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Knights, Tigers, Bulls lead AAC power rankings

By Joey Knight
Chris Love (35) and Davondre Robinson (13) of East Carolina react after a second-half touchdown by Houston's Linell Bonner during the Cougars' 52-27 victory Saturday. (Tim Warner/Getty Images)

With three weekends remaining in the regular season, the American Athletic Conference division races are coming into focus.

Memphis holds a one-game lead and the tiebreaker in the West, while UCF and USF remain on a collision course in the East. There's plenty at stake with the AAC champion expected to land the Group of Five spot in a New Year's Six bowl.

Here's a look at how the AAC stacks up, as voted upon by a league-wide panel of beat reporters.

1. UCF (8-0, 5-0 AAC): The path is clear for the Knights — win out and head to a major bowl. UCF survived a 31-24 scare at SMU and now plays two sub-.500 opponents (UConn on Saturday and at Temple Nov. 18) before its Black Friday home showdown against USF. The Knights remained the highest-ranked Group of Five school at No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night. — Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle

2. Memphis (8-1, 5-1): The Tigers control their own destiny in the AAC West following their 41-14 victory over Tulsa. Memphis has a one-game lead in the loss column over Houston (which it has already defeated) and SMU (which comes to the Liberty Bowl on Nov. 18 following the Tigers' bye week). Riley Ferguson threw for 298 yards and touchdowns to four different receivers against Tulsa, while Darrell Henderson had 173 all-purpose yards and scored twice. The Tigers have scored 40 or more points in four of their five conference wins. — John Varlas, Memphis Commercial Appeal

3. USF (8-1, 5-1): In one of their most diverse – and dazzling – offensive performances of the season, the Bulls amassed 602 yards in a 37-20 romp of Connecticut. QB Quinton Flowers eclipsed his own school record by totaling 516 yards, becoming only the fourth player in AAC history to reach 500 in a game. USF gets a bye week before hosting Tulsa for its senior night on Nov. 16. — Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times

4. Houston (6-3, 4-2): The Cougars carried some momentum into a much-needed open date with a 52-27 win over East Carolina. It was Houston's highest-scoring game of the season, courtesy of another strong performance by newly-minted QB D'Eriq King, who threw for 330 yards and three TDs and ran for another score. Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner combined for 13 catches for 318 yards and two TDs. Houston is bowl eligible for the fifth straight season and will try to end the regular season on a four-game winning streak with remaining games against Tulane (Nov. 18) and Navy (Nov. 24). — Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle

5. SMU (6-3, 3-2): The Mustangs were left with an empty feeling after a 31-24 loss to UCF. Despite battling the No. 18 team in the CFP rankings to the bitter end, the Mustangs squandered several opportunities to tie or even win the game. Among the missed chances: Ke'Mon Freeman's fumble on the goal line in the second quarter, Ben Hicks' overthrow of Trey Quinn in the end zone just before halftime, and dropped passes by Quinn and Courtland Sutton in the fourth quarter. Defensively, SMU gave up 200-plus rushing yards for the fourth consecutive game. Now, it must face Navy's triple-option. — Adam Grosbard, Dallas Morning News

6. Navy (5-3, 3-3): The Midshipmen turned in their worst performance of the season on Thursday night, getting beaten badly on both sides of the ball and suffering a 34-26 upset loss to Temple. Navy's normally effective triple-option offense sputtered while the defense was shredded by a backup quarterback (Frank Nutile) making his second career start. Navy has lost three in a row entering Saturday's home game against SMU. — Bill Wagner, Baltimore Sun Media Group

7. Temple (4-5, 2-3): The Owls recorded their first win over a Division I-A team with a winning record in Thursday's 34-26 win over visiting Navy. Redshirt senior DE Sharif Finch earned AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording two sacks and five tackles. QB Frank Nutile finished 22-of-30 for 289 yards and four TDs. Nutile will make his third consecutive (and third career) start for injured Logan Marchi when the Owls visit Cincinnati on Friday. — Marc Narducci, Philadelphia Inquirer

8. Cincinnati (3-6, 1-4): The Bearcats snapped a five-game losing streak with a 17-16 win at Tulane. Redshirt freshman Gerrid Doaks rushed for a career-high 149 yards, and junior QB Hayden Moore threw for 248 yards and a TD. RB Mike Boone scored a go-ahead 5-yard TD run in the third quarter, and the Bearcats made it stand up. UC snapped an overall eight-game AAC losing streak. The Bearcats play host to Temple on Friday night. — Tom Groeschen, Cincinnati Enquirer

9. Connecticut (3-6, 2-4): The Huskies couldn't contain Quinton Flowers (385 passing yards, 131 rushing yards) and lost to USF, 37-20. QB Bryant Shirreffs left the game with a concussion early in the fourth quarter. He remains unavailable and David Pindell will make his second career start Saturday at UCF. The Huskies have completed the home portion of their season and finish with games at Fenway Park against Boston College (Nov. 18) and at Cincinnati (Nov. 25). — Mike Anthony, Hartford Courant

10. Tulane (3-6, 1-4): Continuing a four-game slide, Tulane lost 17-16 to Cincinnati on homecoming day even though the Bearcats racked up 123 penalty yards on 12 infractions. The Green Wave missed a potential game-winning 36-yard field goal with 1:21 left, adding special teams to offensive and defensive woes. Tulane could not run effectively (35 carries, 132 yards) and gave up four pass plays of 30 or more yards. With zero sacks during its losing streak, the struggling Green Wave travels to East Carolina, which threw 74 times against Houston on Saturday. — Guerry Smith, The New Orleans Advocate

11. Tulsa (2-8, 1-5): The Hurricane continued its downturn, falling 41-14 against Memphis on Friday night while recording 59 yards, three first downs and no points in a dreadful second half. Tulsa remains on track for its worst passing season since 1995, averaging only 183 yards per game. This week brings a long-awaited open date, followed by a visit to USF on Nov. 16. — Kelly Hines, Tulsa World

12. East Carolina (2-7, 1-4): ECU continued its downward spiral in a 52-27 loss at Houston on Saturday, officially ending the Pirates' chances at a bowl game. ECU now is guaranteed a third consecutive losing season and the second under Coach Scottie Montgomery. The team will decide later this week whether usual starting QB Thomas Sirk or opening-night starter Gardner Minshew will get the nod this weekend at home against Tulane. ECU has allowed more than 50 points in five of its nine games. — Nathan Summers, The Daily Reflector (Greenville, N.C.)