After surviving two American Athletic Conference scares this month, No. 19 Cincinnati likely will not take anything for granted these last two weeks.
The Bearcats (9-1, 6-0 AAC East) return home to host the Temple Owls on Saturday night at Nippert Stadium.
With a win over the Owls, Cincinnati will earn the East Division crown for the first time and with just one game remaining — at No. 18 Memphis on Nov. 29 — which could be the first of two meetings between the schools in just more than a week.
That’s because the AAC Championship Game will be played on Dec. 7 at the stadium of the team with the best conference record.
The Bearcats are the top-ranked Group of Five school in the nation, but keeping that lofty status hasn’t been so easy against some of the conference’s weaker competition.
UC has relied on the accurate right foot of Sam Crosa in two of its last three contests — both on the road — to remain unblemished in AAC play.
Crosa, a senior, beat East Carolina, winless in the conference, with a 32-yard field as time expired in a wild 46-43 game on Nov. 2, and his 37-yarder put away South Florida 20-17 last Saturday night.
The latter kick lifted UC to a share of the divisional title, and the Columbus, Ohio, native has connected on 9 of 13 field goals this season, with a long of 44 yards. He is also 39 of 39 on extra points.
Crosa was named the AAC’s Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday for his eight-point output in Tampa.
Winners of eight straight games since losing 42-0 to then-No. 5 Ohio State on Sept. 7, the Bearcats have shown a tendency to play up against the better competition in the league (UCF) but down to some residing deeper in the standings (ECU, USF).
Quarterback Desmond Ridder struggled with just 78 yards passing, and the Bulls outgained the visitors 438-278 in total yards – leaving UC to rely on Crosa’s kicking.
“This team in here has a unique ability to find a way … (with) the resiliency they have,” coach Luke Fickell said of the Bearcats.
Temple (7-3, 4-2) needs a win in Cincinnati, another in its final game at home against UConn (2-8) and a Bearcats loss in west Tennessee to Memphis to make the East Division resort to a tiebreaker to determine its winner.
The Owls should like their chances if defensive end Quincy Roche continues his dominant play out on the edge.
Roche, a junior, took control of the game in Saturday’s 29-21 win over Tulane at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. He contributed 12 tackles, three sacks, an AAC-record six tackles for loss and forced and recovered a fumble.
The performance earned him AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors on Monday.
“He’s back healthy,” Owls coach Rod Carey said of his defensive force. “You can tell, can’t you? He’s playing at a high level right now.”
Roche’s 9.5 total sacks this season tie him for the AAC league lead with SMU’s Patrick Nelson and rank seventh nationally.
–Field Level Media