Luke Fickell is heading into his fifth season as the Cincinnati Bearcats head coach, and his expectations are high. Fickell has lost a total of six games in the last three seasons and his team has continued to improve. Cincinnati has been recruiting at a high level and out recruited many power five schools. Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman left for Notre Dame which could be the biggest loss for Cincinnati this offseason. Freeman was a major key to the Bearcat’s success on defense and was an outstanding recruiter. Let’s jump into our season preview!
Sept 4, Miami (OH) – QB Desmond Ridder is returning to lead the Bearcat offense once again. He is a proven winner and one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Ridder utilized his legs more last season rushing for 12 touchdowns. He should help Cincinnati continue to have success in 2021. Miami (OH) won the the MAC in 2020 but Cincinnati should be better. The Redhawks could put up a fight against Cincinnati early, but in the end the Bearcats will come out on top. Prediction: 38-17 Cincinnati
Sept 11, Murray State – After a potential challenge with Miami (OH), Cincinnati should have an easy game with Murray State. Cincinnati returns a large portion of their offense and this is a great game to ensure everyone is clicking. RB Jerome Ford will start this season after splitting carries last season. A game against Murray State should help the offensive line grow their chemistry after losing tackle James Hudson to the NFL. Overall, this should be an easy game for the Bearcats. Prediction: 44-10 Cincinnati
Sept 18, @ Indiana: Cincinnati will travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana early in the season. Depending how the AP poll and Coaches Poll vote, this could be a top 15 match up early in the season. If you read the Indiana preview, QB Micheal Penix will cause issues for the Cincinnati defense. The defense returns numerous all conference players who will help prevent Indiana from scoring. DL Malik Vann is looking to bounce back after only having 6.5 tackles for loss in 2020. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, the Hoosiers will be too much. Prediction: 23-21 Indiana
Oct 2, @ Notre Dame: Even with Indiana on the schedule, the Notre Dame game will be the most hyped game on Cincinnati’s schedule. Marcus Freeman will be on the other sideline so there is extra motivation for Cincinnati. The Bearcats return most of the receivers and tight ends which is a massive help for Ridder. While Cincinnati is not a high powered offense, having existing chemistry will help their chances against a strong Notre Dame team. Defensive End Myjai Sanders will be a key player in this game because of his ability to rush the passer. He had 10.5 sacks in 2020 and will look to repeat that performance in 2021. Cincinnati is a not a team to sleep on, and Notre Dame is going to be ready. I believe Cincinnati will pull the upset. Prediction: 27-21 Cincinnati
TBD, SMU – In 2020, SMU had another strong season under head coach Sonny Dykes. The Mustangs even rose to be ranked number 16 in the country. That all changed when they played Cincinnati. The Bearcats beat them 42-13 and unfortunately for SMU, I expect to see a similar result in 2021. The Bearcats return too much on both sides of the ball for SMU to win this game. Even though SMU does return QB Shane Buechele, Cincinnati has had a strong defense under Luke Fickell. 12 different players registered a sack on defense last year proving they have great depth to keep their legs fresh when pressuring the quarterback. Prediction: 33-21 Cincinnati
TBD, Temple – Ah yes, my alma mater. Temple is in a rough spot right now. Following the Matt Rhule and Geoff Collins era, the program has taken a step back. The talent in Temple’s program is not where it was a few years ago. They have a few interesting options at quarterback with Re-al Mitchell and former Georgia quarterback, Dwan Mathis. This should be an overall easy game for Cincinnati. Prediction: 44-17 Cincinnati
TBD, Tulsa – In conference play, Tulsa went 6-0 last season. They gave Cincinnati all they could handle in the AAC Conference Championship game. Cincinnati has the edge in this game because Tulsa’s offense struggled throughout the 2020 season. Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith has entered the NFL draft after starting for four seasons. Replacing the amount of experience Smith had is never easy. Tulsa’s offense ranked 74th in scoring in 2020 which is why we are going with the Bearcats here. Prediction: 35-20 Cincinnati
TBD, UCF – On the day I am writing this, Randy Shannon is still the interim head coach for UCF. It is believe UCF with hire a new full time coach before spring practices. Until then we are just guessing what the UCF football team will look like this fall. We do know a few things for certain. One of those being Dillon Gabriel will start at quarterback. Gabriel is one of the best quarterbacks in the country throwing for 32 touchdowns and only four interceptions in his sophomore season. One of his worst games came against Cincinnati and he still threw three touchdowns. With the uncertainty at head coach, it is hard to pick them to upset Cincinnati but I do believe this will be Cincinnati’s toughest conference game this fall. Prediction 38-33 Cincinnati
TBD, @ ECU – ECU was horrendous in 2020. It is actually surprising they won three games when you look at how their statistics measure up. ECU did manage to put up points consistently, but ranking 103rd in points allowed did not give them many chances in games. Cincinnati overpowered ECU gained over 650 total yards in 2020. As I have continued to state, the core nucleus of the Bearcats team is returning. A reasonable expectation is they will repeat the same results against some teams. ECU had success running the ball against Cincinnati rushing for over 200 yards, but that obviously was not enough. It will not be next year either. Prediction: 49-17 Cincinnati
TBD, @ Navy – Navy has been up and down over the last four seasons. Twice they have won only three games. They also have an 11 win season and a seven win season during that stretch. Trying to predict which team we will see in 2021 is the hardest part. The triple option is tough to consistently stop because the defense has to stick to their assignments and not go off script. Luckily for Luke Fickell, his defense is great at assignment football. Fickell is 1-1 against Navy in his tenure with one of the games coming against the three win Navy team in 2018. Due to the imbalanced win totals the last few years, sticking with the consistent team feels like the right move. Prediction: 31-21 Cincinnati
TBD, @ Tulane – Willie Fritz has taken Tulane to three straight bowl games for the first time in the program’s history. Tulane has seen improvements to a respectable team. Tulane averaged 34.7 points per game in 2020, good for 22nd in the country. They also finished fifth in the country in total rushing attempts. Cincinnati has an incredibly strong run defense that will be up for the task when this game arrives. The problem for Tulane is if they get down early, they rely heavily on the run. The passing game struggles so they need to keep it close to ensure they can keep running the ball. Prediction: 36-19 Cincinnati
TBD, @ USF – In Jeff Scott’s first season as head coach of USF, he struggled to keep games close. There are a multitude of reasons behind why he struggled. First, the program was not in a good place when he entered. Second, he did not have spring practice to work with his players and start building a foundation. Scott’s second year will be better than his first, but he is a few years away from competing with Cincinnati. Desmond Ridder and the rest of his team are too talented to lose to USF. Bearcats roll the Bulls. Prediction: 34-13 Cincinnati
Analysis: Overall we have Cincinnati at 11-1 including a win over Notre Dame. That is a personal bold prediction of mine and I am sure it will be an unpopular one. Cincinnati at 11-1 makes the conference championship game and is the favorite to once again win the American Athletic Conference. 11-1 would not be good enough to be considered for the College Football Playoff. Cincinnati would be in line for another New Year Six bowl bid and Luke Fickell would remain the hottest name in coaching.