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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Football

Around the AAC: Bulls charge, Pirates sink in Week 1


The Cougars journey to once again being crowned AAC Champions will begin Sept. 9 against the Arizona Wildcats. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

The football team may have been sidelined in week one due to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. But elsewhere around the American Athletic Conference competition was in full swing.

Houston’s season-opening matchup with the UTSA Roadrunners was scrapped on Aug. 29 when the University announced all athletic events would be canceled or postponed in the wake of Harvey.

Without the Cougars, 11 teams took the field over the weekend with hopes of hoisting an AAC Championship trophy Dec. 2. Of the AAC-member programs who saw action in Week 1, eight secured victories against nonconference opponents.

Here’s how three future Cougar opponents fared over the weekend:

University of South Florida, (2-0)

First-year head coach Charlie Strong’s tenure at the helm of the Bulls is off to a momentous start after being fired by Texas in December. The No. 19-ranked USF Bulls kicked off their season Aug. 26 with a 42-22 victory over San Jose State. The Bulls followed last weekend’s dominance with a 31-17 win against Stony Brook.

USF is a favorite of many to compete for the AAC title this season largely because of the dynamic playmaking ability of senior quarterback Quentin Flowers. He is off to an underwhelming start with just 398 yards and four TD’s in his first two games against inferior opponents.

Although 2-0, the Bulls have struggled to command games from start to finish in their first two games. USF faced an early 16-point deficit against San Jose State before taking control in the final three quarters last weekend and even trailed Stony Brook at halftime Saturday.

South Florida will host the Cougars in Tampa, Florida on Nov. 4 in what could prove to be a decisive late-season matchup.

East Carolina University, (0-1)

After finishing 2016 with just three wins and nine losses, the Pirates are showing no signs of improvement in 2017. First up for ECU was the James Madison University Dukes—a member of the Football Championship Subdivision – which it welcomed to Greenville, North Carolina.

The Dukes then handed the Pirates a 34-14 defeat that could have been worse had ECU not plunged into the end zone for a TD with just 23 seconds left in regulation. East Carolina has now lost five games in a row and 10 of its last 11 dating back to last season.

ECU will need to right the ship in a hurry as they face ranked opponents in each of their next three games. Facing No. 22-ranked West Virginia this weekend in Morgantown followed by home matchups with No. 21-ranked Virginia Tech and USF; East Carolina could be staring down an 0-4 record approaching October.

The Pirates will be aiming to steal a victory in Houston on Oct. 28 when the Cougars play host in their annual homecoming game.

Southern Methodist University, (1-0)

It’s well-documented that Mustang football has been largely forgettable since its controversy-riddled success of the early 1980s. However, with third-year head coach Chad Morris helping the team improve from two wins in 2015 to five last season, there is reason for hope in Dallas.

SMU kicked off their season with 58-14 onslaught of the FCS-member Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks on Saturday. The Mustangs controlled the game from start to finish to secure a 1-0 start for the second consecutive season.

Junior wide receiver Courtland Sutton caught just two passes for 22 yards and a score in the rout of SFA. Sutton is an early favorite to be the top wide receiver selected in the 2018 NFL Draft and will give opposing AAC players and coaches headaches in the film room and on the field.

SMU has struggled to put away inferior opponents in recent years making Saturday’s win a sight for sore eyes. Most of all, SMU is showing glimpses of greatness seen in a 22-point blowout of the Cougars on Oct. 22.

The Cougars will try to avenge that loss when SMU travels to TDECU Stadium on Oct. 7.

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