The three best teams in the AAC had statement victories on Saturday, overwhelming overmatched opponents. The big news was that prior to last weekend, it was a different team in one of those contests that would have considered itself among the elite.
A week after suffering its first loss of the season in a nonconference shootout against BYU, Houston went to New Jersey and overwhelmed Rutgers 49-14 to remain undefeated in conference play and stake its claim as a team with a legitimate shot to win the league in its inaugural season.
"We kind of heard a little all week of reasons why we should not have won this football game," Houston coach Tony Levine said. "I think it brought a little bit of fuel to the fire in terms of the heartbreaking loss we suffered last week, getting on a plane and flying three and a half hours, Rutgers coming off the bye week and it being Homecoming and it being a sellout. Our kids are young and they thrive on that."
Rutgers entered the week full of confidence, noting that Louisville's defeat the previous week against Central Florida meant the Scarlet Knights again controlled their own destiny. That's not true anymore, and the worries of another second-half fade have eclipsed the dreams of winning the AAC crown. Once again, it was the fundamentals that let Rutgers down.
"We talk about running the football and stopping the run. We were able to run the football today, but we were not able to stop the run. We gave up 211 yards rushing," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "Secure the football and take it away -- we weren't able to secure the football. Five interceptions and a fumble, we didn't get any back. It just makes it really hard to win football games when you have numbers like that."
Louisville doesn't control its own destiny either, but it recovered from last week's defeat to UCF with a 34-3 shellacking of South Florida. The Bulls came into the game 2-0 in league play, but the home crowd wasn't enough to get South Florida past a Cardinals squad ready to take out all its frustrations on them.
"You can't let one game beat us twice and we weren't going to let that game last week come and beat us again," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "It's a sign of maturity. We hate to talk about the past, but last year we lost to Syracuse and came right back and lost to UConn. We told ourselves that we didn't want to let what happened last year happen this year. The guys responded well and played great football."
As for Central Florida, the Knights didn't show any post-Louisville hangover, overwhelming Connecticut 62-17 and keeping the Huskies winless.
"I challenged the kids all week to stay hungry and get after the game," Central Florida coach George O'Leary said. "I challenged them to think of it as six championship games. Today was one, now you have five left. Each week you have to treat it like a championship game. Attack it, stay with your accountability and responsibility, regardless."
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 9 IN THE AAC
1. The Rutgers secondary was already thin, and now it's in even worse shape. Starting cornerback Nadir Barnwell has been suspended one game for a violation of team rules after being charged with DWI by Rutgers campus police.
2. Lost in all the SMU records set on Saturday was an outstanding day by Temple wideout Robby Anderson. Anderson set a Temple record with 239 yards on his nine catches, including two touchdown receptions.
3. UCF fans got another glimpse of freshman quarterback Justin Holman, who came in when the game got out of hand in the second half and went 6-11 for 65 yards and a touchdown. "The young kid [Justin Holman] -- obviously you can see the talent level he has," coach George O'Leary said. "He just needs more reps and with more reps he is going to be a very good player."
4. For the third season in a row, Connecticut won't be bowling. At least this time they spared their fans the agony of losing that opportunity in the final game of the season, which happened the previous two seasons.
5. Think Houston's not set at quarterback for the long haul? John O'Korn and Greg Ward combined for 400 yards and completed 28 of their 35 passes against Rutgers. Both are true freshmen.