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State of the AAC: Cincinnati, SMU lead The American

No. 18 Cincinnati sits at the op of The American East a little over half way through the season. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

No. 18 Cincinnati sits at the top of the AAC East a little over half way through the season. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

With more than half the season over, the American Athletic Conference is shaping out to be a race between No. 18 Cincinnati in the East and No. 16 SMU in the West, as both sit at 3-0 in conference play.

SMU, the surprise of the conference and perhaps the nation as a whole, have rolled to a monumental 7-0 start, which was capped by a 45-21 victory over Temple (5-2, 2-1) on Saturday. Shane Buechele, the Mustang’s junior transfer quarterback via Texas, lit up the Owls with a career-high six passing touchdowns.

Buechele also launched 457 yards on 30 of 53 passing in the victory, pushing his season total to 2,122 yards, the most in the conference and seventh-most in the FBS. His 18 passing touchdowns also lead the conference, along with Memphis’s junior Brady White, slotting them at the No. 10 spot nationally.

But the Mustangs offense was not solely dependent on the passing game as they added another 198 yards on the ground, led by senior running back Xavier Jones who recorded 105 yards on 29 carries.

SMU controls its destiny for an AAC West title with three of the division’s squads sitting at one loss. The Mustangs look to notch its eighth win of the season in a Thursday night trip to Houston (3-4, 1-2). The Mustangs have recorded eight wins just twice since 2000.

As for the Owls, they are now 2-1 against teams in the top-25 and will have another tough test when they host UCF (5-2, 2-1) on Saturday.

In the east, Cincinnati (6-1, 3-0) maintained its stronghold with a challenging 24-13 over Tulsa (2-5, 0-3).

Tulsa outgained the hosts with 377 yards to 317 but were plagued by miscues, as the Golden Hurricanes coughed the ball up five times, which led to 10 points for the Bearcats.

Despite losing junior running back Michael Warren II to a leg injury, Cincinnati found success in the running game from junior Gerrid Doaks, who came on for Warren and recorded two touchdowns and 91 yards on 17 carries.

Doaks also added a receiving touchdown as he battled his way down field for a 28-yard score from sophomore Desmond Ridder.

Cincinnati will receive some rest before battling the conference’s other two squads without an in-conference victory, heading to ECU (3-4, 0-3) on Saturday Nov. 2 then hosting UConn (1-6, 0-4) on Nov. 9.

Tulsa, on the heels of a three-game losing streak, will host Memphis (6-1, 2-1) on Saturday.

The Tigers, backed by freshman phenom Kenneth Gainwell’s historic outing, rolled past Tulane (5-2, 2-1) 47-17. Gainwell picked up 104 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and snagged nine catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns. Gainwell is the first player to record 100 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards in one game in 22 years.

White also scorched the scoreboard as he threw for five touchdowns and 358 yards on 21 of 29 attempts. He leads the conference in completion percentage with 70.3 percent.

Tulane will travel to Annapolis, Maryland, on Saturday to face run-heavy Navy (5-1, 3-1). Elsewhere, UCF got back to winning ways with a 41-28 victory over ECU.

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