For the first time since 1969, Memphis is the outright champion of its conference.
With a 29-24 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday, the Tigers clinched the American Athletic Conference championship and likely sealed a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game in the process. No. 17 Memphis — which lost the AAC title game the previous two seasons — entered Saturday’s game as the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the country. And now that it has wrapped up a league title, Memphis is the favorite to land in the Cotton Bowl when the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its final rankings on Sunday.
With a win, No. 20 Cincinnati would have been in the mix for that bowl spot as well. Instead, it will go to the Tigers barring a jump in the rankings from No. 19 Boise State, which beat Hawaii in the Mountain West title game earlier Saturday.
The Tigers pulled out a dramatic victory on Saturday with the somewhat awkward backdrop of reports that their head coach, Mike Norvell, will be introduced as the next coach of Florida State on Sunday. Nonetheless, Memphis was able to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and eke out its second straight victory over the Bearcats.
Memphis vs. Alabama in the Cotton Bowl
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Memphis wins rematch
Last weekend, Memphis beat Cincy 34-24 on the same field to clinch the AAC West division crown and set up a rematch for the conference title. Things were closer time around with the teams trading the lead three times in the fourth quarter.
A 50-yard field goal from Riley Patterson gave Memphis a 23-21 lead in the first minute of the fourth, but Cincy went ahead when Sam Crosa connected from 33 yards out to give his team a 24-23 lead with 4:23 to play.
From there, Brady White — with help from electric playmaking duo Kenneth Gainwell and Antonio Gibson — led the offense straight down the field. Eventually, on third-and-goal from the 6-yard line, White hit Gibson on a receiver screen for what ended up being the game-winning score with 1:14 to play.
Cincinnati would make things interesting by driving deep into Memphis territory, but the Memphis defense would get the stop it needed to wrap up a conference championship.
With the win, Memphis (12-1) has reached 12 victories in a season for the first time in program history. Cincinnati dropped to 10-3 with the loss.
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