CINCINNATI — Gunner Kiel left the game unexpectedly. Munchie Legaux replaced him and kept the offense moving. A defense that grew up fast held on at the end.
The Bearcats followed that script so often during the second half of the season — all the way to a title celebration.
Kiel threw for two scores before leaving with leg cramps and Mike Boone ran for three touchdowns Saturday as Cincinnati defeated Houston 38-31 and clinched a share of the American Athletic Conference championship.
The Bearcats forged a three-way tie for the title with Memphis and UCF at 7-1 in the conference. Cincinnati ended on a seven-game winning streak to earn at least a share of a league crown for the sixth time in eight seasons, dating to the Big East era.
"Seven straight wins to win a conference, and knowing we had to win them all," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It's hard to win a championship in college football."
Greg Ward ran 40 yards for a touchdown and threw for two more in the second half and Houston drove to the Cincinnati 11-yard line in the closing seconds, but Ward threw three incompletions as time ran out.
"The year started rough," Cincinnati linebacker Nick Temple said. "We finally got it together midway through the season. The defense started rocking and here it is, a conference championship."
SMU 27, UConn 20: The visiting Mustangs took two penalties while trying to line up in victory formation and run out the clock. It's hard to blame them; that's not a formation with which they were familiar. Quarterback Matt Davis ran for 191 yards and a touchdown and threw for another 145 yards to lead SMU to its only win of the season. Prescott Line added 90 yards rushing and two second-half touchdowns as SMU snapped a 13-game losing streak. "That locker room, it was like winning the damn national championship," said interim coach Tom Mason, who coached his final game after seven years as SMU's defensive coordinator. SMU hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris on Monday to take over the program, but he did not make the trip to East Hartford, Conn., to see the Mustangs play.
Temple 10, Tulane 3: Romond Deloatch caught an 8-yard touchdown from P.J. Walker in the fourth quarter for the visiting Owls, who became bowl eligible.