CINCINNATI — Conference play is here for the Cincinnati football team, and the Bearcats will start their trek towards a third-straight outright AAC title when they play Saturday night at Tulsa (7 p.m. ET on ESPNU).
We don’t talk a lot about goals,” head coach Luke Fickell said. “We talk about objectives within our program, but we have one goal. Every year the goal is to play for a championship and the only way you do that is by winning whatever conference you’re in.”
Cincinnati beat Tulsa, 27-24, for the 2020 AAC Championship and routed Houston 35-20 for the 2021 conference crown.
The Bearcats (3-1) have won three straight since losing to Arkansas in the season-opener. They are coming off a dominant 45-24 victory over Indiana, in which UC led 38-10 and had tossed four touchdowns before halftime. Junior wide receiver Tyler Scott became the first Bearcat with three touchdown receptions in a half in school history to close out non-conference play.
Now, conference season begins.
Overall, the Bearcats have won 16 straight games against AAC opponents, dating back to the 2019 season.
“The number one objective will be to play for a championship, and you’ve got to win in your conference to do that,” Fickell said. “We walk into camp; we talk about goals on the very first day and that’s it. Our guys understand that.”
Tulsa has been a formidable opponent in recent years with each game since 2019 coming down to the wire, including a last-second field goal to win the 2020 AAC Championship and a goal-line stand by Cincinnati to end the 2021 contest at Nippert Stadium.
Fickell expects the same this Saturday in UC’s first trip to H.A. Chapman Stadium since a 2016 overtime defeat. That 40-37 victory for Tulsa on Nov. 25, 2016, marked the final game for Tommy Tuberville as UC’s head coach. Fickell was hired a few days later on Dec. 10.
“I think these games were ones where you at look how they played three years ago, look how they played two years ago, look how they played last year, they are obviously a very good football team, but they’re obviously even different when they’ve played us,” Fickell said. “Regardless of what the history is, we haven’t played them on the road [since 2016], and that is a big deal as well.”
Saturday’s game will also mark the 1,300th game played by Cincinnati, which began playing football in 1885 and is in its 135th season.
The game will be televised on ESPNU with Jay Alter (play-by-play) and Hutson Mason (analyst) on the call. On radio, Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Jim Kelly, Jr. (analyst) are on the call for the Bearcats Sports Network. The game will be broadcast on 700 WLW.
‘FIREBALL’ IVAN PACE-ING THE COUNTRY IN TACKLES FOR LOSS; EARNS BEDNARIK POTW HONOR
Senior Ivan Pace Jr leads the country in tackles for loss with 11.0 – two more than the next closest player. The Cincinnati Colerain HS product also ranks No. 5 nationally in both tackles per game (11.5) and sacks (4.5). He had an outstanding performance against Indiana, tallying 15 tackles, 4.5 TFLs (fifth-most in UC history), 2.5 sacks and three QB hurries en route to AAC Defensive Player of the Week and Bednarik National Player of the Week honors. PFF College rate’s him as the country’s top linebacker with a 90.4 rating – highest of any player at the position in the nation.
“He’s a fireball,” Luke Fickell said. “He goes. I think we are going to continue to use him in different ways but find ways that we can kind of let him go, that’s where he’s dynamic. We’re glad we got him.”
CINCINNATI-TULSA SERIES FEATURES RECENT BIG GAMES
In 2021, the No. 2-ranked Bearcats held on to defeat the Golden Hurricane, 28-20, with eight straight stops from inside their own 12 to end the game. Cincinnati held Tulsa QB Davis Brinn to just 149 yards but allowed Tulsa to run for 297 yards. The Bearcats got three total touchdowns from QB Desmond Ridder and LB Darrian Beavers made the game-sealing stop.
In 2020, No. 9 UC won the AAC Championship with a 27-24 win over No. 23 Tulsa in the title game at Nippert Stadium. Kicker Cole Smith made a 34-yard field goal as time expired for Luke Fickell‘s first conference championship.
The last time UC played at Tulsa, the Hurricane won 40-37 in OT in 2016 in the final game before Luke Fickell took the helm.
HURRICANE BY AIR
Tulsa ranks fourth in the nation in passing yards (358.5 per game) and 13th in total offense (507 ypg). QB Davis Brin ranks fifth nationally in passing yards (329.5) and has 12 TDs with just one interception. Entering the Ole Miss game, he led the nation in passing yards and TDs before suffering an injury in the second quarter against the Rebels. The Hurricane fell 35-27 at Ole Miss in its last game despite Brin’s injury. Tulsa enters Saturday 2-2 overall.
QB Ben Bryant ranks as the nation’s ninth-highest rated passer by PFF College with a grade of 89.6. He ranks 15th nationally in passing yards (304.0), 12th in touchdowns (11) and 25th in pass efficiency rating (163.89). He was named to the Davey O’Brien Great Eight (National QBs of the Week) on Monday. Scott ranks in the top 10 nationally in receiving yards (423) and touchdown catches (AAC-best five). Punter Mason Fletcher ranks third nationally with a 47.42 average. He booted a 67-yarder vs. Miami – UC’s longest punt in 11 years.
FICKELL JUST THREE WINS AWAY FROM MOST AT UC
Fickell’s 51 wins are already the second-most in Cincinnati history and he needs just two wins to tie Rick Minter and three to surpass him as the winningest coach in Cincinnati football history.
Most wins in Cincinnati history
53-63-1 Rick Minter (10 seasons)
51-16 Luke Fickell (six seasons)
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