UCF closed out the 2018 regular season on Friday with a 38-10 road win over South Florida, but the victory was largely overshadowed by quarterback McKenzie Milton’s devastating leg injury. Despite Milton going down, the Knights (11-0, 8-0 AAC) moved up to No. 8 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings before they head into Saturday’s AAC Championship Game against Memphis. Before we get to that game, let’s check in on what else went down around the AAC in the final weekend of the regular season.
Temple: The Owls (8-4, 7-1 AAC) finished their regular season on Saturday with a 57-7 road win over UConn. Temple only led 13-7 after one quarter, but from there, it was a rout. The Owls scored 27 points in the second quarter and shut out the Huskies over the final three quarters on their way to victory. The defense allowed just 213 yards, forced four turnovers and scored a touchdown to complement a strong effort from the offense. Jager Gardner, Todd Centeio, Travon Williams and Isaiah Wright all scored rushing touchdowns. Wright also had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the victory. Bowl Eligible? Yes
Cincinnati: The Bearcats (10-2, 6-2 AAC) rebounded from last week’s loss with a 56-6 home win over East Carolina on Friday. Quarterback Desmond Ridder threw three touchdowns in the first quarter and Cincinnati led 35-0 by the 9:12 mark in the second quarter. Right after the Pirates got within 35-6, Ridder led another scoring drive to give his team a 42-6 lead before halftime. The Bearcats added two touchdowns in the second half, one by the defense, to complete a dominant effort. Ridder finished the day 20-of-29 for 335 yards and four touchdowns, while receiver Kahlil Lewis caught nine passes for 203 yards and three scores. The Cincinnati defense held East Carolina to just 303 yards and forced five turnovers. Bowl Eligible? Yes
South Florida: The Bulls (7-5, 3-5 AAC) dropped their fifth straight game on Friday, falling 38-10 at home to No. 9 UCF. They managed to get within 17-10 late in the third quarter before allowing a quick touchdown drive. After the Knights took a 24-10 lead, they never looked back. South Florida alternated between Chris Oladokun and Brett Kean at quarterback throughout the game, but neither had much success. They combined to complete 15 of their 29 passes for just 113 yards. Oladokun had the team’s lone touchdown pass, but he also threw an interception. Johnny Ford was the only spark for the Bulls on offense, running for 120 yards on 16 carries while catching two passes for 39 yards and a touchdown. The South Florida defense allowed 391 rushing yards in the loss. Bowl Eligible? Yes
East Carolina: The Pirates (3-8, 1-7 AAC) were no match for Cincinnati on Friday, falling 56-6 on the road. They fell behind 35-0 less than halfway through the second quarter before scoring their only points of the day. Quarterback Holton Ahlers connected with Mydreon Vines for a 71-yard touchdown to bring the game within 35-6, but an unsuccessful two-point conversion kept it from getting any closer. East Carolina turned the ball over five times and allowed 641 yards in the loss. Ahlers completed just eight of his 22 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown, but threw an interception and lost a fumble. Up Next: at North Carolina State … Bowl Eligible? No
UConn: The Huskies (1-11, 0-8 AAC) limped to the end of their season at home on Saturday, losing 57-7 to Temple. After the Owls took a 7-0 lead early, quarterback David Pindell led a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a four-yard touchdown to Keyion Dixon. But after UConn tied it at 7-7, the Owls scored the game’s final 50 points. A 27-0 second quarter doomed the Huskies and sent them to their 11th loss of the season. Pindell completed just 12 of his 23 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown, getting intercepted three times. Kevin Mensah was one of the lone bright spots for UConn, rushing for 94 yards on 24 carries. Bowl Eligible? No
Memphis: The Tigers (8-4, 5-3 AAC) used a 21-0 fourth-quarter run to beat Houston 52-31 at home on Friday, clinching a spot in next week’s AAC Championship Game. Memphis led 17-7 early on, but the game was tied at 31 entering the final quarter. From there, the preseason AAC West favorite took off. Patrick Taylor Jr. scored from one yard out to give the Tigers a 38-31 lead before two touchdown runs by Darrell Henderson put the game away. Memphis outgained Houston 610-394 in the win, rushing for 401 yards as a team. Henderson led that effort, going for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Taylor had a strong day of his own with 128 yards and two scores on 19 carries. Up Next: at No. 8 UCF (AAC Championship Game) … Bowl eligible? Yes
Houston: The Cougars (8-4, 5-3 AAC) fell short on Friday of a title game berth on Friday, losing 52-31 at Memphis. They erased an early 17-7 deficit and tied the game at 31 with 1:34 left in the third quarter, but couldn’t finish. The defense couldn’t hold off a strong rushing attack from the Tigers, allowing 401 yards on the ground and 610 total yards. The offense went cold late, getting shut out in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Clayton Tune, starting in place of the injured D’Eriq King, completed 18 of his 43 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns (to one interception). Bowl eligible? Yes
Tulane: The Green Wave (6-6, 5-3 AAC) pulled off a late victory at home on Saturday, beating Navy 29-28. Quarterback Justin McMillan got Tulane off to a hot start by throwing two touchdowns and running for one in the first half. The Wave led 21-3 at halftime, but struggled from there. The Midshipmen came back with 25 unanswered points to take a 28-21 lead, but some late-game heroics allowed Tulane to clinch bowl eligibility. McMillan led a seven-play, 71-yard drive that was capped off by a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jaetavian Toles. Coach Willie Fritz gambled and went for two, which paid off as McMillan hit Charles Jones II for the lead. The Tulane defense held on from there. McMillan finished the day with 342 total yards and four total touchdowns. Bowl eligible? Yes
SMU: The Mustangs (5-7, 4-4 AAC) couldn’t clinch bowl eligibility on the road on Saturday, losing 27-24 to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane went up big early, taking a 21-7 lead into halftime. SMU tried to fight its way back in the game, but Tulsa kept coming back with answers. The Mustangs got within 24-17 in the fourth quarter before a field goal put them down by two scores. Quarterback Ben Hicks threw an 11-yard touchdown to James Proche with 1:31 left in the game, but it wasn’t enough. Hicks threw for 319 yards and a touchdown on 26-of-46 passing, but was intercepted twice. Proche caught 11 passes for 183 yards and a score to finish off his strong season. Bowl Eligible? No
Navy: The Midshipmen (3-9, 2-6 AAC) fell just short of an upset win at Tulane on Saturday, losing 29-28. After falling behind 21-3 before halftime, Navy fought its way back with a 25-0 run to take a 28-21 lead. The defense just couldn’t come up with one last stop, allowing a Tulane touchdown with 1:27 left in the game. Instead of going for the tie, the Green Wave went for the two-point conversion and got it for the win. Quarterback Zach Abey led the way for Navy, completing seven of his 13 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown in addition to catching a 37-yard touchdown from Malcolm Perry. The defense forced a turnover, but allowed 420 total yards in the loss. Up Next: vs. Army (Dec. 8) … Bowl eligible? No
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane (3-9, 2-6 AAC) ended its season on a high note, beating SMU at home on Saturday by a score of 27-24. Tulsa had a 21-7 lead after one half, but the Mustangs kept it interesting throughout. SMU continued to get within a touchdown, only for Tulsa to respond with points of its own. A John Parker Romo field goal from 22 yards out made it a 27-17 game with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter, which ultimately padded the lead just enough. Quarterback Seth Boomer was efficient, completing 20 of his 27 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown (to one interception). Shamari Brooks ran for 89 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Bowl Eligible? No
What does this all mean for UCF?
After a chaotic regular season, the 2018 AAC Championship Game will be a rematch of last year’s. Just a couple of weeks ago, four teams had a shot at winning the AAC West. Memphis, the preseason favorite to win the division, ultimately emerged as the winner.
UCF, which won the AAC East, was waiting on the winner of this past weekend’s game between Houston and Memphis. The Tigers came out on top and, despite a 5-3 conference record, will be representing their division in the conference title game.
The Knights and Tigers will be meeting for the fourth time since the beginning of the 2017 season. UCF won the first meeting in Orlando, 40-13, before winning last year’s conference title game 62-55 in double overtime. The two teams met in Memphis earlier this season, with UCF coming back from a 30-17 halftime deficit to win 31-30.
As for the rest of the conference, there were some surprises on the final weekend of the regular season. Navy gave Tulane a scare, but the biggest shock came from SMU. With their loss to Tulsa, the Mustangs went from controlling their destiny in their division two weeks ago to missing bowl eligibility completely.
Overall, the AAC has seven bowl-eligible teams.