Temple at Cincinnati
7 P.M., CINCINNATI
Records: Temple 7-3, 4-2 American Athletic Conference East; Cincinnati 9-1, 6-0 AAC East
Favorite: Cincinnati by 10
Series: Temple leads 13-7-1.
Last meeting: Temple won 24-17 in 2018 in Philadelphia.
The path that leads to Cincinnati making a New Year's Six bowl is clear, even if the respect that the Bearcats are being shown by the College Football Playoff committee is not.
The Bearcats have won eight straight games since their 42-0 loss to Ohio State in September, including a win over then-No. 17 Central Florida, yet this week the playoff committee dropped them two spots to No. 19 while keeping conference rival Memphis at No. 18. And several bowl projections show the Tigers going to the Cotton Bowl over the Bearcats.
It seems that a 20-17 win over South Florida last week — the second game this season that Cincinnati has won on a last-second field goal by Sam Crosa of Dublin Scioto — was too close for the committee’s liking. But the Bearcats would almost certainly clinch the major-bowl spot reserved for a Group of Five school if they win out.
The task for coach Luke Fickell is to keep the Bearcats focused as they get closer to their first conference championship since 2014.
“The higher the stakes, the higher the pressure, (and) sometimes the more out of character you can get,” Fickell said. “We can't let that happen to us.”
That hasn’t been a problem for Crosa. He gave the Bearcats the win at South Florida with a 37-yard field goal that easily cleared the uprights. The Bulls were out of timeouts, so all they could do was watch.
It was different the first time he was sent out with time running down in a fourth quarter on the road. Against East Carolina on Nov. 2, Cincinnati first called timeout to set up Crosa's attempt, and then the Pirates called timeout twice to try to rattle him. But his 32-yard attempt was easily good.
Kicking runs in Crosa’s family. His father, Fernando, played soccer at Syracuse, and his grandfather was a professional in Uruguay. Plus, his brother, Griffin, is a freshman kicker for North Dakota State, the top-ranked team in FCS.
Sam also began his college career at an FCS program, Western Illinois, where he converted 20 of 24 field-goal attempts over two seasons. His longest was 45 yards. He came to Cincinnati as a graduate transfer, and his longest field goal this season is a 44-yarder in the opener against UCLA.
Fickell is a big believer in special teams, much like Jim Tressel, the first Ohio State coach he worked under, for nine seasons. After the South Florida game, Fickell raved about the group — not just Crosa but the other units, whose contributions included sophomore Wilson Huber blocking a fourth-quarter punt.
“Special teams is the reason we're in the position we are right now,” Fickell said.
But defeating Temple might depend on Cincinnati's ability to protect quarterback Desmond Ridder and keep its offense moving. Against South Florida, Ridder was sacked four times in the first half and briefly went to the locker room because of a shoulder injury. He completed just 9 of 18 passes for 78 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.
The Owls will counter with Quincy Roche, a dominating defensive end who had six tackles for loss last week in a win over Tulane.
“We've got to play a lot cleaner in both phases, offensively and defensively,” Fickell said. “And we need to continue to generate and create a lot of energy and momentum and havoc on our special teams.”
Hanover at Mount Union
The Purple Raiders (10-0) are the No. 2 seed in the Division III playoffs, and they have made 21 appearances in the final since 1993. This year, they open with Hanover (9-1), an Indiana school that has only one win in eight playoff appearances. Mount Union quarterback D'Angelo Fulford finished the season with five passing touchdowns against Marietta.
West Chester at Notre Dame College
NOON, SOUTH EUCLID
Notre Dame College (10-1) reached the Division II playoffs as the No. 3 seed in its region and opens with unseeded West Chester (9-2). Three Falcons players have been honored by the Mountain East Conference: Sophomore running back Jaleel McLaughlin was named the top offensive player, lineman Nick Beans the top offensive freshman, and back Bryce Sheppert the top defensive freshman.