Last week was the Sun Belt's time to shine. This week, the American Athletic Conference gets its chance to plant its flag.
The conference that prides itself on being “Power Six” will get only a few opportunities to prove it this season. The Power Five conferences have decided to play mostly league games as a way to navigate the inevitable pandemic-related disruptions.
The American, which is always looking to punch up, gets four cracks at Power Five teams this season — all this week: No. 14 UCF is at Georgia Tech; South Florida visits No. 7 Notre Dame; Tulsa is at No. 11 Oklahoma State; and, in a late add to the schedule, Houston faces Baylor.
That's one favorite (UCF), one small underdog (Houston) and two long shots (USF and Tulsa). A good week could help bolster the American's case later in the season for big-time bowl bids. Maybe even a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The Sun Belt made its mark last week when Louisiana-Lafayette won at Iowa State and Arkansas State beat Kansas State. Coastal Carolina knocking off Kansas was less impressive, but still 3-0 against the Big 12 looks nice.
A split of its Power Five games this week would be a solid response by the American.
The Citadel (plus 44 1/2) at No. 1 Clemson
Could be a good day for Clemson to get some work for freshman QB D.J. Uiagalelei, the heir apparent to Trevor Lawrence ... CLEMSON 52-6.
USF (plus 25 1/2) at No. 7 Notre Dame
Last time the Bulls visited South Bend in 2011, they came away with a 23-20 victory ... NOTRE DAME 35-7.
Tulsa (plus 23) at No. 11 Oklahoma State
Cowboys have won seven straight meetings by an average of 49-23 .. OKLAHOMA STATE 49-23.
Charlotte (plus 29) at No. 12 North Carolina
49ers showed some fight last week against App State ... NORTH CAROLINA 45-21.
Austin Peay (plus 34) at No. 13 Cincinnati
The Bearcats, the American's other preseason favorite, eases into its season ... CINCINNATI 45-7.
No. 14 UCF (minus 7 1/2) at Georgia Tech
Knights had both North Carolina and Georgia Tech on their original schedule, but the homer date against the Tar Heels was dropped — which is sort of typical for their schedule luck ... UCF 31-14.
No. 17 Miami (plus 2 1/2) at No. 18 Louisville
An early test to sort out potential ACC contenders ... MIAMI 24-21.
No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette (minus 17) at Georgia State
Ragin' Cajuns need to keep their keep their guard up after a big upset ... LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 31-17.
No. 24 Appalachian State (minus 4 1/2) at Marshall
Mountaineers try to make it two straight against Conference USA teams ... APPALACHIAN STATE 31-24.
Syracuse (plus 21 1/2) at No. 25 Pittsburgh
Orange coach Dino Babers said after last week's loss to North Carolina his team will probably need three or four weeks to come together ... PITT 28-10.
Houston (plus 4 1/2) at Baylor — @jefe172
In a sport where nonconference games are often scheduled more than a decade out, the Cougars and Bears put this together a week before kickoff ... HOUSTON 31-28.
Last week: 5-3 straight; 5-2 against the spread.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/
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