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State of the AAC: Cincinnati rises nationally as UCF falters; SMU not far behind

Cincinnati receiver Blue Smith skies over Houston cornerback Marcus Jones for the score at TDECU Stadium in an AAC battle during the 2019 season. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Cincinnati receiver Blue Smith skies over Houston cornerback Marcus Jones for the score at TDECU Stadium in an AAC battle during the 2019 season. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

The calendar has finally switched to October, and it slowly looks like the American Athletic Conference’s football schedule is beginning to pick up steam as more teams begin to compete against each other.

While the UH football team is set to start its season this Thursday in a conference showdown against Tulane (2-1, 0-1 AAC), the Cougars have a bit of catching up to do as other league teams have been able to get multiple games in, which included eight last Saturday. 

Here is this week’s look around the AAC:

No. 11 Cincinnati (3-0, 1-0 AAC) vs. USF (1-2, 0-1)

The Bearcats were able to leap over four spots in the AP Poll after thoroughly dominating the South Florida Bulls in its first conference game in 2020.

Cincinnati held a 14-point lead at halftime and never looked back as they won 28-7, however, not all went smoothly for the Bearcats.

Junior quarterback Desmond Ridder threw three interceptions in the contest, however, he also counteracted those negative plays by throwing two touchdowns. Senior running back Gerrid Doaks led the Bearcats in rushing with 102 yards and a score.

As for the Bulls, they struggled tremendously in the game as they were unable to capitalize on the Bearcats’ turnovers. USF had four different quarterbacks throw a pass in the loss and they also combined for five interceptions. 

No. 18 SMU (4-0, 1-0) vs. Memphis (1-1, 0-1)

The Mustangs and Memphis Tigers fought in a battle of arguably the conference’s two best quarterbacks, and while the contest ended in thrilling fashion with a game-winning field goal in the waning seconds of regulation, the road to get there was a bit unique.

SMU jumped out in front early and built as much as a 21-point edge behind three touchdown passes from senior quarterback Shane Buechele, but Memphis roared back as senior quarterback Brady White threw two touchdowns of his own and led the Tigers for a field goal as time expired in the second quarter to cut the Mustangs’ lead to only four at halftime.

In the second half, the game turned into a defensive battle as both teams struggled to get much offense in although White was able to lead one drive for another touchdown. Ultimately SMU pulled it out in the end with a 33-yard drive that set up the game-sealing kick as the Mustangs won 30-27.

SMU’s Buechele finished the game with 474 yards and three touchdowns. Memphis’ Brady threw three touchdowns and 296 yards as well as threw two key interceptions in the loss.

UCF (2-1, 1-1) vs. Tulsa (1-1, 1-0)

In the upset of the weekend, the Golden Hurricane was  able to overcome an 18-point deficit to dethrone the top-rated Knights, who were 11th in the AP Poll entering the game in Orlando, Florida.

UCF jumped out to an early 16-0 lead after a couple of touchdowns and even a safety, and expanded that edge to 23-5 when Tulsa began roaring back as senior quarterback Zach Smith threw two touchdown passes that were each over 30-yard bombs.

After the Knights responded with a field goal, the Golden Hurricane drove down the field and punched it in for another touchdown by sophomore running back T.K. Wilkerson, however, they missed the kick for the extra point after, but it did not come back to bite Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane scored another touchdown and a field goal for insurance and the Knights were unable to respond. The final score was 34-26 in favor of Tulsa.

Tulsa’s Smith ended the game with three touchdowns, an interception and 273 yards while UCF’s freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw 330 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the loss, which knocked the Knights off the AP Top 25.

Navy (1-2, 1-0)

In a battle between two United States military academies, the Midshipmen suffered a brutal loss after holding an early 7-3 lead and then falling victim to an offensive onslaught by the Air Force Falcons.

After a 73-yard connection between Navy junior quarterback Tyger Goslin and senior wide receiver Myles Fells, the Air Force scored 37 unanswered points that left the Midshipmen in the dust. The final score was 40-7 in favor of the Falcons.

Goslin finished the game with 137 passing yards and the lone touchdown.

East Carolina (0-2, 0-1)

In a nonconference game against Georgia State, the Pirates were unable to keep up with the Panthers’ high-scoring offense as they remain winless on the young season.

ECU struck first against Georgia State on a 28-yard pick-six by senior defensive back Warren Saba, but the Panthers went on to score 28 unanswered points that essentially put the game out of reach. 

The final score was a 49-29 blowout in favor of Georgia State.

ECU junior quarterback Holton Ahlers finished the contest with 242 passing yards and three interceptions. 

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