The No. 2 Cincinnati Bearcats claim not to be worried about rankings, but stockpiling wins. And the next opportunity to chalk up another victory is Saturday when the Tulsa Golden Hurricane visit Nippert Stadium.
The Bearcats (8-0, 4-0 AAC) aim for their second consecutive 9-0 start and face the team that nearly denied them that record in 2020. The Hurricane (3-5, 2-2) dropped a 27-24 decision at the end of regulation in Nippert last fall. UC moved to 9-0 with a victory in the AAC Championship Game.
But more than a title game rematch, the game offers the Bearcats another chance to potentially impress the College Football Playoff selection committee. The 13-person committee will decide the four teams that qualify for the playoff. Despite a perfect record and a road win at Notre Dame earlier this season, the Bearcats are assured of nothing so far.
The initial CFP rankings came out Tuesday night, with the Bearcats lagging far behind their poll ranking at No. 6. UC quarterback Desmond Ridder was asked to appear on the broadcast. He declined.
“As much as we want to be on (the show), that’s not something we’re focused on right now,” Ridder said earlier Tuesday. “If it was a show about the (AAC) standings, I probably would have joined it. Because we can’t do anything without these next four games and the conference championship game.”
Ridder, 39-5 as a starter, was named as a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award and has thrown for 1,847 yards with 21 total touchdowns. But Ridder is just one part of a balanced Bearcats’ outfit. Running back Jerome Ford has rushed for 846 yards and is tied for third in the nation with 14 rushing touchdowns.
Cincinnati is the only team in the country to have a top-10 scoring offense (39.9 ppg, 9th) and defense (14.3, 2nd). The Bearcats trail only Georgia in scoring defense. UC’s 14 interceptions also rank second in the country.
Still, head coach Luke Fickell said he doesn’t have time to delve into playoff potential.
“I’m not saying ignore the hype … but if you ingest it all, it will mentally wear you out,” he said. “We’ve got to be ready. We got a battle on our hands and (last year) in some ways they outplayed us.”
Tulsa pushed Cincinnati to the limit a year ago. The Hurricane are in the midst of a lowering tide in 2021.
Philip Montgomery’s team ranks just eighth in the AAC in both scoring offense and defense and last week lost 20-17 at home to Navy. The Midshipmen won despite failing to complete one forward pass.
“We have an opportunity to go up there and do some special things,” head coach Philip Montgomery said. “All year long they’ve been one of the best teams in the country. We’ve got to focus on us and what we have to do to give ourselves a chance.”
The Hurricane have tools to limit the number of possessions and grind out an upset bid. Tusla has six individual 100-yard rushing games this season, and running backs Shamari Brooks (588 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Deneric Prince (406, 3 TDs) ranked fifth and sixth in the AAC, respectively, in rushing on a per-game basis.
Tulsa leads the all-time series 17-16-2, but the Bearcats have won two straight head-to-head matchups.
Cincinnati will be trying to keep pace with Houston (7-1, 5-0) atop the AAC and has another hurdle to clear this month in the form of SMU (7-1, 3-1). But like a spot in the playoff, those are concerns for another day. UC hopes to make it 25 straight home wins, and 12 in a row against AAC focus on Saturday.
“With everything going on, we just have to be able to handle it,” Fickell said.
–Field Level Media