Cincinnati may be one of the more hyped Group of 5 teams going into the new season. The Bearcats finished an impressive 11-3 last year with their only losses coming against Ohio State and Memphis (twice).
With a lot of those players back, their early preseason over/under opened at 8.5 wins with early money on the over. They also had 4 to 1 odds to win the AAC, slightly behind UCF and Memphis in what is now a division-less conference.
In addition to the hype, head coach Luke Fickell is still with the squad after numerous chances for him to go elsewhere in the offseason.
QB Up for Grabs
The offense should continue to progress no matter who is under center. Desmond Ridder (18 TDs, 9 INTs) has the leg up after starting most of last season, but he completed just 55.1% of his passes and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
If he doesn’t take another step, the younger Ben Bryant could have a shot to steal the position. Helping the offense progress from 390.3 yards and 29.6 points per game is a line that returns most of its pieces with the lone questions coming in the two-deep.
The rushing attack should be near last year’s 4.7 yards per carry, whether that’s through running backs Gerrid Doaks (526 yards, 5 TDs) and healthy again Charles McClelland or Ridder, who ran for 650 yards and five touchdowns last season.
There are some new receivers, but that group shouldn’t drop off as Alec Pierce (652 yards) is set to be the top option with Notre Dame transfer Michael Young Jr.
Defense Should Remain Stout
The reason Cincy reached 11 wins last year was a stout defense that allowed 376.6 yards and 21.7 points per game. Most intriguing is that the majority of those players return so even more success is possible for this group.
The line is loaded with plenty of talent, though guys like Myjai Sanders, Malik Vann and Michael Pitts will lead the way. Linebacker is the biggest question due to the talent loss, but there are guys lined up to fill those roles.
The linebacking corps can afford to be in transition because the line and secondary are good to go. James Wiggins and Darrick Forrest form probably the best safety duo in the conference, while sophomore corner Ahmad Gardner is a future stud.
The potential is evident for Cincinnati, it simply has to win the big games to reach double-digit wins again and not playing Ohio State helps. While opening as an underdog, Cincy will have every opportunity to win at Nebraska at the end of September.
Later contests against Memphis and Houston will be big, but the trips to UCF and Temple stand out at the end of the season. If everything comes to fruition, the Bearcats will make another AAC title game and give the Knights a run for their money.
Some of that depends on the quarterback, but the ground game and defense should be enough to get them to at least seven or eight wins. Improved quarterback play could get Fickell and his team to the next level.
2020 Cincinnati Bearcats Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Austin Peay
Sept. 11 vs. Western Michigan
Sept. 19 at Miami (OH)
Sept. 26 at Nebraska (opened CIN +6.5)
Oct. 3 vs. South Florida (CIN -14)
Oct. 17 at Tulsa
Oct. 24 at SMU
Oct. 31 vs. Memphis
Nov. 7 vs. Houston
Nov. 12 vs. East Carolina
Nov. 21 at UCF
Nov. 28 at Temple