State of the AAC: Cincinnati dethrones UCF in 27-24 victory
While the UCF Knights dropped from the AP Poll for the first time since midway through the 2017 season, the Cincinnati Bearcats, who beat the American Athletic Conference rival Knights on Friday night, became the latest AAC team to ascend into the poll at No. 25.
For the first time since week eight of last season, three AAC teams are ranked, as Cincinnati (4-1, 1-0) and No. 23 Memphis (5-0, 1-0) joined No. 21 SMU (6-0, 2-0) in the week seven poll.
Cincinnati toppled the two-time defending AAC Champions via some hard-fought defense. Although the Knights out-gained the Bearcats in yardage with 423 to the hosts’ 341, Cincinnati forced four UCF turnovers, including three interceptions from highly efficient freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel. The Hawaiian native had just two interceptions entering the game.
Although no points came from Cincinnati’s running game, the Bearcats garnered 192 yards on the ground on 41 attempts. Junior running back Michael Warren II recorded 133 yards, his season high, on 23 carries, including a 60-yard rush that led to a touchdown on the next play.
As for the Bearcats’ quarterback Desmond Ridder, the sophomore completed 17 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Ridder needs just 36 yards to hit 1,000 for the season and ranks third in the conference with a 62.0 percent completion rate.
Cincinnati will venture to Houston (2-3, 0-1) on Saturday night while UCF will have a week off to get back on track before hosting ECU (3-3, 0-2) on Oct. 19.
SMU has already secured a bowl game appearance as the Mustangs notched their sixth win of the year, escaping Tulsa’s upset bid in triple overtime 43-37 (2-3, 0-1).
The Mustangs relied on a massive comeback to force overtime in Dallas. Tulsa had a 30-9 lead going into the fourth quarter but rushing touchdowns from seniors Ke’Mon Freeman and Xavier Jones and a passing touchdown from junior Shane Buechele to senior James Proche kept the game alive.
The two teams exchanged touchdowns on the opening period of overtime and Tulsa could not capitalize on a Jones fumble in the second period as red-shirt freshman kicker Jacob Rainey missed a 43-yard field goal. The Mustangs then iced the game on a 25-yard pass from Buechele to Proche.
Buechele is having a massive season so far, as he leads the conference in completions (132) and passing yards (1,665), while ranking second in passing percentage (67.0) and touchdowns (12).
As for Proche, he has recorded 45 receptions thus far for 529 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which rank in the top three in the conference.
SMU will also have a bye week before taking on Temple (4-1, 1-0) at home Oct. 19 and Tulsa will host Navy (3-1, 1-1) on Saturday.
Memphis joins SMU as the only other undefeated team in the AAC following the Tigers’ 52-33 thumping of Louisiana-Monroe, which was highlighted by red-shirt freshman Kenneth Gainwell’s 209-yard outing.
Gainwell’s outstanding evening was highlighted by a 68-yard touchdown run, his second of the day. This was the Missouri-native’s third-straight 100-plus yard performance.
The only negative to take from Memphis’s performance is that UL-Monroe recorded more yards than their guests at 575 yards. This is by far the most the Tigers have conceded this season, as they entered the game averaging just 263 yards against.
The Tigers’ 5-0 start is their best since an 8-0 start in 2015. They will travel to Philadelphia on Saturday to take on Temple, who defeated ECU on Thursday 27-17.
Across the conference, USF (2-3, 1-1) defeated UConn (1-4, 0-2) 48-22 while Tulane (4-1, 1-0) extended its win streak to three straight with a 42-33 victory over Army. Navy (3-1, 1-1) notched a home win against Air Force 34-25.