It may be a stretch to suggest that Tulane’s game on Friday at Cincinnati is the school’s biggest since beating Temple 20-14 in the 1935 Sugar Bowl.
However, the importance of this American Athletic Conference showdown can’t be stressed enough.
Both No. 19 Tulane and No. 21 Cincinnati are 9-2 overall and 6-1 and tied for first place in the AAC. The winner of Friday’s noon game will clinch the regular season conference title and host the AAC championship game on Dec. 3.
Besides Cincinnati and Tulane, UCF and Houston are 5-2 in the AAC and are still alive to earn the second spot in the title game.
With the various tiebreakers, the loser of the Cincinnati-Tulane game would not be favored to earn the second spot. So the Cincinnati-Tulane game is really like a championship matchup.
Also at stake is a chance to stay alive for a potential New Year’s Six bowl game as the highest-ranked non-Power Five team.
Cincinnati is seeking its fourth straight appearance in the AAC title game and third straight championship.
This is new territory for Tulane, which has not appeared in the AAC title game since the conference began holding one in 2015. In fact, Tulane is looking for its first conference title since 1998, when the Green Wave went 12-0, 6-0 to win the Conference USA title. Another little tidbit is that if Tulane beats Cincinnati, it would be its most conference wins since going 8-0 in the SEC during the 1934 season (the year the Green Wave beat Temple in that memorable Sugar Bowl).
Anyway, enough about old history.
Tulane is looking to be the host school in the AAC championship after the Green Wave bounced back from their lone conference loss to UCF with last week’s 59-24 pounding of SMU.
Quarterback Michael Pratt had three touchdown passes and ran for three others.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati quarterback situation isn’t as rosy.
In Saturday’s 23-3 win at Temple, Bearcats starting quarterback Ben Bryant left the game for good in the second quarter after suffering a foot injury. Backup Evan Prater, who is highly regarded, but hasn’t seen a lot of playing time, completed 12 of 17 passes for 127 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions in relief.
He has only attempted 36 career passes.
Regardless of who plays quarterback, Tulane has to worry about itself. (Plus the Green Wave are no doubt happy that Desmond Ridder, now with the Atlanta Falcons, used up his eligibility at Cincinnati).
Tulane also has to feel good about how it bounced back from a 38-31 home loss to UCF, to pound an SMU team that was still in contention for an AAC playoff berth but has now been eliminated.
This season, Tulane has been the story in the AAC. The Green Wave were picked to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason poll.
And really who could have blamed the prognosticators?
After three straight bowl seasons, Tulane stumbled to 2-10 last year.
There weren’t many who would have thought that coach Willie Fritz’s Green Wave would be playing for first place during the final game of the regular season.
Tulane showed that this might be a major rebound season in its third game when the Green Wave won 17-10 at Kansas State, a team that will earn a berth in the Big 12 championship game with a win on Saturday against Kansas. K-State is ranked 15th in this week’s AP poll.
After that win over Kansas State, Tulane then lost the following week 27-24 to Southern Mississippi before winning five in a row before the loss to UCF.
It’s interesting how statistically close the Bearcats and Green Wave are.
Tulane is leading the AAC in scoring defense, allowing 19.5 points, but Cincinnati is tied for second at 19.7. The Green Wave are fourth in the AAC in scoring offense (35.1 ppg.) while Cincinnati is sixth (31.7 ppg.).
Cincinnati must stop hot Tulane running back Tyjae Spears, who has rushed for 100 or more yards in five consecutive games. Recent history gives the nod to the Bearcats, who have won 32 in a row at Nippert Stadium, but Tulane deserves more than a puncher’s chance.
BetMGM has Cincinnati as a 2.5-point favorite.
That shows how close this game is expected to be and Tulane will look to make history, while Cincinnati will be attempting to continue writing its own history before departing next season for the Big 12.