Cincinnati at Louisville (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Though these teams have played only three league games between them, Cincinnati and Louisville will battle for a share of first place in the Big East tonight. Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0 Big East) comes in smarting after a 29-23 loss at Toledo while Louisville (7-0, 2-0 Big East) is one of 10 undefeated teams left in FBS and ranked No. 16 in the BCS Standings.
Charlie Strong’s team has masterfully executed a season-long tightrope walk to remain unscathed with four of their last five wins still in doubt until the final horn sounded. The Cardinals have struggled to play above their competition all season, allowing North Carolina to fight back from a 39-14 fourth quarter deficit before a 39-34 decision, holding off 1-7 Florida International in a 28-21 win, needing a 15 unanswered points to defeat winless Southern Miss 21-17 and requiring late touchdown pass and a red zone interception to last-place South Florida, 27-25. Louisville should give its best effort tonight but it’s only a matter of time before a coinflip game doesn’t bounce their way.
Cincinnati has won with defense this season, ranking in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense at 16.8 points allowed per game. Butch Jones’ team has played its best defense in the red zone, where they rank 12th in the country and have allowed only six touchdowns in 17 trips. On the year the Bearcats, led by co-coordinators Steve Stripling and John Jancek, have played effective bend-but-don’t-break defense by holding opponents to as many field goals (10) as touchdowns. Compare that to Louisville, which has given up 21 touchdowns and two field goals this season.
The success, or lack thereof, of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Cincinnati signal caller Munchie Legaux will likely decide the game. Bridgewater leads the Big East in passing efficiency (165.21) while averaging 9.01 yards per attempt to go with 11 touchdowns against three picks. Legaux matched his season high with two interceptions in last week’s loss. The first was returned 75 yards for a touchdown, and the second ended any hopes Cincinnati had of a last-gasp comeback.
Nevada at Air Force (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
With the way these teams run the ball, this game may be over in time for those in attendance to catch a late dinner and movie. Going strictly by each team’s season averages, the Falcons and Wolf Pack will combine for 112 rushes for just under 625 total yards. Neither team is particularly adept at stopping the run; Nevada (4.37 yards per rush allowed) is slightly better at stopping the run than Air Force’s 5.36 yards per rush allowed.
Nevada’s biggest advantage comes from its offensive balance. Chris Ault’s team throws the ball for nearly 270 yards per game with 16 touchdowns against just four picks while picking up 8.25 yards per attempt. Troy Calhoun’s team makes almost no effort to throw the ball, but often find success when they do. With just 74 passes this season (only two more than Army for the fewest in FBS), the Falcons are one of three teams averaging a first down with every pass, trailing just NCAA-leading Baylor and fellow triple option devotee Georgia Tech at 10.49 yards per pass. Air Force has also thrown for six scores, five of which have come from 35 yards or further.
One key mistake could decide this game as both teams will struggle to get the opposing offense off the field. Air Force leads the country by converting nearly 57 percent of its third downs, while Nevada ranks ninth at nearly 53 percent. Conversely, both squads rank in the bottom 20 nationally in third down defense.
Like its counterpart, this game also has implications on the conference title chase. Each squad stands at 3-1 in Mountain West in a group of four teams chasing first-place Boise State.