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.