Memphis jumped Cincinnati by returning the opening kick for a touchdown. After building a 17-3 lead they played cat and mouse. Cincinnati would catch up, then Memphis would pull away. Eventually, Memphis pulled away, and Cincinnati ran out of time. It was an excellent game.
The best part? They’ll do it again next week, in the Liberty Bowl again.
No matter who wins that game, the AAC Champion should represent the Group of 5 in the New Year’s Six. This season, that will be the Cotton Bowl game.
Is this stance disrespectful to Boise State and Appalachian State? It depends. Those two haven’t earned as much respect as Memphis and Cincinnati have. Not in this individual season, at least.
To this point Boise State is 11-1, and heading to the Mountain West Championship game after surviving against a 4-8 Colorado State team. That’s been the story of the Broncos season. They’ve played down to teams frequently. Florida State, Marshall, Air Force, San Jose State, and Wyoming all gave the Broncos scares. They lost to a run of the middle BYU.
There has been a quarterback carousel with Hank Bachmeier’s injury issues keeping him from games recently. That shouldn’t be a shock given how terrible the Boise State offensive line was to open the season. Bachmeier hasn’t played since the San Jose State game, when he was sacked 3 times. In 7 games he’s been sacked 15 times, and hit countless others.
Appalachian State is more deserving than Boise State. They do have two P5 wins, granted over one team the won’t be going to a bowl game, and another that needs a win Saturday to qualify. They’ve also been much stronger in their conference match-ups than Boise State. The issues, the Sun Belt is weak. Therefore, the Appalachian State schedule is weak. On top of that, a loss to a pretty average Georgia Southern team looms large.
For Mike Norvell’s Memphis Tigers, a win will assure them a spot in the Cotton Bowl. That’s not up for debate.
Things are trickier for the Cincinnati Bearcats. They now have two losses. Those don’t go away, even with a conference championship win. Still, if they beat Memphis and win the AAC, they will deserve to go to the New Year’s Six.
They have two losses. Both were on the road. One to Ohio State, the best team in the country. Then, to Memphis, but with a win in the AAC Championship Game they would have avenged that loss. In a sense, it would be like the loss never happened.
Similar to Boise State, Cincinnati has had some close calls, but they also have better wins than Boise State. Cincinnati beat UCF. That beats Boise State’s best win over a Florida State team who fired their coach midseason.
Furthermore, top to bottom, Cincinnati has played a more difficult schedule by the simple virtue of playing in the AAC. Say what you will about the AAC’s Power 6 campaign, they are a full leap ahead of any other G5 conference. In fact, they’re even gaining on the ACC.
SP+ CONFERENCE AND DIVISION AVERAGES— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) November 24, 2019
* No changes in the conference or division rankings
* AAC's avg would be 4.3 w/o UConn
* ACC Coastal = B1G defenses + worse-than-Sun-Belt offenses pic.twitter.com/g0twE9iBxq
The fact is that other than a comparable head to head with Boise State, Cincinnati doesn’t do great against the eye test. In a way, they’re like Georgia. They play uninspiring, but effective offense. However, their defense is elite, and play at an elite level in a conference where offense is king. Look no further than the Bearcats’ defense being the only defense since 2016 to hold UCF to under 30 points in a game for proof of that.
Oh, and that common game with Boise State? Boise State beat Marshall at home, 14-7. Cincinnati beat Marshall on the road 52-14.
The reality is that even with two losses, Cincinnati has a better resume than either Appalachian State or Boise State. They are more deserving of the Cotton Bowl bid. Whether or not the committee is choosing the best teams, or the most deserving teams, the AAC Champion fits the bill for the Group of 5 champion this season on both merits.