Despite recent close calls, Cincinnati moved up a spot in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings and will occupy the No. 5 position when they take on struggling South Florida in an American Athletic Conference game Friday night in Tampa.
The Bearcats (9-0, 5-0 AAC) enter the game more than three-touchdown favorites over the Bulls (2-7, 1-4).
Last week’s win over Tulsa was the second by one score for the Bearcats in their last three games after their 56-21 rout of UCF on Oct. 16. The Bearcats escaped Navy 27-20 the next week, cruised past Tulane 31-12 on the strength of a 10-point fourth quarter, then kept Tulsa out of the end zone eight times inside the 12-yard line in the final two minutes for a 28-20 win.
Tulsa had three chances from Cincy’s 1-yard line in the final minute and couldn’t score, fumbling into the end zone on the final play.
“I think we learned some more from it,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said at his weekly media session. “I think our guys recognized the way everybody plays them and the way they’ve got to continue to push and fight and do whatever it’s going to take. We’ve got to keep fighting.”
Quarterback Desmond Ridder dismissed the notion that the CFP rankings and all the talk that goes with that is putting extra pressure on the Bearcats.
“I would say it’s fun,” Ridder said. “It’s fun to see our name as the University of Cincinnati and our program up there. I wouldn’t say it has added pressure or anything.
“Like coach Fickell says, all we care about is winning the conference championship. Once we do that, everything is going to take care of itself, so we’re just taking it game by game. It is a blessing, an opportunity to be involved and be part of that and bring the city and community along with us.”
Ridder is concerned with more direct things, such as the injury to leading rusher Jerome Ford (888 yards). Ford left last week’s game against Tulsa with an apparent leg injury, and his status for this week is unknown.
“I’m hoping he plays as much as everyone else does because he’s a great running back,” Ridder said.
Ridder is Cincinnati’s second-leading rusher with 214 yards. Ryan Montgomery has rushed for 174 yards.
USF has lost its last two games since ending a long conference losing streak with a 34-14 win over Temple on Oct. 23, but second-year coach Jeff Scott said he saw some good things in the 54-42 loss to Houston last week.
“I’m disappointed by the ending of the game and not being able to pull off what would have been a nice upset there,” he said, “but really encouraged by some of the things I see about this team.”
Scott is well-aware of the task his Bulls face in hosting the Bearcats.
“In order to pull off an upset like that,” he said, “you’ve got to be at your best for four quarters.”
–Field Level Media