UCF draws Baylor in Fiesta Bowl - Part 1
The Sports Xchange
NCAAF Team Report - Cincinnati - INSIDE SLANT
American Athletic Conference didn't quite fill its bowl allotment in its inaugural season, as only five of the league's 10 teams secured the necessary six wins to become eligible. However, the league did get some attractive postseason matchups that will give it the chance to prove its mettle following its first season.
As expected, league champion Central Florida was sent to the Fiesta Bowl. It'll take on Baylor on New Year's Day. The Bears locked up the Big 12 title by knocking off Texas in the regular-season finale, and the break between games will allow it to get some key players healthy. Still, the Knights aren't complaining -- it's the first BCS bowl in program history.
Louisville began the season assuming it would be the big-time team in the AAC, and Charlie Strong did some mild lobbying for his team's chances at securing an at-large BCS selection. But that was never really realistic, and the Cardinals will take on Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28. This game could be a league game for the Cardinals next year, as they will be joining the Hurricanes in the ACC.
Two other AAC teams share the stage on Dec. 28. Cincinnati's heading back to the Belk Bowl, and it once again faces a home-field disadvantage. The Bearcats will take on North Carolina, and the Tar Heels' Chapel Hill campus is an easy drive to the bowl destination of Charlotte, N.C. Of course, the same was true for Duke a year ago, and the Bearcats knocked off the Blue Devils 48-24.
Rutgers barely became bowl-eligible at all, but somehow wound up with one of the most attractive matchups. The Scarlet Knights face Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City. It'll do so with three new assistants, however, as defensive coordinator Dave Cohen was one of three coaches relieved of his duties following the regular-season finale.
Houston caps off the AAC bowl teams. It'll play Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4 in Birmingham, Ala. The Cougars faded late, but still bring one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the country to the table in John O'Korn.
That leaves the AAC with two games against ACC teams, one against the Big 12, one against the SEC and one against the Fighting Irish. It'll give everyone a good sense of how the conference relates to the more prominent leagues by the time 2014 rolls around.
CENTRAL FLORIDA (11-1)
Game: Central Florida 17, Southern Methodist 13. The Knights again had to come back in the second half against a team with a losing record, and again got the job done. Blake Bortles's touchdown run in the third quarter put UCF in front for good.
Takeaways: Central Florida had already locked up a spot in a BCS bowl when it took the field on Saturday, but it won the league title outright and capped off an undefeated American Athletic Conference campaign by knocking off SMU in the regular-season finale.
The road game, which at 24 degrees was the coldest in franchise history, saw the defense take charge on a day when the offense was silent much of the 60 minutes, apart from a quick burst when UCF sped up the pace and took a 17-13 lead.
That was it offensively for the Knights, but the defense dominated down the stretch, with three fourth-down stops and an interception in the fourth quarter to end the Mustangs chances at a bowl bid. Central Florida earned a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where it takes on Baylor.
Next: Vs. Baylor at the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1.
Game: Louisville 31, Cincinnati 24. The Bearcats dropped a heartbreaker to the Cardinals, falling by a touchdown in overtime. Cincinnati forced the extra session with a 26-yard field goal by Tony Miliano, but allowed the Cardinals to score a touchdown on the first series of overtime and couldn't move the ball on its own possession.
Takeaways: Cincinnati nearly won the Keg of Nails for what could be the final time in years, but after forcing overtime in the final seconds of regulation, the Bearcats went quietly in overtime and fell 31-24 to the Cardinals.
"Our guys fought hard and we come up a play short," Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I didn't want that thing to go into overtime. I came close to not even going for it on fourth and five down there. But you got to give yourself a chance at home and again you have to believe in your players and I still believe in them even though we came up a little short. It was an overall team game. Our offense and defense made some big plays and they did the same thing they just made a couple more than we did."