STORRS, Conn. (AP) A month ago, when Connecticut was 3-6 and Cincinnati had questions at quarterback, few expected this season-ending matchup to have bowl and Big East championship implications.
The Bearcats (8-3, 4-2 Big East) will have a chance for a share of their second straight conference title when they visit East Hartford Saturday to play a UConn team that is coming off upset wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville.
``To be in the hunt still is a great feeling,'' Cincinnati safety Drew Fry said. ``To potentially win another title is a great experience for us. It's definitely going to be a motivating factor.''
UConn (5-6, 2-4) also has motivation. A third straight improbable win would make the Huskies bowl eligible for the fifth time in six seasons.
``It's very easy to throw in the towel when you are 3-6 and you have three of the better teams in the league coming,'' said UConn receiver Nick Williams, who will be playing his final home game, along with 15 other Husky seniors. ``You can go home early for Christmas, and everybody is frustrated. But, for us to stick with it and beat two of the better teams in the league and have an opportunity to win our last game at home on senior day, I'm proud of that.''
The Huskies' triple-overtime victory at Papa John's Stadium last week set the stage for a jumble at the top of the Big East standings. With Louisville's win over Rutgers on Thursday, Cincinnati can tie the Scarlet Knights, the Cardinals and Syracuse with a 5-2 conference record. But because they have lost to both Louisville and Rutgers, the Bearcats have no chance to get the conference's BCS bowl berth.
``This year, there's more of a competitive balance in our conference than there's ever been,'' Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. ``And that's why I keep saying it; you have to manage your adversities. You can't be too high, you can't be too low. You just have to have a bunker mentality and go to work every day.''
Saturday's game likely will hinge on whether UConn's top-10 defense can stop Cincinnati's offense and running back George Winn. The senior already has rushed for more than 1,100 yards this season, and needs 227 to set the school's single-season record.
But the Huskies are ninth in the nation against the run, giving up just 100 yards per game. They held Louisville to 28 yards on the ground last week.
Brandon Kay, who took over the quarterback duties from Munchie Legaux last month, will start his fourth game for the Bearcats. He will have to avoid UConn defensive end Trevardo Williams, who had three sacks a week ago and has already set the school's career record (30.5).
``I feel like this is my last game,'' he said, ``and I need to put my best foot forward because this is an opportunity to get more tackles, sacks and get to a bowl game.''
UConn's quarterback situation is more of a question mark. Junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer is expected to play despite suffering a head injury against Louisville. Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni would not call it a concussion, and Whitmer returned to practice late in the week.
If he can't go, Connecticut will turn to senior walk-on Johnny McEntee, who started last year when the Huskies also were 5-6 headed into the Cincinnati game. That time, they lost, 35-24. McEntee redeemed himself a bit last week, though. He came off the bench to help give the Huskies their first ever road win against a ranked opponent, throwing a touchdown pass in the second overtime vs. the Cardinals.
``That's a memory that this team and Johnny McEntee and these seniors will have forever,'' Pasqualoni said. ``They may forget their wife's birthday, but they'll never forget that win.''
McEntee and his teammates hope there is at least one more good memory to be made.
``I just kind of realize that I'll be working in a few months,'' McEntee said. ``I just want to enjoy the last semester of college with my teammates and the guys I came in with, just do anything I can to help the team.''
A win wouldn't hurt that cause.
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.