Cincinnati won the 2020 American Athletic Conference championship, 27-24, over Tulsa on Cole Smith's 34-yard field goal as time expired. The Bearcats were a 14-1/2-point favorite heading into the game, and the Congrove Computer Rankings gave them a 19.10-point home edge in front of 5,831 fans (covid-capped at 18% of capacity).
The victory kept Cincinnati undefeated and landed the school in the Peach Bowl, a New Year's Six game, against Georgia. There, the Bearcats experienced the downside of a last-second kick, falling behind with 3 seconds left, 22-21, on a 53-yard Jack Podlesney field goal. The final score became 24-21 by a virtue of a safety on a QB sack on the final play of the game. when Cincinnati led 21-0 going into he final period.
Cincinnati hadn't played a single Power 5 school all year until the bowl game, though the original schedule planned before covid had the Bearcats traveling to Nebraska in week 4. This year, Cincinnati travels to Indiana and Notre Dame for its 3rd and 4th games of the season and the computer projects both of those to be losses for Luke Fickell's club. But the computer also predicts that the Bearcats will recover and march on to a second straight league title by knocking off Memphis in the conference championship game.
The competition for second-place will be fierce as the Tigers advance to the championship clash by breaking a four-way tie with SMU, UCF and Tulsa with the best record versus the tied teams.
UCF has a new head coach in Gus Malzahn after Josh Heupel departed for Tennessee in an interseting confluence of events - Malzahn moves from the SEC to the American while Heupel goes from the American to the SEC. Heupel spent 3 seasons in Orlando leading the Golden Knights to a 28-8 record over-all, a 19-5 record in the American Conference, and a 1-2 mark in bowl games. Malzahn was cut loose by Auburn, despite a 68-35 overall record and a 39-27 SEC mark. In his first season in 2013, he took a 3-9 team from the previous year and went 12-2 with a division title, an SEC title, and a 34-31 loss to Florida State in the final BCS Championship game. Since then, the Tigers have won a single division title (2017) while Alabama has dominated the division and the conference. However, Malzahn was 3-5 against the Tide while everyone else in the SEC went 3-60 against Nick Saban.
|** - Cincinnati by 3.77 over Memphis (Memphis wins tie-breaker vs. SMU, UCF, and Tulsa)|