Several months ago, even though the season had not started, AAC football suffered its first fumble. It came not on a field of play, but in the league’s offices in Providence, R.I.
League officials knew way back in March that Temple and Cincinnati were going to be among the better teams in the league, but went ahead and scheduled the game for the second week of the season anyway. That’s too bad, because the calendar says the AAC championship football game is scheduled for Dec. 5 in an as-yet unnamed location. Calendars cannot speak, but at least this time the calendar lied. All signs point to the winner of this game (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN News) as the favorite to come away with the league’s championship.
Had the game been scheduled closer to the end, not the beginning, of the season, it would not have been buried on a lower-tier ESPN network but exposed to more eyeballs on one of the two flagships. For fans willing to make an effort to find it, though, the game should be one of the most entertaining of the season in any league. Cincinnati came into the year as the favorite to win the AAC East, and the winner of the East plays the AAC West champion for the overall title. Taking that thought process a step further, if Memphis—as expected—were to win the West, they would probably be an underdog to both the Owls and the Bearcats so the importance of this game cannot be understated.
Even without the above narrative, this is an intriguing matchup of counter-punchers in that it pits the league’s top defense, Temple, against the league’s top offense, Cincinnati. The game will probably be determined by which of the weaker sides of the ball have improved more, the Owls’ offense or the Bearcats’ defense. The Bearcats’ major advantage is having arguably the league’s best player, quarterback Gunner Kiel.
Temple has proven to be the league’s most ready for prime time team, having pummeled two members of the power five in the last two seasons. The Owls came away with a SEC scalp last year, a 37-7 win at Vanderbilt, and added a Big 10 one this year in a 27-10 win over Penn State last week. In that same time frame, Cincinnati’s only win over a power-five team was 42-7 over Big 10 member Purdue a year ago. It’s hard to tell anything about the Bearcats, who beat overmatched Alabama A&M, 52-10, last week. The Bulldogs were 4-8 at the FCS level a year ago.
There were signs last week that the Owls did more to fix their offense than the Bearcats have to fix their defense, as Jahad Thomas rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries in the win over Penn State, and quarterback P.J. Walker, rejuvenated by the return of wide receiver Robby Anderson and the addition of four-star Pitt transfer Adonis Jennings, went 15-for-20 in the passing game.
Whether that is enough to overcome a home-field advantage is the key question in a game where the key answer probably means a championship for the winner. Too bad it will not get the TV eyeballs it deserves.