Of the 45,172 in attendance at the Liberty Bowl on a late September night, some University of Memphis fans, after their school was ready to clinch a win over preseason American Athletic Conference favorite Cincinnati, started to get bold. Really bold.
“We want Ole Miss!”…clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. “We want Ole Miss!”…clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
Did they know what they were really asking for, other than a matchup with their rivals…and for some air time with their rhythmic chant? Just five days prior, the same Ole Miss team the fans were summoning went into Tuscaloosa and hung 43 points in a win over mighty Alabama. In the two games prior to that, the Rebels hung more than 70 points on their opponents. All this, while Memphis was allowing 46 points to Cincinnati. (Fortunately for Tigers fans, Memphis scored 53 and won the game.) The supposed insolence shown by the fans at the Liberty Bowl was sure to be thrown back in their faces in one month’s time, when the big, bad, Southeastern Conference, marching into the Liberty Bowl while dressed in cardinal red and navy blue, would put Memphis in its place.
Little did Ole Miss know about the cauldron that was playing in Memphis. Little did we know how mighty the American Athletic Conference has been this year, even before last week’s game. After a 37-24 win over the Rebels by Memphis, we know it now. Boy, we sure do know now! Now, the chants across football stadiums may resemble something more like this:
“We want Memphis!”
“We want Temple!”
“We want Houston!”
“We want Navy!” Actually, we need The Navy. I’m just talking about the football team.
The signature win by Memphis, as landmark of a win that was, just added to the exploits of the members of the American Athletic Conference, a league that was looked upon as more of a punchline than a prizefighter in the national scheme of college football after the dissolution of the Big East Conference in football a few years ago. For the first time in its nascent history, the league has three teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Or, to put that in perspective, there are as many teams ranked from the AAC than the Pac-12, the supposed best and most-balanced league in college football after the first month of the season, and just one fewer than the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Big 12.
Powerhouse conference then? Well, you better start thinking that way, at least for now.
This season of football bliss for The American all started on the opening Saturday, when Temple scored 27 unanswered points to knock off Penn State 27-10, the first win for the school against the Nittany Lions since 1941. More importantly, the Owls not only started their momentum towards a possible great season, they have sustained it. Temple completed their fourth come-from-behind victory of the season last night on the road against East Carolina, improving their record to 7-0 for the first time in school history and setting up the school’s most important game in history, a Saturday night encounter with No. 11 Notre Dame on Halloween. Temple football in primetime might have been thought of as spooky before, but the nightmares have Owls have put on opponents, especially in the second halves of games, is very real. After another second-half shutout against the Pirates, Temple has allowed only 29 total points in the second half, or slightly allowing over and average of four points per second half.
The national spotlight will shine the brightest on The American that Halloween night, but other schools in the league might have that same opportunity before too long. Houston, under first-year head coach Tom Herman, have scythed through their competition en route to a 6-0 start, including taking out Louisville in the Derby City on Sept. 12. Herman, who came over to H-Town after being Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and helping the Buckeyes win a national championship last January, has turned the Cougars’ offense to that resembling the days of Andre Ware and David Klingler in the ’80s and early ’90s. Houston has scored at least 38 points in five of the first six games, with the only time not scoring over 38 points coming in their 34-31 win over the Cardinals. If Houston were to receive the national spotlight soon, then you’ll get a chance to see quarterback Greg Ward Jr., the only quarterback in the FBS to average at least 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing per game.
Speaking of dual threat quarterbacks, Navy’s Keenan Reynolds has been one of the FBS’s best over the past few years. You may not have known/remembered that Navy football joined The American starting this season, but Reynolds has been in the spotlight a few times over the past few seasons, and he’s ready to write himself at the top of the NCAA record books to boot. The 4-1 Midshipmen are led by Reynolds, who is five rushing touchdowns away from setting a new FBS record for rushing touchdowns in a career, currently held by Wisconsin’s Montee Ball at 77. He’s also is threatening Ball’s FBS record of 83 total touchdowns as well. Navy’s only loss of the season was a respectable one, a 41-24 defeat in South Bend in a game that Notre Dame only led by three, 24-21, at halftime. Coming up on their schedule in November are trips to Memphis (Nov. 7) and Houston (Nov. 27), showcase games that could vault the Midshipmen into the national rankings, just like their fellow conference members.
Therein lies the great hope – and great fear – for those associated with The American this year. Those four teams (Memphis, Houston, Temple, Navy) all have at least two more marquee games left on their schedule, mostly against the other squads in the conference. On one hand, strength of schedule shouldn’t be too much of a problem for any of the teams in terms of being in good standing to make the New Year’s Six, something that will happen if the conference’s highest-rated team is the highest-rated of the non Power Five conferences after the conference championship games in December. But on the other hand, those teams may end up beating each other up, with the possibility of the survivor of the inaugural championship game of the American Athletic Conference not being as highly rated as a team like Toledo, another non Power Five member who also is in the mix for that automatic New Year’s Six spot from a non Power Five conference.
Of the teams in the league with a chance at the New Year’s Six game, Memphis might have the toughest schedule remaining, as they have Navy, Houston and Temple in back-to-back-to-back weeks, with the Houston and Temple games being on the road. Run the table, including in the conference title game, and Memphis is as good as a lock to participate in the New Year’s Six. Anything less, and the league has the depth to see one of the other teams take Memphis’ place in the driver’s seat. It should be a fun ride to the end in The American.
Not only is the race in The American shaping up to be a neck-and-neck, back-and-forth thriller, the A Lot of Sports Talk 2015 College Football Poll panel have made our rankings, especially at the top, a neck-and-neck (and neck-and-neck) race for the top spot, with four different teams receiving first-place votes for the third week in a row. As always, here are the seven people who combine to bring you our insightful aggregate poll: T.J. Basalla (super fan, marketing professional based in Ohio), Evie Van Pelt (managing editor at The Rebel Walk Magazine), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Nick Mancuso (patent attorney who attended USC as an undergrad and Oregon for law school), Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief) and an anonymous football staff member at a Division II school who once coached at the FBS level.
Here is ALOST‘s 2015 College Football Top 25 for Week 8. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
With 16 touchdown receptions in the first six games, Corey Coleman is on pace to shatter the FBS record for most touchdown receptions in a season, set by Louisiana Tech’s Troy Edwards in 1998, with 27 scores. (Adesina Koiki)
Once again, Ohio State’s schedule looks softer than a fluffy marshmallow. Their only “signature” win is now a 3-4 also-ran (Virginia Tech). Their other “respectable” road win just lost at home to Rutgers while blowing a 25-point second-half lead in the process (Indiana). They will not play a tough opponent until Nov. 21 (Michigan State, followed by Michigan). They are still a great team with great talent, but their margin for error – especially compared to some of the other undefeated teams – is ZERO. (T.J. Basalla)
Finally switching over to J.T. Barrett at quarterback should help. (Sandy Weintraub)
Did TCU’s defense, battered and bruised all season long, turn a corner last week in Ames? After allowing 21 first-quarter points against the Cyclones, the Horned Frogs posted a shutout in the final 45 minutes, cruising to a 45-21 victory. (Adesina)
Other than the Buckeyes, Utah has proven to me to be the most complete team in America. They have a tough schedule ahead, but they should be battle-tested should they end the season undefeated. (Sandy)
LSU may find out pretty quickly that this week’s home game against Western Kentucky will be far from a walk in a Baton Rouge park. The Hilltoppers, led by the dynamic Brandon Doughty at quarterback, are receiving votes in the national polls this week, including receiving a vote – from yours truly – in this poll. (Adesina)
Even with the undefeated start, the second-half of Clemson’s schedule will be even more of a test to the Tigers, with four of their final six games on the road. The first of those four road games is this weekend, against Miami. (Adesina)
In one word: lucky. (Sandy)
That Ole Miss loss looks more and more confusing after watching the Tide these past few weeks. (T.J.)
I feel like this FSU team is flying under the radar – at least until that Nov. 7 showdown in Death Valley. (T.J.)
When we rank “Confusing Game Results” at the end of the season, Stanford’s opening week loss to Northwestern will be right up there. (T.J.)
As its schedule currently stands, Notre Dame has four road games remaining, three of them against ranked opponents. Depending on who still is or isn’t undefeated in a few weeks, should ND win out, it will be hard to keep them out of the playoff. (T.J.)
“Undefeated and Big Ten West Champion Iowa” is a phrase we need to start preparing ourselves for. (T.J.)
After this weekend’s glorified scrimmage with Kansas, we’ll see how good the Cowboys are. Here are their final five games: at Texas Tech, vs. TCU, at Iowa State, vs. Baylor, vs. Oklahoma. Talk about a backloaded schedule. (Adesina)
Losing is never good, but the Gators had as close to a “good loss” as you could possibly have in Baton Rouge. (T.J.)
I have no comment. (T.J., Michigan Wolverines fan)
Before last weekend, Aggies QB Kyle Allen had never thrown multiple interceptions in a collegiate game. Against Alabama, he threw three of them – all returned for touchdowns. Ouch! (Adesina)
As stated in the open, the Tigers, after their triumph over Ole Miss, still have a lot of meat on their schedule which should allow them to continue to skyrocket up the rankings…and into a possible New Year’s Six bowl game. (Adesina)
We said that after their close loss to then-No. 5 Utah, we’ll see going forward if the Bears are a true contender in the Pac-12 title race. UCLA handling Cal last night made it all to clear that Cal, while improved, still has a ways to go until they become a Pac-12 power. (Adesina)
That was an ANGRY Sooner team that went to Manhattan on Saturday. This begs the question: Where was this team in Dallas a week prior? (T.J.)
If those American Athletic Conference teams do indeed cannibalize each other, Toledo is in position to grab that New Year’s Six spot. What’s going against the Rockets in their race to millions? Four of their last five regular-season games are against teams that already have at least three losses. Massachusetts, 1-5 on the year, is next for UT. (Adesina)
Four of Houston’s final six games – including contests against Cincinnati, Memphis and Navy – are at home, where the Cougars are only averaging a pedestrian 53.3 points per game. The last part of that sentence would be something we’d like to call sarcasm. (Adesina)
After the Owls’ come-from-behind win over East Carolina last night, you would think that ESPN’s College GameDay will be coming to the City of Brotherly Love on Halloween for the showdown with Notre Dame, right? (Adesina)
Two more wins for the Blue Devils will clinch their third consecutive winning season, something they haven’t accomplished on the gridiron since the stretch between 1961 and 1963. (Adesina)
Pat Narduzzi is as good a coach as he was made out to be. (T.J.)
The difference between a nine or 10-win season and a season hovering around the .500 mark might very well reside in what the Rebels do against A&M, as Ole Miss tries to avoid losing three out of their last four contests. (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
UCLA (4 points), Mississippi State (1), Utah State (1), Western Kentucky (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)
[Cover photo (Navy Midshipmen) courtesy of Rob Carr/Getty Images]