of a certainty that Houston will be there to face UCF, Temple, Cincinnati or South Florida. The Knights should still be the favorite in their division, but this week is the start of a tough road for them.