No. 9 Cincinnati caps undefeated regular season with AAC championship game win

Cincinnati’s faint playoff hopes are still flickering.

The No. 9 Bearcats completed an undefeated regular season with a 27-24 win over Tulsa in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday night. Cincinnati won as time expired on Cole Smith’s 35-yard field goal.

The win pushed Cincinnati to 9-0 and likely seals a spot in a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game. But while the Bearcats will be one of just four teams undefeated as of Saturday night, they’re likely not heading to the playoff. The CFP committee has dropped Cincinnati two spots over the last two weeks as it hasn’t played due to COVID-19.

That fall is a big reason why Cincinnati’s playoff hopes are a lot fainter than they were. And, to be frank, they didn’t start out blazing anyway. A Group of Five conference team has never made a College Football Playoff and there’s little reason to think Cincinnati will break that streak. After all, the Bearcats were behind three two-loss teams entering the weekend.

But hey, we’re not going to rule Cincinnati out of this playoff thing just yet. The committee’s rankings have been confounding all season. And Cincinnati should at least be No. 6 on Sunday.

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 19: Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) in action during the AAC Championship game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and the Cincinnati Bearcats on December 19, 2020, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Cincinnati and Desmond Ridder are now 9-0. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Desmond Ridder throws for 296, rushes for 83

Tulsa hung with the Bearcats all night in miserable rainy weather. But Cincinnati held on after jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

Cincy went up 24-17 in the third when QB Desmond Ridder scored on a 10-yard run. Tulsa tied it with 3:41 to go in the game when JuanCarlos Santana caught a 13-yard TD pass from Zach Smith. But the Bearcats were able to use every second remaining after that TD drive on a 12-play, 51-yard drive to set up Smith’s game-winning kick.

Ridder finished 19-of-29 passing and a touchdown and had 16 carries for 83 yards and a rushing touchdown. He’s been one of the better quarterbacks in college football all season and would be a sleeper candidate to get down-ballot Heisman votes if Cincinnati had played more games recently. But Saturday’s game was the Bearcats’ first since Nov. 21.

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