AAC Championship Preview: No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Houston
This Saturday features a game that will decide whether or not the No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats remain undefeated and march into the College Football Playoff as conference championships, or if the No. 21 Houston Cougars can spoil the Cincinnati Cinderella story.
How Each Team Got Here
Cincinnati’s march to this point has been highly profiled. They’ve handled business against everyone in the American conference, taken down Indiana and won a big game over No. 6 Notre Dame.
At times their rise through the rankings has been a point of contention, but each week they’ve taken care of business with a target on their back to enter this game 12-0.
As for Houston, their rise through the ranks has been less profiled. After losing their first game of the season, the Cougars have ripped off 11 wins in a row. They’ve controlled games and beaten teams like SMU, Navy and Tulsa en route to a date with the Bearcats this Saturday.
How Houston Can Win
Coming into this game, Houston has the fourth-best turnover margin in the country and the third most sacks. They play an attacking and punishing brand of football that’s goal is to constantly disrupt the quarterback.
Houston also boasts the eighth-best average time of possession in the nation, as they constantly control the ball and establish a rhythm.
If the team can keep the game close, cause disruption late and force the Bearcats into making mistakes, especially in a game that’s undoubtedly one of the largest of Cincinnati signal-caller Desmond Ridder’s career, the Cougars can become conference champions.
How Cincinnati Can Win
Houston wideout Nathaniel Dell has over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. He will be will matched up with highly-rated NFL Draft prospect, and one of the top cornerbacks in the country, Ahmad Gardner.
If Gardner can shut down Dell, that will force QB Clayton Tune to resort to other options and target other top Cincinnati defensive back Coby Bryant.
When the Cougars are one-dimensional, they’ve struggled, with a rushing attack that ranks outside the top 50 in the NCAA and has struggled against tougher competition, only posting 77 rushing yards against SMU.
Cincinnati needs to play its brand of football, forcing Houston to take chances. Houston has had a relatively easy schedule and has yet to truly face discomfort this season and coach Luke Fickell has proven the Bearcats can force teams into uncomfortable positions consistently.
For Cincinnati it’s simple, rely on Ridder to make plays and play smart football on offense, and force Houston into uncomfortable situations, something they are unfamiliar with. If the Bearcats can do that, they will likely head to the College Football Playoff as American Conference Champions.
Dylan Price is a first-year majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.