Cincinnati has never played in an American Athletic Conference championship game in the brief history of the game. That could all change Saturday night when Cincinnati (9-1, 6-0 AAC) has an opportunity to clinch the AAC East Division with a win over Temple. But, a loss by Cincinnati leaves the door open for Temple (7-3, 4-2) to have a shot at the division crown. Needless to say, there is a lot on the line Saturday night between the Bearcats and Owls.
For Cincinnati, there is a bit more riding on the outcome as well. Cincinnati is currently the highest-ranked Group of 5 program, which puts them in the front of the pack racing for a spot in the New Year's Six bowl lineup as a participant in the Cotton Bowl. A loss Saturday night could knock Cincinnati out of the race, allowing a team like Memphis or Boise State to have the biggest advantage.
Temple at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Cincinnati -10
When Temple Has the Ball
Anthony Russo has improved with his decision-making this season but can still be prone to have a pass intercepted. The quarterback has thrown 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, an improvement from his 14 touchdowns and 14 picks thrown a season ago. Russo had three touchdowns and three interceptions against Cincinnati last season. Temple managed to win the game despite the trio of picks thrown, but Temple will need Russo to be smarter protecting the football this week if the Owls are to get out of town with a win. Two of Russo's worst games of the season have resulted in losses for Temple against Buffalo and UCF with five combined interceptions (but also five touchdowns), but the Owls managed to win a game despite going 9-of-22 with an interception against Georgia Tech. Simply put, Russo has to avoid throwing the ball over to a Cincinnati defense that has intercepted as many passes as touchdowns allowed through the air (13 each).
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
The key to consistency and success for Cincinnati this season has come with the running game. The Bearcats have the fourth-best rushing offense in the AAC this season, which is pretty good considering the style of run-heavy offenses the top two teams in the conference feature (Navy and Tulane). Cincinnati has posted more than 2,000 rushing yards as a team, an average of 202.2 yards per game. Michael Warren II has been the workhorse on the ground with 833 yards and 10 touchdowns and he is the conference's fifth-leading rusher in terms of yards per game.
Temple has had some good defensive play at times, but the run defense has not been as much a strength as it has been before. The Owls gave up 203 rushing yards to Tulane last week and have been ripped on the ground by ranked teams Memphis (129 yards) and SMU (198 yards). UCF also ran for 385 yards on the Owls a few weeks ago, with five rushing touchdowns in a blowout victory in Philadelphia. Quincy Roche could bring some pressure. He comes into this week's game with an AAC-best 9.5 sacks.
Neither team plays particularly explosive offense, and Cincinnati struggled last week against South Florida a few weeks after a near-scare against East Carolina. Expect Cincinnati to be in a battle with Temple once again, but Cincinnati will once again find a way to come out on top late in the game to wrap up its spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game for the first time in program history.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Temple 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of Cincinnati Athletics)