3:30 PM EST – Line: Memphis -11, Over/Under: 57
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object as the No. 19 Cincinnati Bearcats meet the No. 18 Memphis Tigers in a matchup featuring the top two teams in the American Athletic Conference, from Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. This could very well be the first of two successive meetings between these teams, as both currently lead their respective Divisions within the AAC. Of the two, Cincinnati (10-1, 7-0 in AAC) is the only lock to take part in the Conference’s Championship Game, having already clinched the East Division with a two-game advantage heading into today’s contest. In his third season at the program, Luke Fickell continues to do a stellar job in leading the Bearcats to with one more victory would be their second consecutive 11-win campaign, and their first undefeated run through the league since it was formed back in 2013. In fact, an unbeaten run within the conference would only be the fourth such occurrence since it’s inception, with the ‘Cats being the only other team apart from Central Florida who have managed to achieve that feat. When considering teams outside of the Power-5 Conferences, you could make a strong argument for Cincinnati being the cream of the proverbial crop; Fickell’s charges have won nine straight games, with their only defeat being a 0-42 shutout at No. 2 Ohio State. The former Buckeyes’ Assistant has brought that Big 10 DNA to Southern Ohio, particularly on the defensive side of the football, where this team has been one of the staunchest in the country. In 2019, the Bearcats have allowed just 19.9 Points per Game on 365.2 Total Yards, including 231.5 Yards against eh Pass and another 133.7 Yards versus the Run. However, where they’ve really made a name for themselves is in the department of Takeaways, logging Twenty-Three Turnovers, with twelve different players getting into the act, led by Sophomore Safety, Ja’Von Hicks (45 TKL, 0.5 TFL, 2 FF, 4 FR, 4 INT, 1 PD), who has been arguably the most opportunistic player in the country, racking up a staggering EIGHT Takeaways all by himself. With Four Interceptions and Four Recovered Fumbles to his credit, even forcing a pair himself, Hicks has set the tone for a unit that has prided itself on turning over their opponents. On the flipside, the Offense has been rather grounded this season, with Cincinnati relying heavily on the Rushing Attack, which has amassed an average of 197.3 Yards on the ground, led by Junior Tailback, Michael Warren Jr. (196 CAR, 939 YDS, 4.8 Y/C, 11 TD), who is just Sixty-One Yards away from posting his second straight 1,000-Yard Season with the school. Fellow Junior, Gerrid Doakes (80 CAR, 461 YDS, 5.8 Y/C, 5 TD), has provided a bit more explosion out of the Backfield, while Sophomore Quarterback, Desmond Ridder (56.2%, 1,836 YDS, 6.9 Y/A, 17 TD, 8 INT), continues to factor heavily into this facet of the attack, rushing for 432 Yards of his own. This year hasn’t seen Ridder undergo the desired growth as a Passer, with the Signal-Caller completing far fewer of his passes than he did as a Freshman (62.4% to 56.2%) and averaging fewer Yards per Attempt (7.9 to 6.9), while already throwing more Interceptions than he did in 2018 (5 to 8). Granted, while the Offense has been anything remotely close to prolific this season with Ridder at the controls, they’ve certainly made a habit of winning close games of late, with three out of their last four victories coming by three points or less. Case in point, in last weekend’s narrow 15-13 escape of Temple, Cincinnati struggled to get much of anything going offensively, amassing a scant 210 Total Yards of Offense, with Ridder in particular having a rough go of it, completing a dismal 9-of-25 Passes for Sixty-Two Yards and an Interception. After taking a 6-0 lead into Halftime, the hosts scored their only Touchdown, courtesy of the aforementioned Warren early in the Third Quarter, though the Owls would get on the board in the final stanza. However, when they attempted the Extra Point, only for the Kick to be blocked and then returned Ninety-Eight Yards by Junior Defensive Back, Coby Bryant (), for two points. This ended up being absolutely crucial, for the visitors would then drive down the field for another Touchdown, cutting the deficit to two. The home side would eventually run out the clock, surviving yet another close call, this one clinching a spot in the American Athletic Championship Game. Coming into this meting with Memphis, Fickell will be looking to get his Offense back on track, with Ridder feeling the effects of a sore shoulder that once again kept him out of practice earlier in the week. In his last two games, the Sophomore has really struggled completing a miserable 18-of43 Passes for a scant 140 Yards. Another disturbing trend that hasn’t yet proven to be a problem has been this team’s proclivity for Penalties; with nine for a loss of Seventy-Four Yards in Saturday’s victory, no team in the FBS has been penalized more than Cincinnati, totaling 103 for a loss of 852 Yards.
Meanwhile, the West Division is still to be decided in the American Athletic Conference, with Memphis (10-1, 6-1 in AAC) looking to book a trip to the Conference Championship Game for a third consecutive year. Winners of five straight outings, the Tigers are very much the inverse of the team that they meet today, for where the Bearcats have managed to pull out narrow wins on the strength of their staunch Defense, this outfit has been largely successful by simply outscoring the opposition. Now in his fourth year with the Program, Mike Norvell has guided his troops to ten wins for the second time in three years, and coincidentally for just the third time in school history. However, with potentially three games left on the books (including a Bowl), there is a strong likelihood that he could in fact lead them to a school record eleven victories, which will no doubt raise the profile of a Head Coach has already drawn the attention of some of the larger programs searching for a new leading man. As they’ve been under his reign, the Offense has been nothing short of prolific, averaging an impressive 42.2 Points per Game (8th Overall) on 490.7 Total Yards, including 292.0 Yards through the air and another 198.7 Yards on the ground. Redshirt Junior Quarterback, Brady White (67.1%, 3,074 YDS, 10.1 Y/A, 30 TD, 7 INT), a former transfer from Arizona State has been excellent in his second full season within this scheme, completing a career-high 67.1% of his Attempts for an average of 279.5 Yards per Game on 10.1 Yards per Attempt, with Thirty Touchdowns in comparison to Seven Interceptions, with those first four figures leading the American Athletic Conference. Norvell has done a solid job of stockpiling talent at a variety of positions, with Redshirt Freshman, Kenny Gainwell (189 CAR, 1,294 YDS, 6.8 Y/C, 12 TD), proving to be equally adept at making plays as a Receiver as he is as a Tailback, totaling 227 Touches for 1,766 Total Yards and Fifteen Touchdowns. In fact, the dynamic Tailback ranks third in the country in Yards from Scrimmage. Senior Receiver, Antonio Gibson (27 REC, 596 YDS, 22.1 Y/R, 7 TD), brings even more versatility to the field, rushing for another 158 Yards and Two Touchdowns on Fourteen Carries apart from the 596 Yards and Seven Touchdowns he’s managed to reel in on Twenty-Seven Catches. And then there’s Junior Wideout, Damonte Coxie (53 REC, 834 YDS, 15.7 Y/R, 8 TD), who has been White’s go-to guy, hauling in Fifty-Three Receptions for 834 Yards and a team-high Eight Touchdowns. Each of these players played a role in Memphis’ latest showing, a 49-10 rout of South Florida last weekend, in which the visiting Tigers utterly dominated the Bulls outgaining them 588 to 170 and amassing a staggering Thirty-One First Downs to the host’s Five. Norvell’s side had their way on the ground, rushing for a season-high 353 Yards on Fifty-Seven Carries, with twelve different players getting into the action, led by the aforementioned Gainwell logging 128 Yards just Fourteen Carries, while his teammate, Patrick Taylor Jr. (49 CAR, 237 YDS, 4.8 Y/C, 4 TD), rushed for Three Touchdowns to accompany his Ninety-Five Yards on Seventeen Attempts. Gibson rushed for a score as well, Coxie hauled in one of White Two Touchdown Passes to punctuate his Sixty-Nine Yards on Five Receptions. White did throw as many Interceptions as Touchdowns, but in the end the miscues were rendered as little more than an afterthought following such a dominant performance by the unit as a whole. It’s hard to fathom that USF actually led 10-7 heading into the Second Quarter, before the visitors twenty-one before Intermission. With a win today, the Tigers will set up a rematch with the Bearcats the following week, for they currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Navy, whom they defeated 35-23 back on September 26th. Memphis owns a three-game winning streak against Cincinnati, though they haven’t met since 2016, with Norvell’s charges besting them soundly in a 34-7 win on the road.