No. 7 Cincinnati stays unbeaten with 36-33 win over UCF

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
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ORLANDO, Fla. — No. 7 Cincinnati found itself in a four-quarter struggle for the first time all season and Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats showed they can take a punch.

Ridder threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores as Cincinnati defeated Central Florida 36-33 Saturday to head into the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings unbeaten.

The Bearcats (8-0, 6-0 American) fell behind 14-3 in the first quarter against their toughest opponent yet, but grabbed the lead by halftime.

“What a hard, hard-fought game,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “That is a really good football team, that on senior night gave us everything we could handle.”

Dillon Gabriel threw for 243 yards, three touchdowns and one interception as the Knights (5-3, 4-3) lost at home for the second time this season.

UCF took a 25-22 lead in the third quarter with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Gabriel to Marlon Williams.

“Burn this one, quick turnaround,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said. “We’ve got a trophy game (Friday against USF), our guys will be ready to play.”

The interception Gabriel threw was costly for UCF.

Bearcats safety Darrick Forest picked off Gabriel’s pass early in the fourth quarter and returned it 20 yards to the Knights’ 16. Four plays later, a 1-yard sneak by Ridder gave UC a 29-25 lead with 13:07 remaining.

Rider passed for 338 yards and ran for 57.

“He’s just a baller, he shows up ready to go every game,” Taylor said of Ridder. “He’s a winner. He’s a competitor and when we go out there we’re behind him.”

Cincinnati used 10 plays to go 71 yards on its next possession to go up two scores. The Bearcats converted a fourth-and-1 at the UCF 26 and three plays later Ridder threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Taylor for a 36-25 lead with 7:15 remaining.

UCF made it 36-33 with 4:27 remaining on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gabriel to Jaylon Robinson and a 2-point conversion pass to Jacob Harris

“I thought our kids responded and continued to compete and handled the ups and downs of the football game,” Heupel said. “We’re not far off from being a really good football team.”

The Bearcats ran down all but one second of the clock, trying not score down near the goal line. Cincinnati was cutting it close and then an errant snap on fourth down gave everyone a jolt, but was recovered by Ridder. The Knights got one play from their 8 that went nowhere.

The first CFP rankings come out Tuesday night and the Bearcats are hoping to become the first team from outside the Power Five conferences to crack the top-10 in the selection committee’s first top 25 of the season.

“We want to have an opportunity to win a championship,” Fickell said. “Every win gives us an opportunity to state our case.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Cincinnati: The Bearcats are 8-0 for the first time since 2009, when they finished the regular season 12-0 and went to the Sugar Bowl.

UCF: The Knights have lost more conference games this season than the past three combined but they have come by a combined 12 points. UCF has led by double-digits in each of its loses.

CALLING HIS SHOT

Before Forrest’s interception, he went around telling teammates that he thought it might happen.

“Right at the switch of the fourth quarter I kept telling everybody ‘I might get an interception’ and then I got the interception,” Forrest said.” Everyone was riled up when it happened. It was a huge moment, we went down and scored right after that so it was a momentum changer.”

NO TIME FOR TV

Fickell isn’t sure if he is going to watch the CFP rankings show on Tuesday and joked that he might schedule a practice at that time to keep the team focused.

“Probably won’t be something I bring up to them,” Fickell said. “I know we’re still in the hunt to win a championship. If they don’t like (the ranking), they can carry that chip and do something about it.”

EXTRA POINTS

Cincinnati is 8-0 for the fourth time in school history. … After averaging 417.7 yards passing in his first six games, Gabriel has thrown for under 300 yards in consecutive games. … UCF came into the game leading the country in yards per game at 619 but managed just 359 against the Bearcats, who held the ball for 37 minutes.

UP NEXT

Cincinnati is at Temple next Saturday.

UCF will close out its regular season at USF on Friday.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.