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September College Football Review, Part Four: American/ACC

Yes, the American is still riding high.

Houston’s getting all the press, but Memphis has picked up right where they left off, too.
Houston’s getting all the press, but Memphis has picked up right where they left off, too.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

For today’s installment, a subjective decision had to be made. The ACC and Big 10 share the same non-conference record thus far, and there’s not a great deal to separate them, so your faithful scribe has opted to break that tie using the criteria most important to him: convenience.

But first, there’s the matter of number four...

American (28-12)

Along with the MAC, the American still played a relatively full slate of non-conference games on Saturday. That was somewhat unfortunate, as the league only put together a 7-4 record. Of course, that was the fourth-best record of any conference playing more than three OOC games, and the second-best of any conference playing more than four.

A couple of those losses were gross. East Carolina had their lengthy winning streak against ACC teams broken when Virginia Tech utterly routed them, and SMU got taken out back by cross-metro rivals TCU. South Florida’s loss to Florida State didn’t look to bad by the final gun, but it was pretty hairy in the first quarter. Connecticut lost by a touchdown to Syracuse, which isn’t something to hang one’s hat on, but isn’t terrible.

It’s the wins that were more telling. The Americans playing really bad teams (Houston, Memphis, Central Florida, Temple) waxed their opponents. The others had to fight and claw. Cincinnati had a great deal of trouble with winless Miami, Tulsa needed two overtimes to overcome Fresno State, and Tulane needed twice that to get past Louisiana-Lafayatte.

In the end, the month comes to a close with the American sporting a 6-11 record against the Power 5, which is a bit of a red flag. But there are no FCS losses — not even a close call, actually — and the most important number here is probably the conference’s record against other Group of Five schools: 10-1. Throw in the FCS games and the American went 22-1 against everyone below them in the expected pecking order this month, and that’s... that’s pretty good. (The loss? Temple’s opening-week loss to Army, which right now appears to be nothing to be ashamed of.)

Not one team in this conference is below .500 heading into October. The west division appears to be a death gauntlet. Houston (4-0, 1-0) is the prohibitive favorite, of course, but Navy (3-0, 2-0) currently holds the inside track with Memphis (3-0) and Tulsa (3-1) lurking as well. The east is clearly softer, with Cincinnati (3-1, 0-1) and South Florida (3-1, 0-0) leading the way.

Atlantic Coast (31-9)

Unlike the American, the ACC does have a bad team. Hi, Virginia (1-3, 0-0)! But the conference lurched into a tie for second place in our completely objective rankings by ripping off an amazing 8-0 Saturday in non-conference play.

At this point in our series, we’ve already addressed seven of those eight wins. The eighth, Wake Forest over Indiana, is just part of the reason the ACC is threatening the established order this season. The Atlantic Division sports three unbeatens: Louisville (4-0, 2-0) holds a slight edge at the moment over Clemson and Wake (both 4-0, 1-0), and Florida State (3-1, 0-1) is also sitting right there ready to pounce. Miami (3-0, 0-0) has the best record in the Coastal, but they’ve yet to get any ACC action going; North Carolina and Virginia Tech (both 3-1, 1-0) and Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1) are trying to make cases as well.

And Duke (2-2, 0-1) effectively ended Notre Dame’s season, so good on them.

The black mark is a 7-5 record against Power 5 peers, which isn’t bad; after all, it’s a winning record. The only embarrassment was Virginia’s loss to Richmond. The conference is also only 6-3 against the Group of 5, and their overall record is bolstered by a gaudy 11-1 record against FCS squads — or, more pertinently, by playing 12 games against FCS squads in the first place. That, more than anything, might well be a reasonable argument to slot the ACC behind the Big Ten for now.

Tomorrow, we wrap up the month with the Big Ten and SEC. That’ll be fun.