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Cincinnati’s Path to Access Bowl Bid and Power 5 Relevancy

It may have been the #AmericanKickoff, but the Cincinnati Bearcats certainly ruled the day(s) at the conference’s annual clambake and media day.

For the second year in a row, Tommy Tuberville’s team was dubbed the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, and this time overwhelmingly so. Cincinnati received 29 of the 30 votes to win the East division, and 22 of the 30 to win the conference championship game. Memphis was the next closest with just five votes.

“When you’re predicted to do something, it’s a recognition of the past performances of other teams,” Tuberville said of the media poll. “The target’s on our back. At Cincinnati it’s always going to be on your back, if you keep winning like we’ve been winning. We’ll accept it and use it to our advantage, and challenge our players and see what happens.”

Many probably wouldn’t realize how successful Cincinnati’s football program has been of recent, something that Tuberville didn’t shy away from mentioning. Since 2007, the Bearcats have posted a 75-29 record that includes five 10-plus win seasons and at least a share of five conference titles with only one losing season. Oh, and all of that is despite having three different head coaches and playing in two different conferences during that same span.

It’s clear that Cincinnati is one of the American’s flagship programs, and obviously one that commissioner Mike Aresco is counting on to succeed on the big stage in order to elevate the conference as a whole.

“If we look and act like the so-called Power Five, we will be in the conversation and eventually ‘Power Six’ will enter the media and public lexicon and perceptions,” said Aresco during his media day address.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Military Bowl - Cincinnati v Virginia Tech

Aresco’s goals are bold, and many would say unattainable. However, if they are to be achieved, the AAC needs to rule the one place that truly changes perceptions: the field. Looking back to last season, American teams were just 4-22 against Power Five opponents, and the Bearcats were 0-3 in such match-ups.

In fact, looking back to 2007 when Cincinnati’s run of success took off, the Bearcats are just 28-22 against teams that are now members of a Power Five conference, and that’s pretty much against some of the now mediocre to bottom-feeder teams of those conferences (i.e., Purdue, Syracuse, Illinois, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, etc.). Plus, looking back at its 75-29 record, those 28 wins against now Power Five opponents only make up 37.3 percent of Cincinnati’s overall wins since 2007, while the 22 losses account for 75.9 percent of its losses.

Also, the Bearcats are just 2-4 against Power Five opponents in bowl games since 2007, and the average margin of defeat in those games is 19.5 points. Yikes. Remember, Arresco wants to put the AAC on par with the Power Five and that’s the record of the heavily-favored team to win the conference.

So, how can Cincinnati begin changing the perception of itself and its league?

For starters, the Bearcats can handle their business within the AAC. They are favored to win it all for a reason, and it’s time they stepped out of the “9-4 record with a bad bowl loss” routine they’ve developed since Tuberville took over.

There may be a couple tricky road games against Houston and Memphis on the schedule, but with a quarterback like Gunner Kiel and the type of talent Cincinnati has on its roster, it can (and needs to) run the table in the American. That would send the ‘Cats to the American championship game, meaning they would have another quality win opportunity against the likes of Memphis, Houston or Navy.

Outside of steamrolling the American, Cincinnati desperately needs to beat Miami (FL). Besides a potential match-up with another in a bowl game, “The U” is the only Power Five opponent on UC’s schedule. The Hurricanes are a good but not great team likely to end up in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Getting that win at home is crucial for the Bearcats to not only garner some national attention, but also to prove it to themselves that they can beat name-brand teams.

Additionally, going out and defeating BYU in Provo is probably also going to be a necessity if Cincinnati hopes to earn that access bowl bid. Either that, or the Bearcats can hope that the Cougars, and teams like Boise State, Marshall and Utah State, falter along the way—something I wouldn’t exactly count on given the fairly strong track records of each to play well within its conference.

In short, Cincinnati is likely going to have to be undefeated, or MAYBE take just one loss, to be the torch-carrier Arresco needs to realize his dreams of AAC recognition at college football’s highest level. Oh, and maybe picking up a win a la UCF over Baylor in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, if that’s not asking too much.

That would give at least a little traction to the tires of Arresco’s “Power Six” wagon.

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