State of the AAC: Cincy clinches East, Navy squeezes back into Top 25 as SMU falls out
No. 18 Cincinnati (10-1, 7-0 No. 19 CFP in Week 13) clinched its first appearance in the American Athletic Conference championship game with its sluggish 15-13 defeat of Temple (7-4, 4-3) Saturday night, while the battle for the AAC West title will be decided in the final weekend of the season.
The Bearcats solidified their position in the fifth AAC title game Dec. 7 in an unexceptional manner in their win over the Owls.
Cincinnati entered halftime with a 6-0 lead and did not find the end zone until the 10:47 mark of the third quarter.
Temple battled back against one of the conference’s worst defensive teams with two fourth quarter touchdowns, but Cincinnati’s blackout game was ultimately decided by junior Coby Bryant’s return of a blocked extra point on the Owls’ first touchdown.
Cincinnati’s sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder has his second straight game of struggles, completing just 9 of 25 pass attempts for only 62 yards and an interception. Ridder has now failed to complete at least 10 passes or notch 100 yards for the second straight game.
But where Ridder was not at his best, elite junior running back Michael Warren II was. Warren extended his touchdown streak to four games as he found the end zone once.
The conference’s fifth-leading rusher recorded 106 yards on 24 carries, bringing his season total to 939.
Cincinnati earned just 210 yards to Temple’s 310 and has been outgained in yardage in six of its last seven games but has managed to earn nine straight victories.
However, with a massive game at No. 17 Memphis (10-1, 6-1 No. 18 CFP in Week 13), which very well could be the matchup in the AAC Championship Game, the Bearcats will need offensive production.
While Cincinnati squeaked out its victory, Memphis rolled over USF (4-7, 2-5) 49-10, its fifth straight win and the eighth time it has scored 40 or more points.
The Tigers racked up 325 rushing yards, led by freshman Kenneth Gainwell and senior Patrick Taylor Jr., who returned from a significant absence this season due to injury. The freshman earned 128 yards on 14 carries while the senior found the end zone three times and tallied 95 yards on 17 carries.
The hot offensive night was not one just achieved on the ground, however, as junior quarterback Brady White completed 18 of 28 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns but also threw two interceptions.
White’s 3,074 yards this season are the fourth most in conference play while his 30 touchdowns are tied for the most.
The Tigers showdown with the Bearcats on Friday afternoon will have major implications for the AAC title game and postseason bowl games alike.
A win by Memphis would see a rematch between the two in the conference title game, but a Cincinnati win would leave the door open for No. 24 Navy (8-2, 6-1) to play in the championship.
Navy earned a victory over now-unranked SMU (9-2, 5-2, No. 25 CFP in Week 13) 35-28 with a powerful offensive showing.
The Midshipmen racked up 540 total yards, including 378 on the ground. Navy leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 352.2 and rushing touchdowns with 40.
Elsewhere, UCF (8-3, 5-2) defeated Tulane (6-5, 3-4) 34-31 and Houston (4-7, 2-5) defeated Tulsa (3-8, 1-6) 24-14.
ECU (4-7, 1-6) defeated UConn (2-9, 0-7) 31-24 to earn its first conference victory of the season.