Cincinnati and Tulane each have unique histories. The Bearcats have bounced around conferences throughout their history, competing in leagues like the MAC, the Missouri Valley, and Conference USA before eventually graduating to the Big East. Of course, conferences eventually collapse and so Cincinnati finds itself in The American. They’re joined by Tulane.
For more than three decades, the Green Wave had it made. They were a charter member of the SEC in 1932. In the summer of 1966 they left to go independent before becoming a charter member of the Metro Conference with UC a decade later. (The Metro later joined forces with the Great Midwest to create Conference USA. Try to keep up.)
Tulane, athletically-speaking, might be The American’s quaintest school. Devlin Fieldhouse, where the basketball team plays, was built in 1931 and seats just 4,100 fans. They’ve been playing basketball since 1905 yet have made the tournament just three times, and not since 1995. The football team plays in newly-built Yulman Stadium, which seats 30,000 and looks like a soccer stadium. The Green Wave football team has one conference championship to its name since 1949.
Ultimately, the reason Tulane left the SEC, continues to be bad at sports, yet was invited to The American, is simple: Academics. Tulane is a great school, but you have to wonder what things would be like if they’d stayed in the SEC.
Saturday’s matchup at Nippert pits programs with a combined six-year streak of losing seasons against each other. It’s a conference matchup between two teams who’d probably like to be back where they once were. In my mind, there’s an alternate reality where the ‘Cats and the Wave are meeting in a premiere non-conference game.
What might have been.
All-time series record: Tulane leads, 11-5
First meeting: 1909
Last meeting: 2017
Current streak: Cincinnati, 2 in a row
Record in Cincinnati: Tulane leads, 4-2
Streak in Cincinnati: Cincinnati won the last meeting
November 6, 1909—Tulane 6, Cincinnati 0
The first meeting between the schools took place on Tulane’s campus in 1909. As the score might indicate, it was an ugly affair, with “neither team seeming to be able to teamwork, and fumbles were frequent.” Tulane ultimately broke through with a long pass to score the game’s only points.
November 20, 1948—Tulane 6, Cincinnati 0
The series’ first meeting in Cincinnati came at Nippert Stadium in 1948 and featured yet another 6-0 final in favor of Tulane.
The game was allegedly marred by some controversy. As the Bearcats were driving the field late in the fourth quarter, they were approaching the Tulane red zone, looking to tie or take the lead. On a fourth down conversion, it appeared the Bearcats moved the chains, but after digging the ball out from underneath a pile of players, an unfavorable spot meant UC was just short of the line to gain. Tulane took over on downs and ran out the clock.
A crowd of 15,000 people packed a chilly Nippert Stadium to watch the Bearcats nearly upset a very good Tulane team that would finish 9-1 and #13 in the AP Poll.
September 11, 1976—Cincinnati 21, Tulane 14
It’s probably no coincidence that Cincinnati’s first win in the series came after Tulane left the SEC. By 1976, the Green Wave had long since cooled off from their days of dominance, and—apart from a couple of random 8- and 9-win seasons early in the decade—were not much of a force to be reckoned with.
This game opened the 1976 season, shortly after UC and Tulane had joined the same conference—the Metro—in non-football sports. In some sense, this is the first conference matchup between the two, and UC got a big victory.
After Cincinnati took a 14-0 lead into the half despite a flurry of missed field goals, Tulane came back to even things up late in the third quarter before another Bearcat touchdown put it away in the fourth.
The Bearcats would go on to finish 9-2 that year, a win total they wouldn’t match until 2007. Tulane finished 2-9.
October 27, 1990—Tulane 49, Cincinnati 7
Cincinnati faces Tulane for just the second time since 1977. The Green Wave were bad this year—finishing 4-7. Cincinnati was worse, winding up at 1-10 with only a three-point victory over Kent State saving them from a winless season.
Tulane played at the Superdome at the time, so I can only imagine what the environment was like with one bad team beating the crap out of another. It was homecoming and a reported crowd of 22,000 piled into a stadium with a capacity of more than 74,000.
The Bearcats trailed 35-7 at the half. After the break, they had the ball for 16 of 17 plays to start the half, yet failed to score. Then freshman starting QB Paul Anderson got hurt and was replaced by a different freshman. 1990 UC football sounds fun.
The Bearcats lost the game handily, and after two wins against the Green Wave in three years, things got lopsided again. The 1990 matchup was the first of five consecutive Tulane victories.
October 12, 2002—Tulane 35, Cincinnati 17
The last matchup between Cincinnati and Tulane as Conference USA rivals.
Green Wave QB J.P. Losman outscored the Bearcats himself by passing for two touchdowns and running for another. His couterpart in red and black, Gino Guidugli, threw three interceptions and a pick six before a late injury wiped him out of the game.
The win gave Tulane an 11-3 series lead, but Cincinnati’s eventual departure from Conference USA mercifully brought the matchup to a close.
October 31, 2014—Cincinnati 38, Tulane 14
Cincinnati and Tulane make their long-awaited return as conference foes.
The game included an emotional wrinkle for the Bearcats. QB Munchie Legaux suffered a horrific knee injury against Illinois early in the 2013 season. After taking a year to fight back, he was able to return for his senior season as backup to Gunner Kiel.
Early in the Tulane game, Gunner Kiel re-aggravated a rib injury and New Orleans native Legaux entered in relief, piloting the Bearcats to a 24-0 halftime lead in front of 100 friends and family in his hometown, scoring his first touchdowns since what looked like a potential career-ending injury just a year earlier.
It was the first game Cincinnati had won over Tulane in New Orleans since 1976, and it helped propel them to a share of the 2014 AAC title.
November 4, 2017—Cincinnati 17, Tulane 16
By November of the 2017 season, the Bearcats were reeling. They had an FCS victory to open the season, a miracle win over rival Miami, and then five straight losses. It had started to feel like the Bearcats may go winless in the conference, finishing at 2-10. A road game against a Tulane team trending in a positive direction didn’t seem like an easy victory. Tulane entered as 6.5-point favorites.
Athletic Tulane QB Jonathan Banks gave UC hell all night. He took off for 53 yards to put Tulane ahead early, but Hayden Moore answered with a TD pass to Devin Gray before a pair of Green Wave field goals put Tulane back in front at the half, 13-10.
A Mike Boone touchdown run set up by a Thomas Geddis catch gave UC a 17-13 lead. Tulane later inched within a point on a field goal.
With 1:21 remaining, Tulane kicker Merek Glover, who had been nailing kicks all afternoon, sent a 36-yard attempt wide left. The Bearcats ran out the clock for their first AAC win following eight losses in a row.