By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Sometime late Thursday night, when Southern Miss put the finishing touches on its defeat of previously unbeaten TCU, the University of Cincinnati football team saw its bowl hopes dwindle to practically nothing.
The Bearcats, who entered the season as defending Conference USA co-champions, have known for several weeks that they will not repeat. Now they're virtually certain that their string of three straight bowl games has ended.
UC (5-5, 2-4 Conference USA) takes on Memphis (7-3, 4-2) at 2 p.m. today in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.
Lopsided victories over the Tigers and next week against Louisville conceivably could put UC back in the mix, but even that's unlikely.
All that realistically is left for the Bearcats to play for in their next two games is to avoid their first losing season since 1999, which would be their third in the last six years.
Memphis, which has lost three straight to UC, has won its last four games, including last week's 37-7 victory at Louisville by an average score of 41-13.
"They're a team on a roll right now," UC coach Rick Minter said. "They're in the groove right now of moving the ball quite well on people."
C-USA has five bowl tie-ins. The champion goes to the Liberty Bowl. After that, the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala., has the second choice.
The other three bowls - the Hawaii Bowl, New Orleans Bowl and Fort Worth Bowl - then choose from among the bowl-eligible teams in the league based on regional and matchup considerations.
TCU, Southern Miss, Memphis, Houston and Louisville are all bowl-eligible. UC needs one more win to qualify.
Memphis, under third-year head coach Tommy West, appears headed for its first bowl game since 1971, having engineered a turnaround from last year's 3-9 record.
The Tigers rank first in C-USA offensively, with 467 yards a game, and second defensively, allowing 304 yards a game.
Their offense revolves around sophomore tailback DeAngelo Williams, who already has broken the school's single-season rushing record with 1,294 yards. He leads the nation with 191 all-purpose yards per game and ranks fourth in rushing with 129 yards a game.
Junior quarterback Danny Wimprine is the school's career passing leader.
A victory today would give Memphis consecutive victories over longtime rivals Louisville and UC, the two C-USA schools that were selected ahead of them for membership in the higher-profile Big East Conference.
"There's a lot of talk down there that they got snubbed by the Big East," Minter said, "so they're trying to make a point of that."
Cincinnati vs. Memphis
Kickoff: 2 p.m. today, Liberty Bowl (62,380), Memphis, Tenn.
Records: UC 5-5 (2-4 Conference USA), Memphis 7-3 (4-2).
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
Line: Memphis by 10.
What to watch: Sophomore running back DeAngelo Williams leads the nation with 190.7 all-purpose yards a game. He ranks fourth in rushing with 129.4 yards a game.
|UC||Team stats ||Mem|
|175||Avg. by rush||192|
|213||Avg. by pass||275|
|125||Avg. by rush||126|
|191||Avg. by pass||182|
|25||Avg. pts. for||33|
|25||Avg. pts. against||20|
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