As we head into week ten two things look set in stone: Alabama is the best team in the country and the American Athletic Conference (AAC) will have the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five at season’s end, and play in a New Year’s Six (NY6) bowl game. One of these is less likely than one might think, and it’s not Alabama.
No. 9 UCF is the highest-ranked team among the Group of Five, eight spots better than fellow AAC member Houston. Two other teams outside the Power Five conferences are ranked. Utah State comes in at No. 18, while Fresno State is No. 20 in this week’s AP poll.
A lot of people assume the Knights will go undefeated, keep the debate about whether they should or shouldn’t get into the College Football Playoff (CFP) alive in the process, only to end up in a NY6 bowl game (cha-ching). A loss is possible though, especially for a team whose star quarterback, McKenzie Milton, has injury concerns.
Only one of the teams UCF has beaten thus far has a winning record (Temple 5-4, 4-1), though the Knights do play two teams with winning records (7-1, 3-1 Cincy & 7-1, 3-1 USF) in their final three games, both of which are in UCF’s division. A potential loss could be more costly (pun intended) than people realize. A UCF loss not only would end any hope of the CFP for the Knights but could even knock out UCF AND the AAC from a NY6 bowl (no cha-ching). Here’s how.
Navy at UCF (Nov. 10 TBD)
This game screams “trap game.” UCF will be coming off a hard-fought shootout against Temple and has a showdown with one-loss Cincinnati looming the following week. Navy (2-6, 1-3) might be the only losing team UCF plays down the stretch, but you never know what to expect when facing a triple option team.
The Midshipmen beat Memphis, which UCF struggled with, and led Houston 24-14. One thing that is on UCF’s side is time. The Knights will have an extra couple days to prepare for the option after they beat Temple last night. A loss to Navy and UCF drops out of the top 25 altogether and Fresno State or Utah State jumps the Knights, assuming one of those teams still has one loss. UCF still would control its AAC East destiny.
Bottom line: A UCF loss would create “must-win” games against Cincy and USF
Cincy at UCF (Nov. 17 TBD)
A loss to a 1-loss Cincy team likely wouldn’t drop the Knights out of the top 25 but would potentially create a three-way tie between UCF, Cincy and Temple. The Bearcats could very well have at least two losses heading into the Nov. 17 clash, however (vs. USF week before). Losing to a two or more-loss Cincy team would drop the Knights out of the top 25, allowing another Group of Five team to jump them, but would keep UCF in control of its own destiny in the division.
Bottom line: Houston would become the AAC’s best chance at a NY6 bowl if UCF were to lose to a two or more-loss Cincy team
UCF at USF (Friday, Nov. 23 TBD)
The Bulls will come into the UCF game with at least one loss and probably at least two (at Cincy & at Temple remain). Losing to a one-loss USF team would knock out UCF and send USF to the AAC Championship Game. If USF were to win out they could be ranked high enough to play in a NY6 bowl game but would need Fresno State and Utah State to lose.
A loss to a two-loss USF team would drop the Knights out of the top 20 AT LEAST, but since it would only be their first loss of the season and the Knights would have the advantage in a potential tiebreaker over Temple, they would go to the AAC Championship Game. Meaning an unranked UCF team could win the conference allowing a team like Fresno or Utah State to get the NY6 berth.
Bottom line: The AAC wants the winner of this game to have one loss or less.
AAC Championship Game (Dec. 1 ESPN/ABC)
Even if UCF makes it to the AAC Championship Game and is undefeated, the AAC still could be left out of a NY6 bowl game. Their likely opponent, Houston, already has one loss (non-conference vs Texas Tech) and could still win its division with another loss or even two, which would come in conference play.
Let’s say the Cougars upset UCF. A two-loss Houston might make a NY6 bowl game, it might not. A three-loss Houston team definitely would not. Heck, Houston still has four conference games left, including a trip to Dallas on Nov. 3 to take on SMU, which is in 2nd place in the AAC West behind Houston so a team like SMU could play UCF in the AAC Championship Game. UCF loses to a non-Houston or a three-loss Houston and its game, set, match for the AAC.
Bottom line: The AAC wants the winner to have one loss or less and be ranked in the top 15. Assuming the teams below win out, only a one-loss Houston or an undefeated UCF DEFINITELY makes a NY6 bowl game.
The Party Crashers:
1. No. 18 Utah State (7-1, 4-0 MW)
Have outscored opponents 395-178
Averaging over 49 PPG
loss: at Michigan State 37-30 (watch below)
Big win/s: at BYU 45-20
2. No. 20 Fresno State (7-1, 4-0 MW)
Have outscored opponents 316-108
Giving up just 13.5 PPG
loss: at Minnesota 21-14 (see below)
Big win/s: at UCLA 38-14, vs. Toledo 49-27 & vs. Hawaii 50-20
3. RV (No. 28) Georgia Southern (7-1, 4-0 Sun Belt)
Have outscored opponents 251-149
Giving up just 18.62 PPG
Loss: at No. 2 Clemson 38-7
Big win/s: vs. No. 25 App St 34-14
4. RV (No. 35) UAB (7-1, 5-0 CUSA)
Have outscored opponents 253-106
Giving up just 13.25 PPG
Loss: at Coastal Carolina (5-3, 2-2 Sun Belt) 47-24
Big win/s: at La Tech (6-2, 4-1) 28-7 & vs. North Texas (7-2, 3-2) 29-21
5. RV (No. 43) Buffalo (8-1, 5-0 MAC)
Have outscored opponents 314-211
Loss: vs Army (6-2) 42-13
Big win/s: at Temple 36-29