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September 17, 2013

AAC Notebook: Superior teams separating themselves

The stratified nature of the American Athletic Conference manifested itself again this weekend, and the bottom half of the conference showed it has a lot of work to do before conference play kicks off in earnest next month.

In particular, times are tough at Temple. The Owls lost to Fordham 30-29, and coach Matt Rhule didn't pretend he wasn't disappointed.


"People should take shots at me now," Rhule said. "We shouldn't have lost that game. Let's be honest -- I'm going to be straight up with you guys, we're better than that team."

But Temple's short-term situation might actually be the best of the league's winless teams.

South Florida fell to 0-3 with a crushing 28-10 loss to Florida Atlantic. The Bulls still can't generate any offense, and the next two games are against Miami and Cincinnati. This week's bye is critical for USF, a team that has a lot to work on and not much time to make adjustments.

Memphis dropped to 0-2 with a crushing 17-15 loss to Middle Tennessee. The Tigers were done in by 145 yards in penalties, though Paxton Lynch had another strong game under center.

Finally, there's Connecticut. The Huskies lost its reunion with former coach Randy Edsall, falling 32-21 to Maryland. With Michigan up next, coach Paul Pasqualoni may have to wait at least a couple of more weeks for a realistic chance at a win.

All four seem light years behind the top of the AAC, which saw Louisville knock off Kentucky and UCF win at Penn State. Though all except Temple have yet to lose a conference game, at this point beating anyone would be an accomplishment.

FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 3 IN THE AAC

1. Rutgers' chances against Arkansas this weekend may be determined by the injury report, but perhaps not as much as feared. Quarterback Gary Nova, who had his breakout game against the Razorbacks a year ago, suffered a concussion against Eastern Michigan and may not play this weekend. But regardless, the Scarlet Knights will go into the week with the nation's leading rusher -- Paul James, who has 493 yards on the ground.

2. Connecticut's season could still go either way. The Huskies are 0-2, looking at 0-3 barring a huge upset against Michigan. Fans are far from optimistic, and Paul Pasqualoni is firmly on the hot seat. But the Chandler Whitmer-Shakim Phillips combo was good for 10 catches and 178 yards through the air and has the explosiveness the team needs to succeed in AAC play. The question is whether Connecticut can avoid the mistakes that have caused it such problems thus far.

3. South Florida might be looking at a winless season. The Bulls are 0-3, and while one loss was to Michigan State, the team got blown out by both McNeese State and Florida Atlantic. With just Miami and the AAC games left, USF has a lot of work to do to come up with a victory.

4. The Brendon Kay era is getting off to a rollicking start. Granted, Northwestern State isn't much of a challenge. But going 13-for-15 for 275 yards and four touchdowns against anyone is reason for optimism heading into this week's clash with local rival Miami.

5. UCF is embarking on a three-game stretch that could see it rise into the Top 25 if it can sustain its momentum. The Knights next play No. 12 South Carolina, and then after a trip to Memphis travel to take on No. 7 Louisville. The schedule helps too, with bye weeks before the games against the Gamecocks and the Cardinals.





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