American Athletic Conference Championship Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats vs Memphis Tigers

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Saturday, Dec. 7
3:30 p.m. ET
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

THE GAME: Saturday’s game will be the 36th meeting between Cincinnati and Memphis in a series that dates to 1966 … The Tigers hold a 22-13 series lead and have won the last four against the Bearcats, including a 34-24 decision last week in Memphis … Cincinnati’s last win in the series was a 34-21 win at the Liberty Bowl in 2013 … Memphis is making its third consecutive appearance in The American Championship, while Cincinnati is in the championship game for the first time … The schools were part of a threeway tie for The American title in 2014, the year before the conference championship game was introduced … The 2019 championship marks the fourth time in NCAA FBS history that a conference championship game is a rematch of the final regular-season game between the participating teams … The three previous times were in 2012 (Stanford beat UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship after winning the regular-season finale), 2017 (Boise State beat Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship after falling to the Bulldogs a week earlier) and 2018 (UAB won the Conference USA title against Middle Tennessee after the Blue Raiders took the regular-season meeting) … This year’s game marks the fifth time in as many years that The American Championship is carried live on ABC … The American Championship has drawn more than two million viewers in each of its first four years.

18/17 CINCINNATI
10-2, 7-1 American
Head Coach
Luke Fickell (Ohio State ’97)
25-12, third season at Cincinnati
31-19, fourth season as collegiate head coach

Notes: Cincinnati saw a nine-game winning streak come to an end with a 34-24 setback at Memphis to close the regular season … The only other loss on the Bearcats’ ledger was a 42-0 decision at then-No. 5 Ohio State Sept. 7 … Cincinnati went 6-0 at home this season and has won 13 straight at Nippert Stadium … The loss to Memphis also snapped a nine-game winning streak in conference play, dating to last season … Cincinnati is looking for its sixth conference championship in the last 13 seasons … A win against Memphis would give the Bearcats 11 victories in consecutive seasons … Cincinnati has had three 11-win seasons in program history (2008, 2009, 2018) … The Bearcats have overcome deficits of six or more points to win four times this season … Cincinnati played the regular-season finale against Memphis without QB Desmond Ridder, who saw a streak of 23 consecutive
starts end thanks to an apparent shoulder injury … Ridder has completed 149 of 265 passes for 1,836 yards and 17 touchdowns … QB Ben Bryant made his first career start and completed 20 of 32 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions against the Tigers … RB Michael Warren II has rushed for 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season … TE Josiah Deguarra leads the team with 34 catches for 470 yards and seven touchdowns, while WR Alec Pierce has 29 catches for 534 yards and two TDs … The defense is led by S Darrick Forrest, who has a team-high 92 tackles and three interceptions … LB Michael Pitts has 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss to lead the team in both categories, while S Ja’Von Hicks has a team-high four interceptions with four fumble recoveries … Cincinnati has 24 takeaways this season … K Sam Crosa has made 12 of 17 field goal attempts and has two walk-off gamewinners this season (vs. ECU and USF) … P James Smith was a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2018 and has averaged 43.0 yards per punt this season … The Bearcats do not have a special teams touchdown in 2019, though Cincinnati does have a rare defensive two-point conversion to its credit … Cincinnati has registered four blocked kicks.

17/18 MEMPHIS
11-1, 7-1 American
Head Coach
Mike Norvell (Central Arkansas ’95)
36-15, fourth season

Notes: Memphis enters the American Athletic Conference Championship as one of the hottest teams in the nation as the Tigers take a six-game winning streak into the postseason following a 34-24 win against Cincinnati last Friday … The win against Cincinnati gave the Tigers their first 11-win season in program history and it hit a milestone as the program’s 500th win … The Tigers are playing in The American Championship for the third consecutive season, making Memphis one of eight teams in FBS history to reach three consecutive conference championship games … This year’s game will mark the first conference championship game to be played at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium … Memphis is 6-0 at home this season and has won its last eight home games … The only blemish on Memphis’ ledger this season is a 30-28 loss at Temple Oct. 12 … The Tigers have averaged 41.5 points and 483.5 yards per game as well as 7.1 yards per play … QB Brady White enters the postseason as The American’s leader in pass efficiency (177.7) … White has completed 219 of 330 passes for 3,307 yards and 32 touchdowns against eight interceptions … Redshirt freshman RB Kenneth Gainwell leads all freshmen nationally in rushing at 115.1 yards per game … Gainwell has 1,381 yards and 12 touchdowns on 204 carries and is the Tigers’ second-leading receiver with 41 catches for 492 yards and three more TDs … WR Damonte Coxie leads the team with 59 receptions for 979 yards and nine touchdowns … WR Antonio Gibson has scored 11 touchdowns, with seven TD catches, three touchdown runs and one on a kickoff return … The defense is led by LB Austin Hall, who has a team-high 62 tackles to go with two fumble recoveries … The Tigers have pair of outstanding defensive ends — DE Bryce Huff has 6.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss, while DE Joseph Dorceus has 5.0 sacks and 14.5 TFL … Memphis’ special teams unit is annually among the nation’s best … K Riley Patterson has hit 14 of 16 field goal attempts and has made his last seven kicks … P Adam Williams has averaged 45.9 yards per punt … The Tigers have three kickoff returns for touchdowns, including a 94-yard TD by CB Chris Claybrooks last week against Cincinnati … Memphis has blocked four kicks on special teams.