On Friday night in Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati Bearcats (3-1) battle the kings of the conference, UCF Knights (4-1).
Cincinnati’s Struggles vs Ranked Teams
It’s rare that Cincinnati faces top 25 teams. The non-conference schedule does not often present elite matchups and AAC teams do not get the respect they deserve, so there is usually 1-2 teams ranked each year, which isn’t always in the AAC East, where Cincinnati resides. UCF enters Nippert Stadium ranked #18.
Bearcats have lost 12 in a row against top 25 teams, with the last victory coming in the famous Pitt victory to end the 2009 regular season. The last top 25 victory at Nippert Stadium came two weeks prior, against West Virginia.
Since 2010, the Bearcats have lost to Oklahoma (2010), @ Louisville (2012), Rutgers (2012), Louisville (2013), @ Ohio State (2014), @ Houston (2015), Houston (2016), @ Michigan (2017), @ USF (2017), UCF (2017), @ UCF (2018), @ Ohio State (2019).
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, UCF’s regular season winning streak ended two weeks ago at Pittsburgh (27 straight wins).
UCF has won 18 straight AAC games and have won 29 out of 31 games overall, which is still quite an amazing run over the last two plus years.
UCF has won 3 in a row vs Cincinnati - 24-3 in 2016, 51-23 in 2017, and 38-13 in 2018. More to come later this week on the history between these two teams. Cincinnati’s only win vs UCF was during the Knights’ 0-12 season in 2015, which was the first meeting between the two.
UCF has been ranked in the Top 25 for 33 straight weeks.
There is nothing in college football quite like #NippAtNight. Some stadiums might be bigger and louder, but the experience of being underground, so close to the action is incredible. During this run by UCF, they have not faced any type of atmosphere or environment anywhere close to Nippert Stadium. Sure, they blew out the Bearcats at night in 2017, but that was during a down period where optimism and hope was low.
Speaking of streaks, Cincinnati has won 9 in a row at Nippert Stadium entering Friday (2017 finale vs UConn, 6-0 in 2018, and UCLA and Miami in 2019).
As the legendary wrestler Ric Flair used to say - “to be the man, you have to beat the man”. There’s no doubt that UCF is the man. The only way Cincinnati can win the AAC East and make their first AAC Championship game, is by beating UCF. Plain and simple.
There really aren’t any other contenders in the East. USF, UConn, and ECU all stink. Temple has been up-and-down, beating Maryland and a bad Georgia Tech team, but losing to Buffalo.
A win on Friday would set the Bearcats up for an opportunity to make a run at a Cotton Bowl bid. The highest ranked championship team from the AAC, MWC, Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC gets to represent the “Group of Five” in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. UCF has played in this game the last two years, beating Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl and losing to LSU in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
If Cincinnati does not make the Cotton Bowl, they would likely settle for the Birmingham Bowl or Gasparilla Bowl. Quite the disappointment in both name and geographic location.
Most fans and media folks dislike UCF for their abrasiveness and how they have acted the last couple of years. Specifically with the self-proclaimed 2017 National Championship. And the constant (but warranted) Playoffs chatter.
A win by Cincinnati won’t be as meaningful as it would have been a few weeks ago, thanks to the Knights loss to Pitt, but folks will still give Cincinnati a ton of credit and respect for beating a good UCF team. Fans all over college football would be thrilled to see UCF fall once more, and lose their spot at the top of the Group of Five.
At the end of the day, wins and losses mean more to most people than perception, but the Bearcats could become the new fan favorite underdog team of college football by taking care of business. It would be a program-changing win and put Cincinnati football back on the national radar.