Tulane knocks off Cincinnati, will host AAC championship game

In 2021, Tulane won just two games. In 2022, Tulane will host the American Athletic Conference championship game.

No. 19 Tulane clinched a spot in the AAC title game with a come-from-behind 27-24 road win over No. 24 Cincinnati on Friday.

Cincinnati, the two-time defending AAC champion that played in the College Football Playoff in 2021, rallied from a 20-10 deficit to take a 24-20 lead with 6:27 to play. But the Green Wave responded in impressive fashion.

Just 1:17 later, Michael Pratt found Duece Watts behind the Bearcats’ defense for a 30-yard touchdown. It proved to be the game-winning score.

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After that touchdown, the Green Wave defense got two stops to seal the victory and ensure they will host the league championship game back in New Orleans.

On top of that, Friday’s result at Nippert Stadium put an end to two streaks. It snapped Cincinnati’s 32-game home winning streak and Tulane’s 61-game losing streak vs. ranked opponents. The latter streak dated back to 1984.

While Pratt had the game-winning touchdown pass, Tulane’s big win was led by its defense and a tremendous effort from running back Tyjae Spears. Spears carried 35 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. He scored from 11 yards out to give Tulane a 10-3 lead late in the first half and then added another touchdown midway through the third to grow the lead to 20-10.

Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt, left, hands the ball off to running back Tyjae Spears during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt, left, hands the ball off to running back Tyjae Spears during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Tulane’s defense had some issues controlling Cincinnati’s ground attack. The Bearcats racked up 235 yards and three touchdowns, but did an excellent job making things difficult for Cincinnati quarterback Evan Prater. Prater was making his first career start in place of the injured Ben Bryant. Prater rushed for 83 yards, but was limited to just 10-of-26 passing for 102 yards and an interception.

There was still 5:10 remaining when Tulane retook the lead, but Cincinnati combined for minus-5 yards over its last two possessions.

If No. 22 UCF defeats South Florida on Saturday, it will set up a UCF vs. Tulane matchup for the conference title. If UCF loses, it opens the door for Cincinnati or Houston to face the Green Wave next Saturday.

Tulane’s only conference loss of the season came courtesy of UCF earlier this month. UCF went into Yulman Stadium and beat the Green Wave 38-31, putting up a whopping 336 rushing yards in the process.

Now it looks like Tulane will have a chance for revenge. And not only would the conference championship be on the line, a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game could be as well.

The highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five conferences gets a berth in one of the major bowl games, likely the Cotton Bowl this season. No. 19 Tulane, No. 22 UCF and No. 24 Cincinnati — all AAC teams — were the only Group of Five teams ranked in the most-recent College Football Playoff rankings. That means the AAC champion will almost certainly get that coveted bowl slot.