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Big weekend for the AAC and Mountain West Conference

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For a conference trying to sell itself as the nation’s sixth power conference, Week 3 looks to be a pretty big one to do its best to prove it. The American Athletic Conference, which is going all in on its belief it is the sixth power conference and not one of the Group of Five conferences, will play games against the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 this weekend. And that includes games against four ranked opponents, two of which will be played in an AAC stadium.

It all gets started tonight with preseason favorite South Florida hosting Illinois from the Big Ten. The Bulls are a prohibitive favorite, which comes as no surprise. Quarterback Quinton Flowers could go off against the Illini, who have a record of 2-0 thanks to wins against Ball State and Western Kentucky. With Charlie Strong as head coach, the Bulls have not looked quite as automatic through the first two weeks as many predicted, but this could be their opportunity to put it all together on a national stage.

On Saturday, Memphis will look to score a significant upset at home against No. 25 UCLA. The Bruins are off to a 2-0 start but cross-country trip for a noon eastern kickoff has been known to give a west coast team trouble in the past. If the Tigers can catch the Bruins off to a slumbering start, Memphis may have to hope Josh Rosen and company don’t wake up in the fourth quarter the way they did against Texas A&M. A Memphis win would be key to the AAC as a whole too, as a win against a ranked opponent from a power conference gives the AAC a strength of schedule argument to boost itself up in the long run.

The AAC will have a few other cracks at ranked opponents. The team with the best chance, most likely, to score a win against a ranked team may be SMU. The Mustangs visit rival TCU, ranked 20th in the AP poll and coming off a win on the road against Arkansas. East Carolina hosts No. 16 Virginia Tech, and Tulane visits No. 2 Oklahoma. Either AAC team picking up a win in those games would be a shocker.

One other game against an ACC school was scratched due to Hurricane Irma recovery efforts. UCF, who looked really good in their opener, was to host Georgia Tech. Instead, the Knights will get a week off before returning to action next week on the road against Maryland.

The one game that should probably be the most interesting to watch, however, may take place in Ohio. MAC favorite Toledo is hosting Tulsa in a key Group of 5 vs. Group of 5 matchup. The Rockets have looked good and are a solid favorite, but Tulsa is a team to keep an eye on in the AAC. A year after an undefeated MAC champion grabbed the New Years Six spot in the bowl lineup, the AAC delivering a blow to the preseason MAC favorites could knock the MAC out of contention entirely before even getting to October.

AAC vs. Power 5 In Week 3

  • No. 22 USF vs. Illinois (FRI)
  • Memphis vs. No. 25 UCLA
  • Virginia vs. UConn
  • East Carolina vs. No. 16 Virginia Tech
  • No. 20 TCU vs. SMU
  • No. 2 Oklahoma vs. Tulane

Not to be outdone, the Mountain West Conference has a healthy diet of games against power conference competition this weekend as well. Air Force travels to No. 7 Michigan, Utah State visits Wake Forest, Colorado State is in Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama, Wyoming is hosting Oregon, Fresno State visits No. 6 Washington, San Jose State visits Utah, and San Diego State hosts No. 19 Stanford. That is seven games against power conference teams, including games against three top 10 teams. Most of those matchups do not appear to give the MWC many favors, although San Diego State hosting Stanford could be interesting.

Before conference play begins in these conferences, this will be the last major opportunities for the AAC and MWC to showcase their stuff in non-conference play. These games could make or break the conference’s chances of getting in the lucrative New Years Six lineup at the end of the year, so neither conference will want to squander their opportunities this weekend.

True freshman Sam Ehlinger to start at QB for Texas vs. San Jose State

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If Tom Herman is to right his listing Texas ship, he’ll have to do so with a young gun under center.

In the season-opening loss to Maryland, Shane Buechele suffered an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder.  While it was thought earlier in the week that Buechele may be able to play in today’s game against San Jose State, that won’t be the case.

A four-star member of the Longhorns’ 2017 recruiting class, Sam Ehlinger was rated as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the country; the No. 19 player at any position in the state of Texas; and the No. 119 player overall on 247Sports.com’s composite board.  Ehlinger didn’t attempt a pass in the opener vs. the Terrapins.

No. 19 USF stumbles early, but turns things around for big win at San Jose State

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In Charlie Strong’s debut with No. 19 South Florida, just about everything that could go wrong for the Bulls in the first quarter, did.

Kickoffs out-of-bounds? Check. Punt blocked and later turned into a touchdown? Definitely. Three-and-outs? Several.

Luckily for Strong and his team though, the second quarter amounted to a flipping of the switch and keyed a 42-point unanswered run that allowed USF to escape from the left coast with a 42-22 victory over San Jose State that was far from the impressive debut the team wanted.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers entered the season as a dark horse Heisman candidate but was not quite as sharp as many expected to open his campaign, needing that first quarter to get warmed up along with his teammates. Despite that, he still was quite efficient on the night and finished with 212 yards and two scores through the air while rushing for another 70 yards on the ground and finding the end zone once with his feet.

D’Ernest Johnson also took a while to get going but looked like a solid replacement for Marlon Mack at tailback by rushing for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while Darius Tice also chipped in with another 94 yards and a score.  Marquez Scantling led the way for the receiving corps and posted six catches for 91 yards but left the scoring to two of his teammates. Just as impressive was the Bulls’ defense, which clamped down after some early confusion and recorded five tackles for loss, a sack and three interceptions on the night.

While the initial flourish was nice, the final three quarters was not exactly what SJSU’s new coaching staff was hoping to get out the Spartans in a big early test. QB Josh Love was forced out the pocket constantly and pressured into three turnovers after two first half touchdown passes. Perhaps the biggest issue for the rebuilding Mountain West team was the lack of a running game (a paltry 2.9 yards per rush) and kicking issues with two blocked extra points.

We’re used to teams having a few kinks to work out at the beginning of the season and that is certainly the case for these teams. At least for USF, that long flight back to Tampa will come after a win that was the beginning of a new era for the Bulls under Strong and company.

Vegas prop bets mix Mayweather-McGregor megafight, college football opening night

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What an absolutely huge sports night we’re getting set for. It just doesn’t get much bigger than this. What a spectacle it will be.

That’s right, it’s opening night of the 2017 college football season! Oh yeah, and there’s that other sporting event you may have heard about.

As the Stanford-Rice game Down Under in Australia is being played, the much-hyped megafight between one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of any generation, 40-year-old Floyd Mayweather, and 29-year-old UFC superstar Conor McGregor will be going down in a Las Vegas squared circle.

Earlier in the day, Colorado State will christen its brand-new on-campus stadium with its opener against Oregon State as well. All of that leads us to this, with Bovada.lv releasing earlier this week a pair of cross-sport prop bets involving the latest Fight of the Century and the two previously-mentioned college football games.

For the record, No. 14 Stanford is a 31-point favorite over a Rice team that won three games last season while the over-under for the entire OSU-CSU game is 60 points. If I were a gambling man — and I’ll bet you I’m not — I’d go with McGregor on both counts.  But that’s just me.

Back to football one final time, though, as there are three other games featuring at least one FBS team being played today on what’s officially the opening weekend of the college football season but is more like a formal dress rehearsal for the real thing next weekend: Portland State at BYU (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), Hawaii at UMass (no TV) and No. 19 South Florida at San Jose State (7:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network).

ACC, SEC place most DBs on Jim Thorpe Award watch list

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Another day, yet another watch list as the 2017 offseason barrels towards a merciful death.

This time around it’s the Jim Thorpe Award doing the honors, with the trophy given annually to the nation’s top defensive back releasing a watch list consisting of a mere 45 players from all 10 FBS conferences.  Headlining this year’s list are a pair of semifinalists from a year ago, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander and Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The ACC and SEC lead all conferences with seven players apiece selected, followed by the Pac-12’s six and five each for the Big Ten and Big 12.  Conference USA was next with four, while the AAC, MAC and Sun Belt had three and the Mountain West two.

Alabama, Florida State and Stanford were the only programs with two players each selected.

USC’s Adoree’ Jackson won the 2016 version of the Thorpe Award.  The other finalists for last year’s trophy were Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis and LSU’s Tre’Davious White.  All three of those players were selected in the 2017 NFL draft.