State of the AAC: Competition heats up in final two weeks of season
While the American Athletic Conference East division has leveled out to a one-team race in the No. 17 Cincinnati Bearcats, the West division has continued to be competitive as the season hits its final two weeks.
Cincinnati (9-1, 6-0 No. 17 CFP) overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and tallied 20 second-half points, including grad-transfer Sam Crosa’s 37-yard field goal as time expired, to defeat USF (4-6, 2-4) 20-17.
The Saturday night showdown paired two of the conference’s worst offensive teams. Cincinnati, averaging 393.4 yards per game, picked up just 278 yards, while USF, averaging 355, totaled 438. The Bearcats accumulated just 29 yards of total offense through the first half.
Usually-reliable sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder completed nine of 18 pass attempts and recorded only 78 yards without a touchdown for the AAC’s highest-ranked side. This was Ridder’s first game without a passing touchdown since the Bearcats’ 42-0 thumping by No. 2 Ohio State.
Fortunately for the Bearcats, while Ridder was not on, their running game was. The rushing duo of juniors Michael Warren II and Gerrid Doaks partnered to record 182 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. Ridder added 18 yards on 12 rushes.
Warren’s 833 yards and nine touchdowns this season are the fifth-most in the conference.
With three teams ranked ahead of Cincinnati in the CFP ranking, including No. 12 Auburn and No. 13 Baylor, the Bearcats could see minor movement upwards. Cincinnati will host Temple (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday before heading to No. 18 Memphis (9-1, 5-1) to round out the season.
Navy (7-2, 5-1 No. 23 CFP), one of the teams vying for the West title along with Memphis, suffered its first loss since September as the Midshipmen were defeated 52-20 by No. 15 Notre Dame.
While other AAC heavyweights UCF and SMU had the weekend off, Navy traveled to Notre Dame Stadium to face a side that was in the hunt for a playoff berth through much of the season.
Navy was plagued by a sluggish first half that saw them score just three points while losing three fumbles and turning the ball over on a fourth-down attempt. The Fighting Irish accumulated 38 points through the same two quarters.
Malcolm Perry, Navy’s senior quarterback, continued his solid season on the ground, racking up 117 yards on 25 carries. He also completed three of his seven pass attempts but Saturday’s showdown was the first game this season that he has not recorded either a passing or rushing touchdown.
Perry’s 1,159 rushing yards are the ninth-most in FBS this season and second-most in the AAC.
Navy’s last two conference games will see the Midshipmen host No. 21 SMU (9-1, 5-1) on Saturday in a crucial decider for conference standings, then travel to Houston (3-7, 1-5) Nov. 30. Navy will also play Army Dec. 14.
Elsewhere in the AAC, Memphis put away Houston 45-27 to extend its winning streak to four straight and Temple defeated Tulane (6-4, 3-3) 29-21.