The AAC lost any chance it had at a national championship on Friday night -- but the end result may have been in the best long-term interests of the league.
When Central Florida won at Louisville 38-35 Friday night, it knocked the Cardinals from the ranks of the unbeaten and from the top of the conference standings. The Knights now sit atop the AAC at 2-0, and along with Houston and South Florida are without a conference loss.
Those three teams have something in common -- they're all committed to the conference beyond this season. That can't be said for Louisville, which bolts for the ACC before the 2014 season begins. Nor can it be said for Rutgers, a preseason pick to contend whose only AAC loss is to the Cardinals.
Having the Cardinals roll through the season unbeaten would have been a mixed blessing. It would shine the spotlight on a league that sorely needs it, but the focus would be on a team on its way out. There would likely be little carryover into following seasons, and a better chance that it would simply continue the narrative of the former Big East as a conference where teams hang around until they can find someplace better to play.
Instead, it's the Knights who, at least for now, carry the AAC banner. George O'Leary's team already had a win over Penn State and a close loss to South Carolina -- nonconference opponents far better than those on the Louisville schedule. With the win over the then-No. 8 team in the country on the road, it's hard to argue UCF isn't a legit program.
"It just shows that were a hard working program," Central Florida offensive lineman Joey Grant said. "A lot of people don't recognize us as being a team that can compete on this level and I believe we just proved to everyone that we can."
Louisville coach Charlie Strong was willing to give the visitors credit -- to a point.
"I think they're pretty good - they just beat us," Strong said. "We had our opportunities too and we gave them a lot. I just don't know how good they are but they beat us, so I guess they're pretty good."
As for the other two AAC unbeatens, South Florida had the weekend off, while Houston dropped a 47-46 barnburner to BYU in nonconference play.
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 7 IN THE AAC
1. One sign of the respect given to Louisville: Central Florida jumped into the Top 25 poll this week following its victory over the Cardinals. It's the first ranking for UCF since 2010.
2. Cincinnati's offense looks like its running on all cylinders. The Bearcats now have 79 points over their last two games, but next face a challenge in the capable Memphis defense.
3. SMU's Jeremy Johnson is putting up video game numbers at wide receiver. He now has four games this season with 10 or more catches.
4. Connecticut's Tim Boyle has now been sacked 11 times in his two games as a starter. While pass protection was an issue with Chandler Whitmer under center as well, the coaching staff also notes that Boyle has to make quicker decisions with the football to avoid making himself vulnerable in the pocket.
5. Louisville may be leaving the AAC after the season, but at least one school doesn't hold a grudge. Houston signed a two-game deal with the Cardinals, travelling to Louisville in 2015 and hosting the Cardinals in 2016.