With the inaugural American Athletic Conference season entering the final few weeks, bowl eligibility is starting to become a focus of discussions around the league.
The league champion has an automatic berth in a BCS bowl and five other tie-ins. The Russell Athletic Bowl and Belk Bowl pit AAC teams against ACC opponents, the Pinstripe Bowl pits the fourth AAC pick against a Big 12 team, the Compass Bowl pits the fifth pick against an SEC team or an at-large opponent, and the Beef O'Brady's Bowl matches an AAC team against a Conference USA foe.
It's very possible that the league won't fill all six slots. Of the 10 teams in the league, Connecticut, Temple and South Florida are already eliminated. Memphis is 3-6 and takes on Louisville this week. Southern Methodist is 4-5 and faces Houston and Central Florida, needing at least one win to have a chance at the postseason. Rutgers, at 5-4 and departing for the Big Ten after the season, has little room to bargain and will go wherever it is told.
For the top of the league, however, the battle for the top spots is intense. Central Florida survived a scare from Temple and, as the league's only unbeaten, is the favorite to reach the BCS.
Louisville, however, isn't giving up hope. After knocking off Houston 20-13, the Cardinals remain in the AAC race and are angling for consideration for a major bowl even if they don't get help elsewhere.
"We're 9-1 so where we end up is our fault," coach Charlie Strong said. "We feel like we're BCS but if we don't get there we'll be comfortable wherever we go. If we end up with a great record, that's fine with me."
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater concurred. "We're only going to worry about what we can control. We have to focus on ourselves. We still have a season and something to play for so we're not paying attention to that at all. It is college football and anything happens, so we'll just continue to focus and shift our focus to Memphis."
The Cardinals hope to at least have separated themselves from the Cougars, who have now lost two in a row to the top of the league.
"We just have to look forward," Houston linebacker Efrem Oliphant said. "We're going to put it behind us. We have to focus on next week and the week after that and finish off the season on the right note."
Cincinnati faces the toughest stretch run, with games remaining against Houston and Louisville. It's probably fighting with the Cougars for that AAC No. 3 slot, making the upcoming matchup with Houston critical for bowl positioning if nothing else.
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 11 IN THE AAC
1. Rutgers is in a precarious position heading into the week. With its conference title hopes long since over and a defense that's already banged-up and losing confidence, it's fixing to be an interesting week on campus dealing with both the on-field and off-field issues.
2. Houston suffered a big blow when Deontay Greenberry left the game with a head injury in the first quarter against Louisville. He's John O'Korn's favorite target, and his absence will continue to be felt if he misses more time.
3. Is it a good or bad thing if a team goes 3-7 and not many people see it? Fewer than 15,000 fans saw South Florida lose to Memphis this weekend.
4. Southern Methodist won this weekend, but is still 4-5 with one of the most prolific passers in the country under center. What's going to happen next year when Garrett Gilbert is gone?
5. Anyone who questioned whether Louisville could beat a good team when Teddy Bridgewater is held in check had that question answered Saturday. Though he was held without a touchdown pass and to just 203 passing yards, Dominique Brown was able to carry the load instead in the victory over Houston.