CINCINNATI - No. 23 Cincinnati can reach the American Athletic Conference Championship by winning its last three games and that run must start with a victory at home against reeling South Florida on Saturday night. The Bearcats blanked Navy 42-0 last week for its second straight victory after an overtime loss to Temple and have won eight games - tying the amount they recorded in the past two seasons combined.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU. LINE: Cincinnati -14
“It’s amazing,” Cincinnati junior wide receiver Rashad Medaris told reporters of the turnaround. “We’ve worked hard for this. Just an amazing feeling.” The Bearcats lean on their defense, which is sixth in the nation in points per game against (14.0) and fifth overall in total yards allowed (276.1) - led by senior defensive tackle Cortez Broughton, who is second in the American in tackles for loss (1.67 per game). USF won its first seven games this season, including six when trailing at some point in the contest, but has struggled defensively while losing the last two games to squash hopes of a championship in the American and a trip to a major bowl. “You’ve got three games to go play and they’re all conference games, so you don’t ever think the season is getting away because you never know what’s going to happen,” Bulls coach Charlie Strong told reporters. “... Within this conference, you can’t really say teams are so much head-and-shoulder above other teams. You catch them on any given day and anything can happen.”
ABOUT SOUTH FLORIDA (7-2, 3-2 American)
The Bulls gave up 98 points in losses to Houston and Tulane the last two weeks and Strong told reporters his defense has to be more physical to stop the run by winning more one-on-one blocks. USF also got held to 102 yards on the ground last week against Tulane as leading rusher Jordan Cronkrite (946 yards, 7.0 per carry) was limited to 13 on six carries. USF could get freshman receiver Randall St. Felix (24 catches, 484 yards, two TDs) and junior tight end Mitchell Wilcox (28, 378, one) back from injuries that held them out of two games and one contest, respectively.
ABOUT CINCINNATI (8-1, 4-1)
While the defense has been key all season, the Bearcats have been productive on offense with multi-purpose freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder taking over the helm. Ridder has completed 63.1 percent of his passes with 13 TDs and five interceptions while rushing for 426 yards and five scores to augment sophomore running back Michael Warren II, who has gained 931 yards on the ground with 14 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Kahlil Lewis is the top target for Ridder with 36 receptions - 12 in the win against SMU on Oct. 27 - and 453 yards with five touchdowns.
1. South Florida senior LB Khalid McGee, who leads the team with 71 tackles, will return after being suspended a game for pushing a coach.
2. Cincinnati LB Perry Young, who owns a team-leading 45 tackles, is likely lost for the season with a knee injury.
3. The Bearcats lead the all-time series 8-7, but the Bulls earned a 33-3 victory last season in Tampa.
PREDICTION: Cincinnati 31, South Florida 17
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