After an absolutely dismal start to the season, the Cincinnati Bearcats will not be in action this weekend as they enjoy a bye week. That is both fortunate and unfortunate for UC fans. On the one hand, there is no need to watch their team put on another miserable offensive exhibition like last week against UConn. On the other, it leaves Saturday empty.
Well fear not, friends. There is plenty of other action occurring this weekend and here’s how you should be feeling about the lineup of matchups in the American Athletic Conference.
Memphis at Tulane
This is a Friday night kickoff so you can get the weekend started with a little tango between the suddenly contending Memphis Tigers and the 3-2 Tulane Green Wave. The Tigers have been wonderful this season, with a 4-1 overall mark which includes a 34-27 victory over Temple last Thursday in their AAC opener. Tulane, in its first season under Willie Fritz is surprisingly floating above .500 and its 0-1 start to AAC play came at the hands of Navy, which it battled to the very end, losing 21-14. Last week’s matchup with UCF was postponed so the Green Wave should be well rested here.
Why you should watch: This will be a big chance for Tulane to prove that it has made big strides already under Fritz. Memphis also needs to grab a win to keep pace with Navy at the top of the West Division.
Who you should root for: Since this is a West Division matchup, UC’s shoestring chances of getting back into contention are not at stake here. Instead, there is a chance for an upstart Tulane squad to show that its program is on the rise. Well, if #AmericanRising, then that sounds like a good enough reason to me.
UConn at USF
The last two teams UC has faced (and lost to) will square off in Tampa on Saturday night. The Bulls are largely considered the second-best team in the conference, although after Navy’s upheaval of Houston that’s less certain. USF rolled to a 38-22 victory over East Carolina on Oct. 8 but has been off since, giving it tons of time to prepare to shoot for its sixth win in seven chances. UConn beat UC 20-9 last weekend and has fought its way back to even on the year (3-3).
Why you should watch: Well gosh dangit if USF isn’t the most balanced offensive team in the conference. The Bulls are averaging 502.7 yards per game and before you tell me that is only second in the league, take a second to realize that they are the only team in the AAC to have thrown for and rushed for at least 1,400 yards. Plus Marlon Mack and Quinton Flowers form one of the most exciting backfield tandems the AAC has to offer.
Who you should root for: Look, at 0-3 in league play, UC’s chances of contending for the AAC title are all but killed, but if there is a miracle to be had, it needs both of these teams to start losing. I suppose at this point it’d be better if UConn survived, to at least show USF is human. On the flip side, the AAC isn’t really in need of more 8-4 type seasons so there’s merit in cheering for USF to keep dominating.
Tulsa at No. 13 Houston
USF, Memphis and Navy. You’ve heard all about how each one is the possible darkhorse that will unseat Houston as AAC champion. One team that you may not be hearing as much about is Tulsa which is quietly 4-1 overall and off to an 1-0 start in AAC play. Of course dressing up that record when it includes a 43-40 overtime win against SMU isn’t very easy, but an .800 winning percentage is an .800 winning percentage. As for Houston, its all but guaranteed ride to the AAC title and a New Year’s bowl (and possible playoff appearance) took a major hit last weekend when the Cougars dropped a 46-40 decision against Navy. Still, at 5-1 overall, they are in excellent position to bounce back.
Why you should watch: Greg Ward Jr. is still an awfully fun player to watch. He leads the AAC in passing yards per game (336.8 ypg), is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (11) all while completing 68.9 percent of his pass attempts. Plus he’s 14th in the conference in rushing and has gotten into the end zone six times on his own. Then there’s Steven Taylor and his AAC-best 5.5 sacks leading the league’s best defense to keep you intrigued when Ward isn’t on the field. Simply put, come watch the most balanced team in the conference play and play angry.
Who you should root for: I’m of the mindset that Houston making it to the College Football Playoff would be a good thing for the AAC and there’s still a chance the Cougars could get there. Losing to Tulsa will destroy those chances so in the interest of the greater good of the conference, lend the Cougars a supporting hand.
Temple at UCF
This is the other side of the Memphis/Tulane coin, as the Owls lost to the Tigers last weekend while UCF’s tilt with Tulane was postponed. Temple’s setback against Memphis halted its attempt to rise from the ashes of a 1-2 start, ending a brief two-game winning streak for Matt Rhule and company. The Owls were tagged as a contender entering the season and they need to start winning now to catch USF in the East Division. UCF is surprisingly 3-2 overall and 1-0 in AAC action. Not too shabby for a squad that went winless last year and is under a new head coach.
Why you should watch: UCF put together a rout of East Carolina on the road to earn its one conference victory. Now’s the time to see just how legit the Knights are. Plus, UC still has to play both of these teams this year so getting a look at what they bring to the table could be of use.
Who you should root for: Bit of a toss up really. Both teams are above UC in the East Division standings. Let’s go with UCF in the hopes of proving that a change at head coach can really lead to a quick turnaround, something the Bearcats may need if this season keeps circling the drain.