The Cincinnati Bearcats finished 11-3 last season and walked away with the American Conference East Division title, but came up short in the conference championship game 29-24. And it looked like it might be the end of the Luke Fickell Era in Southern Ohio, as Michigan State came calling for him to replace Mark Dantonio. And with the pattern of this conference losing quality coaches to the P5 (Justin Fuente, Matt Rhule, Scott Frost), it seemed a foregone conclusion he’d be in East Lansing to start 2020.
But Fickell decided to stay, got a big extension from UC, and now he’s got his team poised to get that conference title and potentially be the Group of Five representative in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Cincinnati Bearcats Stats Breakdown
Preseason Win Total From DraftKings
- The Bearcats return 14 quarterback starts in Desmond Ridder.
- UC had their best recruiting class under Fickell. With no player currently on the team rated in a class better than 49th, the 2020 class was ranked 40th by the 247Sports Composite ranking.
- In a season where practice time may be limited, the Bearcats return 73% of their overall team, including 76% of their defense.
- SP+ Preseason Rank: Overall 34, Offense 57, Defense 28
Team (2020 Preseason SP+ ranking)
* AAC Conference Game
Austin Peay (FCS)
Western Michigan (97)
Miami OH (98)
USF (83) *
Tulsa (88) *
SMU (56) *
Memphis (22) *
Houston (63) *
ECU (96) *
UCF (18) *
Temple (72) *
With the return of Ridder at quarterback (2,164 yards, 6.7 yards per attempt, 18 TDs, 9 INT), the ‘Cats return some valued experience that has show he can win.
The key loss is Michael Warren II, who takes 2,918 rushing yards in three seasons to the NFL, the last two as the featured back. Gerrid Doaks had 526 yards on 100 carries last season, but can he handle the extra wear UC backs tend to get in the run-heavy system.
Ridder will need targets, and the lack of skill talent could be the Achilles heel for UC. Alec Pierce had 37 catches for 652 yards and two TDs, but he’s the most experienced wideout returning target on the team. Malick Mbodj also hit the transfer portal, and Josiah Deguara is also off thanks to graduation.
There are eight returning starters on defense, as well as 20+ game starts at offensive line, so some core experience does return. But is it enough to make up for the question marks in the ability to move the ball?
It does look like the championship game hopes will come down to November 21st in Orlando against the Central Florida Knights. As of now the Knights would be favored, but there is plenty of experience returning where the Bearcats could have it rolling by the time the weather turns colder.
And in a season where chaos and uncertainty might reign, the consistency of leadership and roster might be a big factor in success. We’ll take the over 8.5 wins, but would need a price to take UC to win the trophy for the first time under Fickell.
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