East Carolina

American Athletic observations

What a wacky year it’s been in the AAC.

So wacky, in fact, that the team picked to finish seventh in the league now is part of the conversation to earn a non-Power 5 bowl bid. You know, the bid ECU had all but wrapped up in mid-October before stumbling.

The new name to the bowl mix is Memphis. The Tigers (7-3) are an absolute longshot to make it, of course. The most obvious obstacle is Marshall has to lose, which is unlikely, and they’d need more than that to happen considering the unbeaten Thundering Herd isn’t even ranked in the college playoff poll, which is a requisite to earning that bowl bid.

Still, it’s a nice surprise that a second team from the AAC is garnering such respect.

The Tigers are 5-1 in the AAC, and it might take a surprise every bit as big as the one they have pulled this season to keep them from hanging an AAC banner. The Tigers close the season with South Florida (4-6) and UConn (2-7), so a 9-3, 7-1 finish seems likely.

A two- or three-way tie for first still is possible (Cincinnati and UCF also have just one league loss), in which case the teams would share the conference crown.

Bowl watch: The AAC has six bowl ties, and barring upsets, it should be able to fill them. Four teams already are bowl eligible (Memphis, Cincinnati, Central Florida and ECU) and Houston can join the fun Saturday with a victory over Tulsa (2-8). Temple (5-5) is off this week and closes with Cincinnati and Tulane (3-7).

USF (4-6), the league’s only other potential bowl team, faces the longest odds. The Bulls must upset Memphis on Saturday just to stay in the hunt, then knock off Interstate-4 rival Central Florida in the season finale.

Upset watch: There are five games Saturday, the first time that’s happened since late September, but four of them feature a winning home team playing a visiting team with a losing record. Not exactly a recipe for upsets.

Already looking ahead: The unbalanced schedule and lack of a conference title game are temporary ills. The AAC will add Navy next season, giving the league two six-team divisions and, more important, a league championship game. College football can be cyclical, but those divisions already look like the Have and Have-Nots.

The four traditional powers – ECU, UCF, Cincy and South Florida – will be in the East, along with UConn and Temple.

The West will feature Memphis, Houston, Navy, SMU, Tulane and Tulsa.

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