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Saturday, March 25, 2023


State of the AAC: SMU continues turning heads with 5-0 streak

SMU, leading the AAC in wins, notched its first top-25 ranking in over 30 years after its 41-38 victory over TCU. | File photo

SMU, leading the AAC in wins, notched its first top-25 ranking in over 30 years after its 41-38 victory over TCU. | File photo

For the first time since the final poll of last season, two American Athletic teams are ranked in the AP Top-25, as SMU slid into No. 24, notching its first ranking in 32 years.

The Mustangs are off to a red-hot 5-0 (1-0 in conference) start following Saturday’s 48-21 thrashing of the USF Bulls (1-3, 0-1) in Tampa. SMU is the sole AAC team with five wins and one of two to have yet to suffer a defeat.

Junior Shane Buechele, who transferred from Texas after three seasons, has spurred the Mustangs’ surprising success thus far.

Buechele has thrown for 10 touchdowns and added another two on the ground this season and has completed 109 of 157 pass attempts for 1,385 yards.

His completions, attempts and yards all lead the conference, while his completion percentage of 69.4 is the second best tally.

The Mustangs’ conference opener was another massive showing for Buechele, as he unleashed 226 passing yards on the Bulls’ defense and found the endzone three times.

All three passing touchdowns came at the hands of SMU’s elite receivers James Proche, senior, and Reggie Roberson Jr., junior.

The two combined to catch 12 passes for 142 yards and both rank in the top five of the conference for receptions and receiving yards.

SMU will retake the field Saturday when it hosts Tulsa (2-2) in the Golden Hurricane’s first conference match, while USF will look to rebound up north as it travels to UConn (1-3, 0-1) Saturday.

Joining SMU in the Top-25 is No. 18 UCF, as the Knights mark their 33rd straight week in the AP poll. UCF bounced back from its upset against Pittsburgh, dismantling UConn 56-21.

Freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel continued his phenomenal opening season, throwing for 281 yards and three touchdowns despite completing just 11 of 16 passes. His 14 passing touchdowns is the highest mark in the conference and No. 7 in FBS.

While the Knights responded well to their defeat, allowing 400 yards for the second straight game may raise concerns for their trip to rising Cincinnati (3-1, 0-0) Friday night.

The Bearcats will host the Knights on the heels of a bye week and will rely on their defense to hand UCF its second loss in three games.

Cincinnati ranks in the top four of the conference in both passing and rushing yards per game, and aside from its 42-0 demolition by No. 4 Ohio State, has yet to concede more than 14 points in a game.

The matchup of the week in the AAC was Thursday night’s meeting between Memphis (4-0, 1-0) and Navy (2-1, 1-1), as both teams entered undefeated, with the Tigers finishing with a 35-23 victory.

While typically thought of as a high-powered offensive team in recent years, Memphis continued its strong defensive showing against a rushing focused Navy squad. They limited the Midshipmen to 291 yards, their lowest tally of the season.

The Tigers, boasting the second-best defense in the AAC, will take a conference break and battle Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, while Navy’s conference break will see them host rivals Air Force.

Elsewhere, Temple (3-1) continued its strong season, defeating the ACC’s Georgia Tech 24-2 and will battle ECU (3-2, 0-1) Thursday in its AAC opener. The Pirates defeated Old Dominion 24-21 Saturday.

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