CINCINNATI (AP) - Given how Cincinnati's season had gone, a share of the Big East title was nearly as satisfying as winning the whole thing.
Munchie Legaux threw a career-high three touchdown passes on Saturday, and Cincinnati's defense got two scores of its own, setting up a 35-27 victory over Connecticut that left the Bearcats one of three teams sharing the Big East title.
The Bearcats (9-3, 5-2) were coming off a four-win season and had defied expectations by taking control of the race before senior quarterback Zach Collaros broke his right ankle. They won their last two games to finish in a three-way tie atop the league.
"It means a lot," said second-year coach Butch Jones, who got doused with icy liquid from a cooler. "Sometimes you have to lose to really appreciate this."
Although the Bearcats got their third title in four years, they likely will miss out on the league's BCS bid. No. 22 West Virginia (9-3, 5-2) will get it if, as expected, the Mountaineers are the highest-ranked Big East team in the final BCS standings.
Louisville (7-5, 5-2) also shared the title and would have gotten the bid if the Bearcats had lost on Saturday. The Huskies (5-7, 3-4) didn't have another upset in them.
UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee helped the Bearcats get off to a fast start. Lineman Walter Stewart plucked the ball from his passing hand in the end zone for Cincinnati's first touchdown, and Drew Frey returned an interception 15 yards for a 14-0 lead.
"I think we dug ourselves too big a hole," said McEntee, who was 20 of 40 for 252 yards with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and six sacks. "After the half, we felt like we had a fresh start and almost came back, but we didn't."
Cincinnati led the league race before Collaros broke his right ankle during a loss to West Virginia. Legaux, a sophomore, gave his best performance in his third collegiate start, going 15 of 35 for 217 yards.
"A lot was on my shoulders," Legaux said. "I didn't do too much. Whatever they told me to do, that's what I'd do."
Legaux had a 22-yard touchdown pass to Alex Chisum and a 13-yarder to Anthony McClung that made it 28-3. The second touchdown pass came at the end of a 72-yard drive in which the Bearcats converted three long third downs and a second-and-26.
McClung also had a 31-yard TD catch in the third quarter. The sophomore had career highs with 8 catches for 142 yards.
The Bearcats pulled ahead 35-12, and then withstood McEntee's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, which led to some uneasy moments on the sideline.
"Very anxious," Jones said. "But our kids, they don't crack."
Cincinnati got the ball back with 5:40 left and essentially ran out the clock, draining off the final seconds with a punt. Then, fireworks went off overhead and the celebration began.
Cincinnati went to the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl in 2008-09 as outright champs under Brian Kelly, then had that four-win season last year in transition. The Bearcats knew they wouldn't get the BCS bid, but still wanted another title.
"How can you explain a feeling like that?" senior linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. "Sitting there in December and January watching bowl games from the couch definitely motivates you. We weren't used to losing. We were used to winning and that's it."
Cincinnati sold tickets at a reduced price of $20, trying to fill its 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium for a game honoring its 21 seniors and the Big East title. Attendance was only 27,930.
"There's no excuse," Jones said. "Part of elevating the football program is selling out at Nippert."
UConn shared the Big East title last season with West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The Huskies got the BCS bid on the tiebreakers and lost to Oklahoma 48-20 in the Fiesta Bowl.
They needed a win on Saturday to become bowl eligible for a fifth straight season. The Huskies were coming off a 40-22 win that knocked Rutgers out of contention for a share of the league title.
They never fully recovered from the two early turnovers for touchdowns. All the Huskies managed were field goals of 35, 46, 53 and 43 yards by Dave Teggart while they fell behind 35-12.