Unbeaten No. 7 Cincinnati is facing a three-game road stretch that will determine the Bearcats’ conference, bowl and even potential playoff fate, starting with Saturday’s game in Orlando against unranked but dangerous UCF.
Games at struggling Temple (Nov. 28) and current American Athletic Conference co-leader Tulsa (Dec. 4) wind up the 10-game 2020 card for the Bearcats (7-0, 5-0 AAC).
“It’s going to be huge,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. “We’re going to find out what we’re really made of. … That is going to be quite a stretch with the bullseye on our back and a lot of things that we want to be able to do. You know we’ve got to kind of focus in and be hungry and be humble in what we’re doing and find a way to continue to grow.”
After comfortable but routine wins over Army (24-10) and South Florida (28-7) in the second and third games of the season, the Bearcats have upped the pace offensively their past four outings, averaging a scoring margin of 46-13 in wins over SMU, Memphis, Houston and East Carolina.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder has posted two triple-digit rushing games in running for 398 yards and nine touchdowns in that four-game span and completed 71.4 percent of his 105 pass attempts for 886 yards and eight touchdowns against only two interceptions.
But those wins came over teams that are a combined 15-13 for the season, with SMU and Memphis accounting for 11 of the wins. Cincinnati’s final three opponents are a combined 10-8, and that includes a 1-5 Temple team.
UCF (5-2, 4-2 AAC) has won three in a row since dropping back-to-back outings to Tulsa and Memphis and has averaged 44.3 points a game in its winning streak.
After passing for 601 yards in a 50-49 loss at Memphis, quarterback Dillon Gabriel has completed 57 of 95 attempts for 1,018 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions in wins over Tulane, Houston, and Temple.
For the season, the sophomore lefty has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for an average of 396.3 yards a game (No. 1 nationally) with 23 touchdowns against only two interceptions.
The Knights lead the nation in total offense per game with an average 619.1 yards per game, which is close to the record 624.9 yards per game set by Houston in 1989. They will be up against a Cincinnati defense that has held opponents to just 12.4 points (No. 3 nationally) and 300.9 yards a game (No. 10).
“We need to be at our best,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said. “Nothing extraordinary, but we’ve got to be able to do the ordinary things at a really high level. Our football team has had great focus, great preparation here these last few weeks. I think it is absolutely critical that we get ourselves ready and in a position to play our best football.”
–Field Level Media