These three AAC teams are demanding attention
While there is plenty of excitement and intrigue at the top of all the major conferences in college football this year, there is something special brewing in the AAC. Heading into this week the conference has three undefeated teams in Temple, Memphis and Houston and — while at most two of them can finish the regular season undefeated — all three have shown themselves to be good enough to compete for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance. Here’s what you need to know about each team:
1. Memphis Tigers
As more and more undefeated teams at the top of the top 25 in college football begin to fall away, the Memphis Tigers are the lone non-Power Five conference team with any realistic chance of a place in the College Football Playoff at this stage. It’s still a long shot, but with a big time win against Ole Miss and games ahead against Houston and Temple, they can crash the party if things go their way.
Led by quarterback Paxton Lynch (+27.5), who is opening some eyes about his future potential this season, continuing to make big plays throwing the ball downfield. From the 89 passes he has thrown of 10 yards or more, including 34 of 20 yards or longer, he has yet to throw an interception, compared with 10 touchdowns. He’s spread the ball around too, with six wide receivers posting a grade of +1.0 or better so far this year.
2. Houston Cougars
The Cougars’ biggest win of the year came on the road in early September, knocking of Louisville 34-31, but while they don’t have the major scalp that Memphis has, they do get the opportunity to hand Memphis their first loss on November 14th. It may not be a big enough win to make the College Football Playoff, if they can pull it off, but if they can run the table they’ll prove themselves good enough to be playing in a bowl game on December 31st.
The Cougars have been powered by Greg Ward Jr. (+29.5), our second highest graded quarterback so far this year. Admittedly, that has been driven by his grade as a runner, with his +17.8 grade in that regard by far the best of any player at the position, but he hasn’t been poor as a passer either. He’s been dynamic with the ball in his hands, with 25 forced missed tackles, and 14 touchdowns scored from 86 rushing attempts this year.
3. Temple Owls
While it won’t be given the same respect as Memphis’ win over Ole Miss, Temple’s 27-10 win over Penn State in the season opener started their 2015 season off with a bang and made a statement. They have the toughest stretch in of the three undefeated teams in the AAC and it starts when they welcome in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this weekend. With their lone loss coming late against Clemson, Temple will know that they need to bring their best performance of the year, and then some, if they want to stay undefeated.
Offensively the star for the Owls has been running back Jahad Thomas (+15.5), who had a huge game against UCF two weeks ago. On the year he has forced 26 missed tackles as a runner, and another nine as a receiver, creating big plays for the Temple offense. The main reason for their undefeated start to the year has been on the defensive side of the ball though. On the defensive line defensive end Matt Ioannidis (+22.9) and defensive end Haason Reddick (+20.4) have stood out, combining for seven sacks, 20 hits and 21 hurries. Meanwhile, at linebacker, Tyler Matakevich (+18.4) is our third highest graded outside linebacker, and Nate Smith (+16.7) has added to the pass rush with six sacks, three hits and 10 hurries.
All three of these teams are worth paying attention to, with big roles to play in the final five weeks of the regular season.