Cincinnati will be playing to secure home-field advantage in the American Athletic Conference championship game while host Memphis will be looking to clinch a spot in that affair when the teams collide Friday afternoon.
The No. 19 Bearcats (10-1, 7-0 AAC) captured the East Division title with their 15-13 victory over Temple on Saturday, when the 18th-ranked Tigers (10-1, 6-1) romped past South Florida to set up what could be the first of back-to-back meetings between the division leaders.
Memphis can clinch the West title with a win over Cincinnati, and thereby host the Bearcats in the AAC title game on Dec. 7. If the Tigers lose, they can still get into the championship game if Navy (8-2, 6-1) loses at Houston on Saturday night.
Memphis and the Midshipmen then would have identical 5-2 conference records, but the Tigers hold the advantage in the tiebreaker. The Tigers also own the tiebreaker over Southern Methodist (9-2, 5-2) if the Mustangs make it a three-way tie, but the championship game would be played in Cincinnati.
“This is a must-win for us,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said.
He’s not thinking of facing the Bearcats two weeks in a row.
“If we have the opportunity to get them again, we’ll focus on that when we get there,” Norvell said. “But right now, it’s all about this week and the opportunity in front of us.”
The Tigers are coming off what Norvell called one of their “most complete” games of the season with the 49-10 win at South Florida. It ran their winning streak to five games and put them one victory shy of what could be a school-record 11-victory campaign.
The Bearcats haven’t lost since absorbing a 42-0 pounding at Ohio State in their second game of the season, a setback that “stung,” according to Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell.
“It cost us a lot at the time,” Fickell said of the loss to the Buckeyes, “but it also allowed us to grow a lot.”
The Bearcats’ last two outings featured a field goal as time ran out for a 20-17 win over South Florida, and a blocked extra point attempt that cornerback Coby Bryant returned 98 yards for a critical two points against the Owls.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder has been dealing with a shoulder issue that might have played a role in his past two games. He is 18 for 43 for 140 yards in that stretch.
“We’ve got a group of guys that can just find a way,” Fickell said.
Norvell’s Tigers rolled over South Florida behind quarterback Brady White, who overcame two early interceptions to finish 18 of 28 passing for 222 yards and a pair of scores. White is seventh nationally in passing efficiency with a 180.0 rating, having completed 204 of 304 passes for 3,074 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Kenneth Gainwell rushed for 128 yards in that contest, while fellow running back Patrick Taylor Jr., who missed considerable time after suffering a foot injury, ran for 95 yards and three touchdowns.
–Field Level Media