The Cincinnati Bearcats have waited nearly a full calendar year for a shot at payback.
The opportunity arrives Saturday afternoon when No. 7 Cincinnati hosts Memphis in a crucial American Athletic Conference game.
Cincinnati (4-0, 2-0 AAC) has emerged as a mid-season threat to potentially crash the College Football Playoff, but fourth-year coach Luke Fickell would rather focus on the Tigers. The Bearcats have their highest national ranking since the 2009 season, when future Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly took Cincinnati to the Sugar Bowl and a No. 4 spot in the final polls.
Fickell said he isn't thinking about the CFP yet.
"When you get to the end of the season," Fickell said. "All those things are great for the media, great for TV shows and things like that. ... Truly, inside the walls of our locker room, it doesn't do anything for you."
Memphis (3-1, 2-1) won't have to deal with a rowdy road atmosphere, as Cincinnati won't have fans in attendance aside from family of players and staff due to protocols from the COVID-19 pandemic. But coach Ryan Silverfield said he still expects his Tigers will be walking into a proverbial lion's den.
"This is probably a game they had circled on their calendar," Silverfield said. "If you're them and I'm them, it's probably up in their weight room, this game circled, the Memphis logo on there somewhere. I'm sure their kids are pissed off, and rightfully so."
Cincinnati finished 11-3 in 2019, and two of the losses came at Memphis in back-to-back weeks. The Tigers, 12-2 in 2019, beat the Bearcats 34-24 in the regular-season finale, then won again 29-24 in the rematch one week later in the AAC championship game.
"We have a pretty good grasp on who they are and what they do," Fickell said. "We need to find a way to finish.
"Two times last year, we didn't."
Cincinnati has had no issues finishing foes in 2020 behind a stingy defense and a play-making quarterback. The Bearcats rank 10th nationally in scoring defense with an average of 12.5 points allowed per game. UC's closest game has been a 14-point home win over Army.
And quarterback Desmond Ridder has been handling the rest. He's thrown for 723 yards and seven touchdowns this season, but has rushed for 250 yards while averaging 10.9 yards per carry. Last week in a 42-13 rout at SMU, Ridder ran for career highs of 179 yards and three scores while throwing for 126 yards and a fourth TD.
The Tigers counter with an offense putting up 38.8 points a game (16th nationally) and 548.8 yards (fifth) per game. Quarterback Brady White is dealing with a drastically different supporting cast from last season, but he still has thrown for 1,375 yards and 17 touchdowns in just four games.
Memphis hasn't beaten a top 10 opponent since knocking off Tennessee in 1996. But the Tigers have won five in a row against Cincinnati and haven't lost at Nippert Stadium since 2004.
"Do we sit here and talk about what occurred in the past? No, but they understand a lot of chips are on the table for this one," Silverfield said. "I think our guys will be up for that challenge."
--Field Level Media