PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The important number for No. 20 Cincinnati in its first game as a ranked team is the line against Temple: 3½.
The Owls are 3½-point favorites against the undefeated Bearcats. The game will be played at Lincoln Financial Field, the Philly stadium where the Owls (4-3, 3-0 American Athletic) have already lost twice.
Sure, the Bearcats are 6-0, a nice record for any team, but the question has been raised — who have they beaten?
Alabama! (A&M, not the Crimson Tide).
Ohio! (Bobcats, not the Buckeyes).
But there's not much of an asterisk on the record attached to anyone connected with a Cincinnati program that is bowl eligible for the first time since 2015 and playing as a ranked team for the first time since October 2012.
The good times are rolling for the Bearcats, and they might have to enjoy them while they last. They're not even the class the American Athletic Conference: No. 10 UFC, Houston and South Florida all might be better than Cincinnati.
Bearcats coach Luke Fickell knows teams are coming at them.
"I think that's what we want our guys to understand as opposed to how they feel about being ranked, the praise and the pats on the back and what the alumni and fans think about it," he said. "The reason we don't ignore it is we want our guys to understand it does put more of a bullseye on your back. Being 6-0 and still talked about as an undefeated team makes it more important for the other team as well."
The Bearcats are one of eight unbeaten teams left in the FBS — three of them are in the American Athletic (along with UCF and South Florida). They've been comeback kids to reach that midseason milestone. The Bearcats trailed by 10 points at UCLA, 21 points against Ohio, seven at UConn and four against Tulane before rallying for wins.
The stirring wins have caused a buzz around the Bearcats' program for the first time in years.
"There's a lot more satisfied people around campus, a lot more smiles, they want to talk about football more," defensive Corteze Brown. "When you see that, it gives you some energy. Winning is different in that aspect than it has been."
Winning is winning, but the Bearcats haven't beaten a team with a winning record. Their only two AAC wins are against lowly Tulane and UConn.
Here are other items of note for Saturday's game:
GIVE A HOOT
There's a traffic alert posted on the team's website because of overlapping Flyers and 76ers games at the sports complex. But maybe some fans want to watch the Owls.
After dropping home games against Villanova and Buffalo to open the season, Temple has won four of five and remains unbeaten in the AAC. Another reason the Owls could be favored? Temple has won three straight in the series, outscoring Cincinnati 103-63.
"We understand Cincinnati is a good football team," coach Geoff Collins said.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder took over during Cincinnati's opener against UCLA and led the Bearcats to a 26-17 win, earning the job along the way. He's completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,062 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He'll be facing a defense that has returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns and ranks fifth nationally in pass defense. The Owls have allowed only six completions of at least 20 yards.
"He has taken the bull by the horns and has never relinquished it," Fickell said. "I don't mean just by his play, but his attitude, how he prepares, his ability to lead and make others better. We're seeing a growth from Desmond every day in all the little things and understanding the game and the nuances."
The Bearcats have remained one of eight unbeaten FBS teams — and one of three in the AAC — by repeatedly rallying. Their close call against Ohio — they needed an interception in the end zone in the closing seconds to seal a 34-30 win — showed how they've been walking a fine line.
"Success? You can take it two ways," senior defensive tackle Cortez Broughton said. "You can go up or down. You've got to want to get better and crave a win more. One of the biggest things for us is not to get complacent."
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