The end of May and early June mark an exciting time for college football fans. After all, the first of the preseason publications have hit the shelves.
A year ago these publications could not report on much with respect to spring practice because most teams had only a workout or two, if they took the field at all, before the pandemic wiped calendars clean.
Hence, it was anybody’s guess as to what the 2020 season would look like. While all but a couple of Football Bowl Subdivision teams kicked off and had some kind of a season, they did so on a staggered basis and in front of a limited number of fans, or none at all.
Many teams endured virus-related cancellations and a number of bowls announced they would not have a game, or ultimately had their games cancelled.
College football fans would likely agree that seeing this year’s publications on the shelves is exciting as we all look forward to a season that should have us back to what we are typically accustomed to, or something very close to it.
Certainly, we are accustomed to seeing the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State among the upper echelon of the top 25. This year rates as no exception. In fact, two of the leading publications, Athlon and Lindy’s, agree with the composition of the top 10, including the Crimson Tide at No. 1, with only a few teams’ rankings differing by one spot. (While the print edition is out, Lindy’s had not fully revealed its top 25 online as of this posting.)
It is also hard not the notice the team that occupies the No. 8 spot on the both publications’ rankings: Cincinnati.
The Bearcats made school history last year when they checked in at No. 20 in the AP preseason poll, which is released in August. That marked the first time UC was ranked in the AP’s preseason top 25 since the news service first released such a poll in 1950. (The poll has been around since 1936, but it would be another 14 years before a preseason version came into being.)
In placing the Bearcats in the top 10, both publications — plus ESPN, which had Luke Fickell’s team No. 9 in its post-spring top 25 — agree that what took place last season will carry over.
In 2020, Cincinnati won all eight of its regular season games and defeated Tulsa, 27-24, on a field goal by Cole Smith as time expired to win the American Athletic Conference championship. The Bearcats ascended to No. 8 in the final College Football Playoff standings and No. 6 in the AP ahead of its Peach Bowl date with Georgia on New Year’s Day.
The Bearcats lost, 24-21, when UGA’s Jack Podlesny drilled a 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining. UC slipped to No. 8 in the final AP poll, equaling the program’s highest postseason ranking established in 2009 under Brian Kelly.
Cincinnati heads into this season on a 31-6 roll the past three years. The team returns a quarterback who was the AAC’s offensive player of the year along with a few key pieces on a defense that was third nationally in pass defense efficiency and intercepted the third-most passes (16) in the country.
We will have a good idea if indeed Cincinnati is headed in the direction of another New Year’s Six bowl by the time conference play commences Friday night October 8 against visiting Temple. Should the Bearcats enter the game at 4-0 after having successfully navigated the non-conference slate, then Nippert Stadium will be rocking at its core leading up to kickoff. After all, traversing the season’s opening month unscathed would mean defeating Indiana and Notre Dame on the road.
True, the Hoosiers and Fighting Irish both have questions at quarterback. Michael Penix’s health (ACL recovery) is the key concern for IU and Ian Book has departed South Bend with Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan the likely successor. Still, even with an off week in between trips to the Hoosier state, that is quite a way to close a non-conference schedule that opens with Miami (Ohio) and Murray State at home.
A familiar face will be on the Fighting Irish sideline. Marcus Freeman, who was Fickell’s defensive coordinator the past four years, left Cincinnati in January to serve in the same capacity under Kelly.
New DC Mike Tressel, who arrived from Michigan State, has to break in a few new starters, but also has four all-conference performers returning in corners Ahmed Gardner and Coby Bryant and linemen Myjai Sanders and Marcus Brown.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder totaled 31 touchdowns (19 passing) in 10 games and while Gerrid Doaks departed, former Alabama running back Jerome Ford had an impact (6.6 ypc, 8 TDs) on the offense last year and should carry the load this season.
Whether the Bearcats live up to the ranking, of course, will play out either way beginning Labor Day weekend.