'The American' has power teams, too

Mark Znidar, The Columbus Dispatch

Cincinnati at No. 18 Houston

3:30 p.m. Saturday in Houston

Favorite -- Houston by 8

Records -- Cincinnati 5-3, 2-2 American Athletic Conference East; Houston 8-0, 4-0 AAC West

Last meeting -- Cincinnati won 38-31 last season in Cincinnati; Houston leads series 13-10.

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Cincinnati long-snapper Kirk Willis does not feel like a second-class football player whenever he hears the words "Power Five conference."

The Bearcats play in the American Athletic Conference or "The American," which lost its status as a major conference when the NCAA began a four-team postseason playoff last season.

Although AAC members Memphis, Temple and Houston have opened eyes nationally, they were ranked 13th, 22nd and 25th, respectively, in the first playoff rankings.

"Those Power Five schools are great, but The American has great athletes and teams, too," said Willis, a fifth-year senior from Granville. "We just don't get the recognition. I don't get angry. But we have beaten the big teams."

Memphis has defeated Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference. Temple defeated Penn State of the Big Ten and took Notre Dame, ranked fifth in the playoff poll, to the limit before losing in the final minutes. Houston has taken down Vanderbilt of the SEC and Louisville of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Cincinnati fans stormed the field after the Bearcats knocked off Miami of the ACC earlier this season.

"We got outclassed down there last year because I think the heat got to us," Willis said. "They came up here and that game was awesome."

The American is an amalgamation of teams from Conference USA and the remnants of the Big East. Willis said it was sad to see Syracuse and Pittsburgh leave for the ACC and West Virginia for the Big 12.

"But now we have new rivalries," he said. "This game against Houston is going to be exciting."

Coach Tommy Tuberville is concerned about a Houston team that is averaging 537.4 yards per game with former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman as head coach. Quarterback Greg Ward has run for 16 touchdowns.

"We're going to have to play over our heads, probably, to win the game," Tuberville said. "They are on a roll, 8-0. They absolutely destroyed one of the so-called Power Five teams (Vanderbilt, 34-0) last week. It wasn't even a game."

Tuberville said The American has one big edge over Power Five conference teams: "We have more quarterbacks in this league than other conferences have combined," he said.

The Bearcats feature senior Gunner Kiel and redshirt freshman Hayden Moore.

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Michigan Tech (6-2, 6-2) at Ashland (9-0, 9-0)

1 P.M., ASHLAND, OHIO

The skinny- A victory would lock up a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs for Ashland and guarantee it no less than a tie for the best record in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

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Denison (6-2, 5-2) at Wabash (8-0, 7-0)

1 P.M., CRAWFORDSVILLE, IND.

The skinny- A victory is a must for the Big Red to remain in the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. Denison lost to DePauw 31-29 last week on a 42-yard field goal with 3 seconds left. It had taken the lead with a 33-yard field goal with 1:43 remaining.

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Baldwin Wallace (6-2, 6-1) at Mount Union (8-0, 7-0)

1:30 P.M., ALLIANCE, OHIO

The skinny- Top-ranked Mount Union has won 101 straight regular-season games since a loss to Ohio Northern in 2005. The Raiders can clinch at least a tie for the Ohio Athletic Conference championship.

mznidar@dispatch.com

@markznidar