Cincinnati vs. UCF: Knights Get Last Laugh Over Bearcats in AAC Finale
ORLANDO, FL — In their final game as American Athletic Conference rivals before leaving for the Big 12, the host UCF Knights gave two-time defending conference champion №20 Cincinnati Bearcats a proper parting gift in a 25–21 loss.
The win, which snapped the Bearcat’s 19-game conference winning streak, was UCF’s first win over Cincinnati since 2018.
The two programs, which helped put the American Athletic Conference on the college football map, have a combined four conference titles (UCF: 2017–18, Cincinnati: 2020–21), one claimed national title (UCF: 2017), two New Years Six wins (UCF: 2014, 2018) and four wins apiece against each other, leave for the Big 12 in 2023 joining BYU and Houston in a new-look and revamped conference.
Headquartered in Irving, TX, the heavily Texas-based conference, thanks to recent additions such as West Virginia, now reaches up into Big 10 country in the Queen City and as far east as Central Florida, deep in the heart of the SEC.
It’s no coincidence that both Cincinnati and UCF are within striking distance of college football powerhouses Ohio State and Florida, as both now give the rebuilt Big XII a strategic foothold in the proverbial backyard of both.
No more questions about who they play, the strength of their schedule, or even where they are located. There will be no more snotty elitism from smug Buckeye and Gator fans about their conference and who’s on their schedule.
Both schools are now on an equal playing field in terms of recruiting, as they can offer immediate playing time and a chance to win a national title, as opposed to having to sit on the bench and jump into the transfer portal.
For an eternity, Ohio State had the pick of the litter in being the only game in town to recruit Ohio virtually unchallenged as the only Power Five program.
Now with Cincinnati going to the Big XII and the job that head coach — and former DT and head coach — Luke Fickell has done in recently leading the Bearcats to the program’s first-ever Cotton Bowl, now UC can at least put a dent in Ohio State’s hold on in-state talent.
In the case of UCF, by far the youngest of the Florida schools — as Central Florida was founded in 1968 and began D1 football in 1998–they have always been looked down upon by the likes of Miami, Florida, and Florida State.
While some will dismiss the Knight’s eye-opening 29–17 blowout win over Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl, due to the Gators resting key players, UCF got a shot in the arm in both recruiting and respect.
In terms of what happened on the field Saturday evening, while the game started slow, the end of the third quarter and final period saw four lead changes, capped off by tailback RJ Harvey’s game-winning 17-yard touchdown rush with 48 seconds left.
After coming in for an injured John Rhys Plumlee, backup Mikey Keene showed great poise in running the Knights’ offense, completing 15/21 passes for 176 yards. While it remains to be seen if this will lead to a potential QB controversy, Keene’s performance warrants a closer look if Plumlee isn’t 100 percent.
For the Bearcats, QB Ben Bryant struggled despite completing 25/45 passes for 298 yards in getting sacked four times, including getting stripped by Knights edge rusher Josh Celiscar in the waning moments of the game.
While Saturday’s game lacked the electricity of the famed nationally televised ’18 game, there was the same juice, and competitive fire played between these two rivals. If this is a preview of what will come in the burgeoning UCF-Cincy rivalry, expect many more great ones between these two schools in the Big XII for years to come.
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