There will likely be a new Group of Five representative in a New Year’s Six bowl game this season.
No. 18 UCF suffered its second defeat of the season Friday night in a 27-24 loss to Cincinnati. The loss to the Bearcats comes two weeks after UCF fell at unranked Pitt.
The Knights did themselves no favors on Saturday night. UCF turned the ball over four times — including one pick-six — and struggled to score when it got inside the Cincinnati 20. Freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel was rattled and ineffective as the Knights struggled to get any type of offense that didn’t involve throwing the ball to wide receiver Gabriel Davis.
UCF had a 16-10 halftime lead but Cincinnati controlled the second half. This run by Michael Warren is a great example of how the final 30 minutes went.
UCF pulled within three points with just over three minutes left and Cincy’s final possession had a bit of drama. A couple of bad spots on second and third downs left the Bearcats an inch or so short on fourth down. But a powerful QB sneak by Desmond Ridder with an assist from his running backs behind him clinched the win.
Friday night’s game was also the first time UCF failed to break the 30-point mark since 2016. The Knights last scored fewer than 30 points in a 31-13 loss to Arkansas State in the Cure Bowl at the end of the 2016 season.
The AAC is deep
UCF has been the mandatory non-Power Five team in the New Year’s Six bowl games in each of the last two seasons. In 2017, the Knights capped off an undefeated and faux-national title-winning season with a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. A year ago, UCF’s 25-game win streak came to a screeching halt in the Fiesta Bowl against LSU.
With two losses already on the docket in 2019, there’s little to no chance UCF will make it three straight NY6 bowl games. And while Cincinnati looks like a strong candidate after the win over the Knights, there are other contenders for the spot in the American Athletic Conference too.
SMU is 5-0 and is ranked for the first time in over 30 years. Tulane has been impressive and plays against Army on Saturday. A win there makes the Green Wave even more formidable. Memphis is 4-0 and Temple, yes, Temple, is 4-1. The Owls have all of UCF, Cincinnati, SMU and Memphis on the schedule. A sweep, however improbable, puts Temple into the New Year’s Six conversation.
Overall, the leader for the New Year’s Six berth shifts to the Mountain West and Boise State. The Broncos are undefeated at 4-0 and have 4-1 Hawaii and 3-1 Utah State remaining on the schedule. If Boise goes undefeated it’s a lock for the spot UCF has occupied the last two seasons. With one loss, Boise is still in the mix, though it could have competition from those other two teams in the conference.
Outside of the Mountain West and American there are a couple sleeper teams to keep an eye on. Appalachian State is 4-0 already with a win over North Carolina. The Mountaineers also play South Carolina on Nov. 9. If App State pulls the upset there and goes undefeated in the Sun Belt it would have an extremely strong case for consideration. Keep an eye on Louisiana as well. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 4-1 with a loss to Mississippi State. And, coincidentally, Louisiana plays App State on Wednesday. That game could be significant for more than Sun Belt reasons.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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