Four Downs on Week 7: American Rising


The Bowl Championship Series came back from summer break upgraded to College Football Playoff and had become too good for the American Athletic Conference.

Since their break-up, the American loaded up with great coaches, began maximizing the potential of some of its programs, and has come back smoking hot.

The Playoff didn’t know what it had and let get away. It reads like the plot of a late ’90s teen romantic comedy — and doesn’t Paxton Lynch sound like the name of a character Freddie Prinze Jr. would have played back then?

Welcome to Four Downs.

1st Down: Memphis’ Big Win

In this current landscape of conference provincialism, individual contests are often treated as edits on entire leagues.

To that end, Memphis’ 37-24 defeat of Ole Miss Saturday carried the banner for the meteoric rise of the American. The conference has had plenty over which to puff its chest, but before Saturday, lacked a huge win.

Yes, Temple dominated the Big Ten’s Penn State in Week 1, and Houston beat Louisville in ACC Country. Those wins are centerpieces for the undefeated Owls and Cougars, both of which should appear in the next polls along with Memphis.

But Penn State has been lackluster despite its decent record, and Louisville’s played above its mark yet sits at 2-4. These aren’t wins against a Top 20-ranked member of the mighty SEC.

Moreover, Memphis has now beaten the team that beat Alabama. Yeah, yeah, transitive properties and all that. I’m not saying the Tigers’ fans should bust out the ubiquitous “We Want ‘Bama!” chants just yet, but Ole Miss having that win to its credit further validates Memphis’ victory.

This ain’t Western Kentucky beating Vanderbilt (or Memphis blowing out Kansas, though the Tigers now having a pair of Power Five wins certainly isn’t a negative).

At the season’s midway point, the American has three undefeated teams, and three teams that should all be ranked. The conference boasts a quality one-loss team in Navy.

Commissioner Mike Aresco’s assertion at American Athletic media days in August that his league was the sixth power conference is proving true.

Should the American champion emerged undefeated, it absolutely deserves consideration for one of the four College Football Playoff spots. Now, the strength of said consideration is contingent on factors beyond this hypothetical, unbeaten champion’s control.

All the American’s top teams need the others to continue winning. Memphis benefits tremendously from Ole Miss getting back on track and competing for the SEC West championship. Louisville turning it around boosts Houston, and Penn State stealing a win over one of Michigan or Michigan State (or both) elevates Temple.

Temple would ultimately have the most Playoff-worthy resume with an unblemished finish, as the Owls host Notre Dame on Halloween.

I’m deluging you with contingencies, which obfuscates the immediate impact of Memphis’ win over Ole Miss. Regardless how the Tigers’ Playoff resume turns out, beating their regional, SEC counterpart in such spectacular fashion sends up the flare to the entire football nation.

Memphis is a sleeping giant that Justin Fuente’s awoken.

The Tigers didn’t win with gimmickry. They went down 14-0 early, but their once-maligned defense cranked up the intensity, particularly in the red zone.

Lynch outperformed counterpart Chad Kelly, while running back Jarvis Cooper delivered with a smash-mouth style that would play well in the SEC.

The SEC style of play is at the heart of Memphis’ remarkable turnaround under Fuente. Located in the heart of SEC Country, there’s more than enough hidden talent the conference’s pipelines fail to pick up.

It’s talent drainage, and Justin Fuente has become Daniel Plainview.

The prominence of Saturday’s win promises Fuente will soon be compensated as handsomely as Daniel Plainview, too.

2nd Down: J.T. Barrett Strikes Back

Before Cardale Jones’ star turn in Ohio State’s 2014 postseason, J.T. Barrett was a Heisman-caliber quarterback. Don’t dismiss the preceding as an obvious statement — plenty of folks seemingly forgot, including Urban Meyer.

After last week’s defeat of Maryland, Meyer told reporters watching former offensive coordinator Tom Herman’s use of quarterback Greg Ward Jr. inspired more utilization of Barrett in Ohio State’s offense.

Any coincidence Barrett scored four touchdowns, as many as Ward registered for Houston Friday night?

It’s no coincidence the game in which Barrett was giving his most responsibility on the season was also the Buckeyes’ sharpest overall performance.

3rd Down: More on Curses

Earlier Saturday, I wrote on superstitions, in particular the belief in curses.

The Angry Iowa Running Back-Hating God made an appearance in the Hawkeyes’ rout of Northwestern with Jordan Canzeri sustaining an ankle injury, but along comes Akrum Wadley to rush for 204 yards and an Iowa record-tying four touchdowns.

See? No curse!

But if curses aren’t real, how does one explain four-time defending national champion North Dakota State losing at home to South Dakota, typically a Missouri Valley Football Conference cellar dweller?

The Coyotes stunned the Bison Saturday in the Fargodome, 24-21. Also in the Fargodome this week? examined the Taylor Swift Curse through the prism of the ALCS participant Toronto Blue Jays. I must admit it, there’s compelling scientific evidence that this is a real thing.

Consider Taylor Swift’s Twitter handle bears the number 13.

Counterpoint: Brutus, the mascot of last year’s College Football Playoff champion, Ohio State, appeared in a Big Ten parody video for “Shake It Off.”

The key to the Bison undoing the curse and getting back on track for a fifth straight FCS championship is simple: Thundar must perform a Taylor Swift track on YouTube.


4th Down:A Song for the Winless

Wyoming endured a miserable first half of the 2015 season, but the Cowboys got off the schneid Saturday for their first win, beating Nevada, 28-21.

Congratulations, Wyoming, and soak it in, as the feeling may not last long. Up next for the Cowboys is a very angry Boise State team coming off a blowout loss to Utah State.

In the interim, FBS has one fewer winless team. The nation’s remaining 0-fors:

Kansas: The pick-six that ended Kansas’ upset bid of Texas Tech Saturday may have also ended any hope of the Jayhawks getting a win in David Beaty’s first season.

New Mexico State: The Aggies lost to Georgia State earlier this season, but get Troy at home next week. Troy lost at home Saturday to Idaho. New Mexico State also faces Idaho later in Sun Belt Conference play.

North Texas: Firing head coach Dan McCarney after a historically awful loss to FCS Portland State (66-7) didn’t pay immediate dividends. The Mean Green were blown out by Conference USA-leading Western Kentucky Thursday night, 55-28.

North Texas travels to Marshall next week, and that could get very ugly. Halloween marks the Mean Green’s best opportunity for a win, with UTSA visiting Denton. UNT also hosts UTEP in the season finale, but plays three road games in November.

UCF: Utterly Confounding Football, that’s UCF in 2015. George O’Leary built the high-potential program into something special, winning the 2014 Fiesta Bowl just two seasons ago. Now, the Knights are losing games to Furman.

UCF seemingly made strides, evident in a competitive game with undefeated Temple Saturday. However, finding a likely win on the remaining schedule is a challenge. Rival USF is vastly improved and in bowl contention.

To the remaining winless teams and their supporters, keep your head up. Southern Miss finished 0-12 in 2012, but with a win over UTSA today, the Golden Eagles are on the right side of .500 more than halfway through 2015.

Hope is not lost.