Tulane no longer has sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference.
The Green Wave lost 38-31 at home to UCF on Saturday to drop into a three-way tie with the Knights and Cincinnati atop the AAC.
Tulane (8-2, 5-1 AAC) — which was No. 17 in the College Football Playoff rankings before the loss — has a quick turnaround as it faces SMU (6-4, 4-2) in its home finale Thursday night in New Orleans.
“We’ve got to move on, there’s no doubt about it,” Green Wave coach Willie Fritz said. “It’s just what you have to do. SMU’s a really good team. We are going to have to really put it together quickly.”
The Green Wave could remain in the latest CFP rankings when they’re released on Tuesday night. Tulane was still ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll this week at No. 21.
Tulane, which concludes the regular season at Cincinnati on Nov. 25, can still guarantee itself a spot in the Dec. 10 conference title game, which will be played at the home of the regular-season champion, by winning its last two games. And winning the AAC would put the Green Wave in a good position to be the Group of Five representative in a New Years Six bowl game.
“We’ve got to stay locked in,” Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt said. “We can’t let (the loss to UCF) affect us.”
The Green Wave allowed 336 rushing yards to UCF, including 176 by quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. That’s 136 more rushing yards than Tulane had allowed in its previous worst performance against the run.
The Mustangs, who are 7-0 against Tulane as members of the AAC, are still in contention in the conference race, but they won’t be if they lose to the Green Wave.
SMU has the running game to potentially replicate UCF’s success against Tulane.
Camar Wheaton, a transfer from Alabama, scored his first two collegiate rushing touchdowns and rushed for 112 yards, the same total teammate Tyler Lavine had, in a 41-23 victory at South Florida on Saturday.
“They complement each other really well,” Mustangs first-year coach Rhett Lashlee said.
Tanner Mordecai added 280 passing yards and two touchdowns as the Mustangs became bowl eligible after their third consecutive victory.
“Look, we expect to go to bowl games, and so that’s not the end-all, be-all,” Lashlee said. “We aren’t finished yet. We’ve got two big games coming up. We’re 2-0 in November, but that’s not the end of it.
“I think we’re developing the toughness that we want our program to have. I think we’re developing that finishing mindset we want to have.”
–Field Level Media