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5 Must-See American Athletic Conference Games in November

Shane Carden

Shane Carden

We’ve hit Week 10 of the 2014 college football season and the best has yet to come for the American Athletic Conference.

Though East Carolina sits atop the conference with a 6-1 record and the No. 21 ranking in the latest AP Top 25, there are several teams making moves and positioning themselves for a potential title run in the coming weeks.

Central Florida undoubtedly possesses the top defense in The American, ranking 17th in the country against the run (110.9), 16th in opponent passer rating (107.0), and 14th in scoring defense (19.1 points per game). If coach George O’Leary can continue to mold Justin Holman into becoming a more consistent and less turnover prone quarterback, the Knights stand as a serious threat to ECU.

Houston has won two games in a row for the first time since October of 2013 and should be 8-3 (6-1) by their regular season finale with Cincinnati, as its next four opponents have a combined 6-23 record.

Even with the loss to Houston weeks ago, SB Nation ranks Memphis as the third-best team in the AAC (No. 9 in the Group of Five) in its latest Underdogs Poll. There’s still an opportunity for the Tigers to win out and be crowned conference champions, but without ECU or UCF on the schedule, will need a little help from their friends.

Cincinnati hasn’t come close to being the team we had expected it to be in August, but even with its historically poor start to the season, it might have the best chance out of any contender to rise from the ashes and claim its fifth conference title in seven years.

Amid a five-way battle for the final first-place standing, here are the five most critical games remaining on the American Athletic Conference slate.

5. Houston at Cincinnati
When and where:
Saturday, Dec. 6 (TBD)
We’re watching because… This game could potentially crown the AAC champion. If Houston can get through November unscathed (which is anticipated, considering its four games are against opponents with a combined 6-23 record), then it will be 8-3 (6-2) riding a six-game winning streak. Cincinnati is hit-or-miss, but if it gets hot and beats both ECU and Temple, then this matchup could end up being must-see football.
Prediction: Cincinnati wins

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4. East Carolina at Temple
When and where:

Saturday, Nov. 1, 12 p.m. ET (ESPNews)

We’re watching because…

ECU hasn’t been playing particularly well as of late, and Temple is back home after spending three of its last four games on the road. The Pirates are still ranked in the AP Poll after three straight shaky performances against inferior competition, but star quarterback Shane Carden has had to pick up the slack from his team’s massive amount of penalties (28 for 306 yards) and the inconsistency from the secondary. Temple has had its own struggles lately, but if P.J. Walker and the Owls offense can avoid turnovers and make a few big plays down the field, ECU will be on upset alert in a hurry.

Prediction:

ECU wins

3. Temple at Penn State
When and where:

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Saturday, Nov. 15 (TBD)

We’re watching because…

It’s a mid-November in-state non-conference game between two schools that are separated by roughly 100 miles. Both teams benefited Temple from a soft first quarter schedule and have come down to Earth; Temple has lost two in a row after starting 4-1 and Penn State is losers of three straight after its 4-0 run to open the season. This one might not have any affect on the AAC title race, but it should be a fun one to watch—and the Owls might need a win here to ensure bowl eligibility.

Prediction:

Penn State wins

2. Central Florida at East Carolina
When and where:

Thursday, Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

We’re watching because…

UCF could be vying for back-to-back AAC titles. Since losing their first two games of the season, the Knights are 5-0 and are holding opponents to 14.0 points per game. With the likelihood of winning its next four games (UConn, Tulsa, SMU, and USF), the matchup with ECU could determine whether Central Florida receives a News Year’s Six Bowl invitation or if it plays in the Bitcoin Bowl—and the Knights’ back seven against the Shane Carden/

Justin Hardy duo is going to be one heck of a grind.
Prediction: ECU wins

1. East Carolina at Cincinnati
When and where:
Thursday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
We’re watching because… This is the only game East Carolina is projected to lose, according to ESPN FPI Rankings. The Pirates, who have a 12.8 percent chance of winning out and 46.3 percent chance of taking The American, are expected to fall at Paul Brown Stadium with a 49.4 percent chance of beating Cincinnati. This was the game that was circled on everyone’s calendars during the preseason when the Bearcats were dubbed the favorites to win the conference, and though the roles are now reversed, the implications remain the same. If Gunner Kiel can stay upright and retain his Week 1 form, then this has all the makings of a break-the-scoreboard type of outcome—and who wouldn’t want to see that on a Thursday night?
Prediction: Cincinnati wins

Written by Tyler Waddell of AACFootballFever.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler_Waddell and @AAC_FB_Fever