1. Penn State Temple claims this one, having manhandled its in-state Big Brother, 27-10, in the season opener for both teams. Both squads’ status has risen since as both have won all of their games following that Sept. 4 encounter at Lincoln Financial Field. The game signaled a coming-out party for Owls junior RB Jahad Thomas, who juked and jived his way to 135 yards and two TDs on 29 carries. Oh yeah, All-American LB candidate Tyler Matakevich, the NCAA’s current active leader in career tackles, had three sacks in that one, too.
2. Cincinnati #1 Temple claims this one, too, just a week after beating Penn State. The AAC preseason favorite, Cincy kinda dominated early and late, but the Owls managed to eke out a 34-26 before a rabid, white-out crowd at refurbished Nippert Stadium. Thomas, again, stole the show, rushing for 193 yards yards AND ripping off a game-changing, 100-yard kickoff return for six to start the second half. For good measure, once the Bearcats responded with a score, he delivered the real knockout punch, a 56-yard burst into the end zone that sparked Temple to a 34-12, fourth-quarter advantage. Oh yeah, Matakevich made the game-clinching INT in the final minute … in the end zone, with Cincy about to score.
3. Cincinnati #2 Memphis made a strong impression on a national-TV audience, as it and the Bearcats put on a wildly entertaining, back-and-forth matchup. The host Tigers prevailed 53-46, but only after Leonard Pegues intercepted Cincy QB Hayden Moore in the final seconds. Moore, actually, was outstanding in relief of Gunner Kiel, who left concussed from a first-half hit, the freshman setting a Cincy record for passing yards in a game with 557 (and four TDs). Memphis QB Paxton Lynch was pretty spectacular in his own right, throwing for 412 yards and two scores, and running for a game-high 52.
4. Miami (Fla,) At least Cincinnati got some form of redemption with this. Moore was impressive again the first night of this October, throwing for 279 yards and two scores. He also got considerable help from a ground attack, headed by Hosey Williams and Tion Green, who combined for 170 rushing yards and a TD. Moore also ran for a score. His performances against Memphis and Miami guaranteed the freshman a shot at the starting QB job even when junior Gunner Kiel returns – which just happens to be this week.
5. Virginia Tech OK, so it’s not like East Carolina beat a Hokies team led by Michael Vick, but Tech is a Power-5 school and gave No. 1 Ohio State all it could handle in Week 1 before losing its starting QB. Oddly enough, it was a backup QB, James Summers, who sparked the Pirates, running for 169 yards and two scores, and passing for 110 and one in relief of Blake Kemp.
6. Louisville It’s interesting that AP voters have deemed Houston more worthy of a top-25 ranking than either of the other two AAC unbeatens, Memphis and Temple. This would be the Cougars’ highlight thus far, winning on the road at Bobby Petrino’s place thanks to QB Greg Ward Jr.’s game-winning TD pass in the final minutes. Call it a “rep win” because Louisville was supposed to be good, but started the season 0-3.
7. Kansas This one alerted the nation to Memphis in Week 2, not so much because it was a win against a Power-5 school, but because it was a 55-23 beatdown of a Power-5 school on its own turf. Lynch was great, throwing for 354 yards and two scores, and the Tigers rolled up 651 yards of offense.
Paxton Lynch (12) and Memphis take on No. 13 Ole Miss this Saturday.
It’s been a nice story with multiple positive tales mixed in.
As the 2015 college football season rolls along highlighted by the resurgence of former powers Michigan and Florida, indeed, the emergence of the American Athletic Conference has been a pleasant addition to the equation. A tasty, but not too tasty, treat to the main course.
But, now, well, now we’ll start to see if that is going to sit well with the nation’s belly, or somehow be forcefully regurgitated. The commencement of the season’s second half this weekend is as good a place as any to signal that, especially with one of the AAC’s best, Memphis, led by almost shockingly athletic 6-foot-7 QB Paxton Lynch, going up against – gulp – one of the SEC’s best, No. 13 Ole Miss, Saturday at the Liberty Bowl.
Then another cream from the conference crop, Temple, behind one of the nation’s best ballcarriers in Jahad Thomas and linebackers in Tyler Matakevich, takes on current No. 14 Notre Dame in two weeks.
Any stomachs rumbling out there yet?
Oh, there’s been a few burps, hiccups and gassy emissions along the way already, with previously unbeaten Navy’s 17-point loss at injury-riddled ND last week probably increasing the digestive reactions. But, for the most part, the AAC has been a model example for any conference not among the Power-5 that seeks to be accepted as something more than being among “all the rest.”
Houston, Memphis and Temple remain among the country’s unblemished after six weeks, all sporting 5-0 records and at least one solid win against a Power-5 program. With that, pollsters have deemed Houston worthy of being ranked in one top 25 and Memphis in the other. Good, both deserve it.
Somehow, though, Temple, which has the two best wins in the AAC this season – against Penn State and at Cincinnati – doesn’t merit the same kind of acclaim. Go figure.
Then again, the Philadelphia-based Owls don’t play in a town exactly known across the country for its college football history or following, nor do they have last season’s most-ballyhooed non-head coach as their head coach. They just happen to have arguably the best head coach in college football right now. No offense, Tom Herman. Or Justin Fuente.
Or anyone else, bigger name or not. Thing is, what Matt Rhule has brought to North Broad is nothing short of remarkable.
Think about this: He has made Temple relevant. Yes, Temple. In football. Oh, the humanity …
Ahh, but we digress.
The Owls are just part of this rise of the American. Oddly enough, preseason conference favorite Cincy probably is the circuit’s best team, but it serves as just a supplemental act now to the three current, unbeaten leads – although that 34-23 prime-time win against the Miami Hurricanes earlier this month under the direction of freshman QB Hayden Moore, a backup forced into a starter’s role due to standout Gunner Kiel’s injury, is deserving of two thumbs up. Frankly, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if the 3-2 Bearcats upset Brigham Young Friday night in Provo, Utah – although now, with Kiel back, they have a legit QB competition/controversy.
See, that’s where the real strength of a conference rests anyway – not at the top, but in how strong it is throughout. The AAC is showing that kind of depth this season. Navy, despite the ND loss, is quality and currently 4-1. Tulsa is 3-2, and wasn’t exactly chopped liver in its losses at then-No. 16 Oklahoma and to Houston. Connecticut is 3-3, losing by just three at then-No. 22 Missouri and hanging tough with Navy and BYU before incurring double-digit defeats. East Carolina is 3-3 as well, coming up on the short end of single-score margins to Florida and BYU. It also has a win over a Power-5 school (Virginia Tech) – as does 2-3 South Florida, which beat Syracuse last week.
Frankly, the biggest concern facing the AAC this fall may not be the tough tests outside the conference that remain for its members, but, rather, that the good teams may devour each other, and, hence, the AAC’s rep. Memphis, for one, has a daunting three-week run in November, hosting Navy and then having to visit Temple and Houston. Houston also has Navy and Cincy on its schedule. Temple also has East Carolina.
Commissioner Mike Aresco, clearly, has created something solid from the remains of an eviscerated Big East. Power-5 good, no. But a quality dish just the same.
It would be nice if the nation’s palate were able to truly appreciate it.