Is another incomplete performance going to be enough for Cincinnati?
The No. 4 Bearcats looked well on their way to putting together a beatdown of a seven-win East Carolina team on the road, jumping out to a 21-3 halftime lead Friday that felt as if it should be bigger. The Bearcats outgained the Pirates 325-77 and were in total control. The trap-game trap appeared to have been avoided.
Then the second half began, and Cincinnati displayed its maddening inconsistency. Sure, it eventually walked away with a 35-13 win that looks good enough on paper, and perhaps the committee was waltzing through malls on Black Friday. If it was in front of TVs, however, it saw a second half that featured just 119 more yards from a Cincinnati offense that was held off the scoreboard until a tack-on touchdown with 1:44 left. Desmond Ritter had two interceptions and the offense punted three times before scoring that one final time. Sauce Gardner’s TD return of a blocked field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter saved the Bearcats from further stress.
Still, the mission to go 12-0 has been accomplished, and a matchup with a ranked Houston team awaits in the AAC championship game. That final opportunity to impress the committee will be taking place in the same time slot as Georgia-Alabama on Championship Saturday, so there will be divided attention in the secret suites in Grapevine, Texas.
Championship game scenarios
Here is where we sit entering the final regular-season Saturday regarding conference championship games next weekend.
Pittsburgh wrapped up the Coastal Division last week and awaits N.C. State or Wake Forest. Should the Deacons win at Boston College in their Saturday noon game, they will win their first Atlantic Division crown since 2006. The ACC championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m. ET in Charlotte, N.C.
The East Division championship will be claimed by the Ohio State-Michigan winner; The Game will kick off at noon ET in Ann Arbor. In the West, Wisconsin will get in with a win at Minnesota. Should the Gophers spring the upset, then Iowa will win the West. The Big Ten title game will be Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. ET in Indianapolis.
Oklahoma State is in. If Baylor wins at noon ET over Texas Tech, that will set up a do-or-die situation for Oklahoma in Bedlam at 7:30 p.m. ET. Sooners win, it will be Bedlam 2. OU loses, Baylor will go. Should Baylor lose the early game, we are guaranteed a Bedlam 2 no matter the outcome of Bedlam 1. The Big 12 championship will be at noon ET on Dec. 4 in Arlington, Texas.
Utah awaits the Pac-12 North winner. With its win in the Apple Cup on Friday night, Washington State stays alive and will face Utah if Oregon loses Saturday afternoon to Oregon State. If Oregon wins, it will be an Oregon-Utah rematch. The Pac-12 championship game is Friday, Dec. 3, at 8 p.m. ET in Las Vegas.
Georgia and Alabama will face off in Atlanta on Dec. 4 at 4 p.m. ET Alabama has beaten Georgia in the teams’ previous two SEC title game meetings.
Cincinnati gets a seventh home game as it hosts Houston, a team it played last year and beat 38-10 at Nippert Stadium. The contest will kick off Dec. 4 at 4 p.m. ET on ABC.
UTSA will host the winner of Saturday’s Marshall-Western Kentucky game on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.
Northern Illinois will take on the winner of Saturday’s Kent State-Miami (Ohio) game at Ford Field in Detroit for the conference championship. That game will be Friday at 7 p.m. ET.
San Diego State and Utah State clinched spots with wins Friday. The Aztecs (11-1) will “host” the game at their temporary home in Carson, Calif., and try to reach 12 wins for the first time in school history. Kickoff will be at 3 p.m. ET on Dec. 4.
Appalachian State and Louisiana have locked up spots in the title game. Louisiana beat App State 41-13 earlier this season and will host the rematch at 3:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 4.
— If Nebraska is to learn how to write a new ending to its weekly script, it will have to wait until next year. The Huskers yet again lost a one-score game, this time after giving away a 15-point second-half lead. Iowa beat Nebraska 28-21, the Huskers’ eighth one-score loss of the season. Iowa’s comeback was sparked by Kyler Fisher’s return of a blocked punt for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, which cut Nebraska’s lead to 21-16. “The blocked punt was the game,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. Nebraska finishes 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten) and, most incredibly, with a zero point differential in conference games thanks to its 56-7 win over Northwestern.
— Arkansas put a very tasty cherry on top of its sundae of a season Friday with a 34-17 win over Missouri. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson was 15 for 19 for 262 yards and a touchdown, and Treylon Burks caught seven passes for 129 yards. The Razorbacks finished 8-4 (4-4 SEC) after being assigned an over/under win total of 5.5 in the summer. Second-year coach Sam Pittman has re-energized a passionate fan base and his knack for recruiting makes it feel as if the SEC West will be dealing with the Razorbacks for quite some time.
— For the first time in 55 days, Texas tasted victory. First-year coach Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns took down Kansas State 22-17 thanks to a strong second-half defensive showing as Texas shut out the Wildcats. Roschon Johnson had 179 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Texas still has an outside shot at a bowl bid even at 5-7. Either way, this will be the first losing season in Austin since Charlie Strong had three straight losing seasons from 2014-16.
— When San Diego State plays in a national game, you have to check in on superhuman punter Matt Araiza. Friday, he averaged 47.5 yards on six punts, with a long of 61 and a net of 44.2. He even gets his kicks put to music at this point.
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