Date: Saturday, December 19th
Start time: 7:00pm CT
How to watch: ABC
Betting line: Cincinnati -14
Location: Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati, OH)
Cincinnati used a disappointing end to its 2019 season to motivate itself through 2020. They’re turned that into the best team in the conference and another conference championship game appearance. Quarterback Desmond Ridder won AAC Offensive Player of the Year with Luke Fickell winning AAC Coach of the Year as well. If there was an award for defense of the year, Cincinnati would win that too. The Bearcats swarm to the football and dominate at the line of scrimmage, making it tough for anyone to move the ball downfield on them.
Ridder’s been the key for this team. The Bearcats offense has taken off with his improved play, and it’s made a number of wins a little more comfortable. He’ll face a tough Tulsa secondary that will make life tough for him, and his accuracy downfield becomes more important given that the windows will be smaller. A win here and in their bowl game would give the Bearcats their third consecutive double digit win season under Luke Fickell. For now, it’s all about the trophy.
No one saw this coming. Tulsa was supposed to be a .500 team at best. The only problem is that no one told them that. Adversity hit them early when running back Shamari Brooks went down for the season with an injury, but the offense responded. Deneric Prince, T.K. Wilkerson and Corey Taylor II took turns carrying the load in Brooks’ absence. Then, Zach Smith went down with an injury against Tulane, but the Golden Hurricane responded with a Hail Mary to tie the game and a Zaven Collins interception to win it. There’s nothing this team hasn’t faced that will make them fold.
Speaking of Collins, he just won Defensive Player of the Year in the AAC. It’s a well-deserved honor for a player who took his already great game to a new level this year. Yet it’s not just Collins who’s taken steps forward. The Tulsa secondary is big and physical, and all but takes away an oppositions passing attack. Fellow linebacker Justin Wright stepped up this season and is second on the team in tackles. Kendarin Ray has been great at safety. Allie Green and Akayleb Evans are tough corners to beat. The list goes on and on. When everyone thought the offense would get this team to where they needed to go, it was actually the defense that got them to the championship.
Tulsa’s struggled with slow starts all year, and it’s on the offense to fix that. The defense keeps them in games, but some pressure needs to be relieved. It’s going to be tough for them to come back against a Cincinnati defense that’s good at every position, and a 21-point or more deficit all but seals the game. If the Golden Hurricane can force a few turnovers and throw in some wrinkles early in the game, they have a chance, but there’s a reason Cincinnati is the best team in the conference. CINCINNATI 27 TULSA 17