The American Athletic Conference championship is on the line Saturday as the 6-1 Tulsa Golden Hurricane battle the 8-0 Bearcats of Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. Kickoff is set for 8 pm EST.
The schools were originally scheduled to play on Oct. 17 but postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The two programs will finally face off - with the conference title on the line - after four previous attempts to play in the regular season.
This marks Tulsa's AAC Championship debut after five appearances in the Conference USA title tilt. The Golden Hurricane enter Saturday as the 24th-ranked team in the country and have been ranked for five consecutive weeks coming in, their longest streak in the Top 25 since 1946.
Tulsa opened its season with a tough loss to Power 5 school Oklahoma State but then managed to reel off six wins in a row despite postponements or cancellations with the Bearcats, Navy, Arkansas State, and Houston.
The strength of this team is its defense as it allowed fewer than 20 points per game this season, led by AAC Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Zaven Collins. Collins was a unanimous choice for the award after recording 35 tackles with four sacks and four interceptions.
This will be Cincinnati's second consecutive appearance in the AAC title game and second overall. The Bearcats fell to Memphis last year inside the Liberty Bowl, 29-24. Prior to the American Athletic Conference forming in 2015, the Bearcats shared a Conference USA championship with TCU in 2002.
As noted, this game will be played at Nippert Stadium, the Bearcats' home digs. They went unbeaten at home for the third straight year, the first time in program history they've gone three years without a home loss, winning 19 in a row in all at Nippert.
Cincinnati boasts the AAC Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Desmond Ridder and the conference's Coach of the Year in Luke Fickell. Ridder has accounted for 21 touchdowns over the last five games, and Fickell's name is seemingly popping up every place that has a vacancy.
Betting Line and Pick
Cincinnati has been installed as a 14-point favorite in this one, with an over/under of 45. The two teams are a combined 11-4 ATS this season, with Tulsa going 4-0 ATS on the road. That's normally not notable since conference title games are generally played on a neutral field, but in 2020, Cincinnati hosts.
The Bearcats had to hang on for an ugly 11-point win over the Golden Hurricane last year on a day Cincinnati honored the 2009 team that went undefeated en route to a Sugar Bowl appearance. A win Saturday gives them another unbeaten campaign and potentially another spot in a New Year's bowl game.
It'll be a classic matchup of strong offense vs. strong defense as Cincy averages more than 40 points per game this season. We've noted the problem that Tulsa presents on the other side of the ball. Expect the Bearcats to pull it out, but it won't be easy.
Pick: Tulsa +14