CINCINNATI (AP) — The schedule makers for the first American Athletic Conference season came up with quite an ending: Louisville at Cincinnati with so much at stake.
Instead, about the only thing at stake on Thursday night at Nippert Stadium will be a big old keg that’s the traveling trophy for a long-standing Ohio River football rivalry that’s going away after the game.
“Both Louisville and ourselves would love to be undefeated, which we were all counting on at the beginning of the year at this point in deciding the conference championship,” Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We still have something to say about it, but we can’t control it.”
Article continues below ...
No. 19 Louisville (10-1, 6-1) claimed the final Big East football title last season and beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals were favored to add the first AAC title before moving on to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.
Instead, Central Florida upset them in Louisville and has remained perfect in conference play, eliminating the Cardinals from contention for the league’s BCS berth.
“I don’t think it’s deflating, because you’re looking at a team right now who’s won 10 games,” coach Charlie Strong said. “We’re going to get to another bowl game, but you can’t take away what we’ve already accomplished with 10 wins.”
Cincinnati (9-2, 6-1) doesn’t play Central Florida and has only a slim chance of jumping ahead for the BCS bowl. The Bearcats would have to beat Louisville and have Central Florida lose to SMU. Then they’d have to finish higher than Central Florida in the final BCS rankings.
Not likely. So both teams are playing mainly for the chance to hold onto the “Keg of Nails” for the foreseeable future.
“Whoever wins this one gets the keg for a little bit,” Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay said.
Five things to watch on Thursday night:
KAY’S FAREWELL: The sixth-year senior will play his final game at Nippert Stadium. He’s been the key to Cincinnati’s six-game winning streak. Over the past 25 quarters, Kay has completed 72 percent of his passes for 2,126 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“We’ve been talking about it all week, myself and a few other guys,” Kay said. “It’s the last go-around at (Nippert). For a long time, that’s where we practiced, did our conditioning — that’s where we did everything.”
BRIDGEWATER & BROWN: Teddy Bridgewater had his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass snapped at 21 during a 24-17 win over Memphis in the last game. It’s not all on him on Thursday. Junior Dominique Brown, a Cincinnati native, ran for a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Houston two weeks ago. Brown has two 100-yard games this season and three in his career. He’s run for 704 yards and seven touchdowns. OH THOSE DEFENSES: It could be a low-scoring game, given the weather forecast — wind and rain — and the rankings of the two defenses. Louisville ranks second in the country in total defense, allowing 242.5 yards per game, and third in scoring defense, giving up 11.4 points. Cincinnati is eighth in yards at 302 and 10th in points at 18.5.
ABOUT THAT WEATHER: The teams played in heavy rain in Louisville last season, with the Cardinals winning in overtime 34-31. More rain is expected on Thursday as a storm moves through the region, so there’s a chance that a slip with the ball here or there could decide it.
“It won’t be a detriment to either team, unless it’s just a toad strangler,” Tuberville said, using a term for a downpour. “And I hope turnovers wouldn’t decide the game in a game like this, but sometimes you can’t avoid it.”
THE KEG’S RESTING PLACE: The keg doesn’t actually contain nails. And nobody knows exactly who introduced it — a fraternity is the best guess. But the winner on Thursday will get to keep the memento of a rivalry that has been played since 1929 and has covered the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference USA, the Big East and the AAC.
“I think (Kentucky) is our biggest rival, but I think Cincinnati is right there with them with the guys we recruit, the areas we recruit, the conference we play in,” Louisville center Jake Smith said. “The way that the rivalry has worked out these past few years, and the way that some of the games have transpired, I think it really plays into the whole situation.”