Remember the month long Covid induced bye week? Remember AD John Cunningham adding a game against Army on the fly to fill gaps? Remember the AAC Championship game in Nippert? Remember a record breaking 53-yard field goal on New Year’s Day to bury the Bearcats? The 2020 season was wild in a year suffocated by the pandemic. Many of us are hoping the 2021 season is the season of “back to normal” with fans in the stands and all the pageantry we love about college football and lucky for us, the Bearcats are loaded.
The football Gods did the Bearcats a favor this season, both in providing marquee nonconference matchups at the absolute best possible time and in bringing the three best teams on their AAC slate to come to Historic Nippert Stadium. Cincinnati, as alwasys, has their fair share of sceptics both fan and foe. Their question for the UC Bearcats will be; Can the Bearcats bust through the ceiling and add another floor to their success by finding another level of play by beating the likes of Indiana, Notre Dame (and UCF for a third year in a row)?
Let’s get into it!
AAC teams the Bearcats won’t face in the regular season – Memphis and Houston
Ceiling: 12-0 Floor: 9-3 Could live with 11-1
Miami (OH) – Sat Sept 4th, Nippert Stadium – For the first time in forever the Bearcats and Redhawks didn’t meet on the gridiron, and no one noticed. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the Battle for the Victory Bell. I’m glad this game as been moved to the front of the season. It serves the Bearcats much better this way. The Redhawks haven’t beaten the Bearcats since Bush 43 and that damn sure isn’t going to change this year. The Bearcats by 25+, Win. 1-0
Murray State – Sat. Sept 11th, Nippert Stadium – The Racers hail from the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) and didn’t have a bad 2020 season, finishing the lightened schedule 5-2. Talent alone will win this one for the Bearcats. Expect to see some younger faces in after halftime. Win, 2-0.
Indiana – Sat. Sept 18th, Bloomington, IN – The Hoosiers aren’t exactly known for their football team but last year’s team turned heads. The Hoosiers beat #8 Penn State in OT, #23 Michigan, and #16 Wisconsin. They also played a classic against #3 OSU but lost 42-35 behind QB1 Penix Jr who threw for 491 yards that game. They eventually came up short against Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl but the success of last year has carried over to high expectations for the ’21 season. On the offensive side of things, the Hoosiers are led by redshirt junior QB Michael Penix Jr who owns a 10-2 record as a starter. He’ll team up with super senior WR Ty Frygogle who led the team in receiving yards (721) and averaged almost 20 yard per catch. On the other side you’ll find senior WR Whop Philyor who is already up and down the IU football record books. Fortunately for Bearcats fans the Blackcats are loaded in the secondary with Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant. IU scored 28.9 points a game last season but they’ll have to do better than that to beat the Bearcats this year. Out of the two big road games I think this is the more likely of the two they would lose. Still, I’m taking the Bearcats in one of the better, closer, more exciting games of the year. W 3-0.
Notre Dame – Sat. Oct 2nd, South Bend, IN – Notre Dame is coming off a great year. The Irish went 10-2 with wins over #1 Clemson and #19 North Carolina. However, they finished the season with two straight losses, first to #3 Clemson in the ACC Championship game and then to #1 Alabama in the Corrupt Football Playoff semis. Neither of the losses were particularly close, losing by an average of over 20 points. The biggest issue or question mark for the Irish this year is how do they replace so much lost talent? ND saw 14 players either drafted or sign with NFL agents and another 10 lost to the transfer portal. Their biggest loss though might be QB Ian Book who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. As a three-year starter he became the most winningest QB in Notre Dame history. Add in the losses of four starting offensive linemen, two of their top three tight ends, and two starting wide receivers and you’re left with a lot of questions marks on the offensive side of the ball. Look for Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan to take the QB1 spot. With all the gaps I’m inclined to pick the Bearcats in the upset over the Irish. I’ll be much more comfortable with that pick after seeing how the Irish fare against Florida State, Purdue, and Wisconsin. We would all love to see a win over former UC head coach Brian Kelly and former DC Marcus Freeman. The Bearcats’ bye week before this game could be the difference maker. Bearcats by a late go-ahead score. W 4-0.
Temple – Fri. Oct 8th, Nippert Stadium – The Bearcats and Owls saw their game cancelled last year due to Covid protocol but that week the Owls would have been on their 3rd or 4th string QB, less than ideal. The 2020 season was abysmal for the Temple Owls as they went 1-6. I don’t expect them to have many more wins in the 2021 season. Almost every roster slot is a question mark pretty much just like last season. Could Georgia transfer QB D’Wan Mathis be the solution to the problem? I don’t know but I don’t see a lot of fight in the team from Philly. Win 5-0.
UCF – Sat. Oct 16th, Nippert Stadium – 2020 record 6-4, 5-3. The Bearcats beat the Knights last year 36-33 in Orlando and I don’t expect the Knights to go away anytime soon. They’re fast, strong, and deep. However, their new HC Gus Malzahn looks to elevate a program after being fired from the SEC’s Auburn. Coaches who have “moved down the ladder” haven’t had a whole lot of success, see Tommy Tuberville (UC) and Charlie Strong (USF). Coaching changes are never easy, look no further than Memphis last year. Gus’ first task might need to be fine tuning a defense that gave up over 33 points a game last year. I believe there will be too much adjusting going on in Gus’ first year at the helm making the Bearcats victorious once again. 6-0.
Navy – Sat. Oct 23rd, Annapolis, MD – 2020 wasn’t nice to Navy (3-7, 3-4) and the inability to have a standout QB1 didn’t help. To me it looks like 2021 is more of the same for the Midshipmen. Former DC Marcus Freeman seemed to have the triple-option figured out. The biggest question here might be will new DC Mike Tressel have it figured out too? With all the weapons he has to work with I have to think the Black Cats will be more than prepared. Win 7-0.
Tulane – Sat. Oct 30th, New Orleans, LA – Do not sleep on the Green Wave! Tulane was not on the Bearcats’ schedule last season but fans around the league were surprised at the success they had on the field. They finished 6-6 (3-5) with solid wins over Memphis and Army. Don’t forget the shootouts they had in very close losses though. The Green Wave lost in Houston 49-31. They dropped a heartbreaker to #17 SMU 37-34 in OT, and classic 2OT game to #25 Tulsa in Tulsa. A Halloween game in New Orleans is not to be overlooked. Tulane has a strong O-line and two powerful running backs in Cameron Carroll and Tyjae Spears. A lack of a “bend don’t break” defensive unit will allow Ridder & Co. to run up and down Bourbon St. This one will be closer than a lot of people think but the Bearcats have too many offensive weapons. Win 8-0.
Tulsa – Sat. Nov 6th, Nippert Stadium – The AAC Championship game rematch brings the Golden Hurricane back to Nippert for Homecoming. Tulsa finished 6-3 last year, one of those losses came from the Bearcats in that championship game, 27-24. This season the Golden Hurricane looks to retool after losing standout linebacker Zaven Collins to the Arizona Cardinals and work in a new guy at QB. Tulsa could be really good again or they could be sub .500 either way they won’t have the weapons to take on the Bearcats. W 9-0.
USF – Fri. Nov12th, Tampa, FL – The Bulls posted a 1-8, 0-7 record last season in HC Jeff Scott’s first year at the helm. Bearcats fans will remember this game as the last in a string of poor performances from QB1 Des Ridder (16/26 143 yds 2 TDs and 3 INTs) Unfortunately for the Bulls and the rest of the AAC, Ridder hasn’t looked back from that game. The Bearcats will be rolling at this point in the season and USF won’t know what hit them on either side of the ball until it’s too late and the 3rd string is in for the second half. Win 10-0.
SMU – Sat. Nov 20th, Nippert Stadium – The Mustangs finished 7-3 but while they ranked #16 in the country the Bearcats went down to Dallas and shook the place up to the tune of 42-13. The Ponies do return a ton of players on the offensive side of the ball, again defense should be their focus. I look for SMU to take a giant leap forward this year but coming up short against the Bearcats in Nippert. Win 11-0.
ECU – Sat. Nov 27th, Greenville, NC – The Pirates finished last season 3-6 (3-5). ECU could possibly be bowl eligible this season but I can only believe that the days of barely sliding past ECU with a last second field goal are over. While most schools are playing their rival the Saturday after Thanksgiving the Bearcats will be in Greenville. The upside of this it almost guarantees the Bearcats won’t play the same team in back to back weeks like 2019 (Memphis) and almost in 2020 (Tulsa). Win 12-0.
ACC Championship – I’ll say Nippert will once again host the AAC Championship game. If I had to guess the opponent right now, I’ll go with SMU.