In 2021, the Cincinnati Bearcats football team was loaded with superheroes, as they finished 13-1, with the only loss coming to the villainous Alabama Crimson Tide (consider Nick Saban college football’s Thanos) in the College Football Playoff.
What does the 2022 season have in store for the Bearcats? And what are the team’s weekly connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
9/3 @ Arkansas – The Snap, Avengers: Infinity War
At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos “won”. He filled his gauntlet with all 6 infinity stones and snapped his fingers, wiping away half of all living things.
When the Bearcats take the field on September 3rd, it might feel like Thanos snapped away half the team. Gone are Desmond Ridder, Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant, Jerome Ford, Alec Pierce, Curtis Brooks and others who were major contributors to last year’s Playoffs team.
However, we learned in Avengers: Endgame, that the heroes left behind were still pretty capable and found a way to succeed. Maybe Cincinnati won’t be 13-0/CFP good in 2022, or maybe they will?
Tre Tucker, Wilson Huber, Ja’Von Hicks, Josh Whyle are among the return Bearcat Avengers, and will be joined by Ivan Pace Jr, Corey Kiner, Nick Mardner, among others.
9/10 vs Kennesaw St – Hulk Smash
With all due respect to Kennesaw State, who went 11-2 and reached the second round of the FCS Playoffs in 2021, this game should be a “Hulk Smash” game. Think about the way Hulk tossed Loki around at the end of the first Avengers movie or the way he pummeled Thor in Thor: Ragnarok, or you know, just about any non-Thanos opponent he faced.
9/17 vs Miami – Dormammu’s Time Loop, Doctor Strange
In the first Doctor Strange movie, Strange goes to fight Dormammu, and uses his powers to trap them both in a time loop. At one point, Strange says “We’ve been through this 1000 times”, as the same scene replays over and over again, eventually frustrating Dormammu as he realizes he has no chance to defeat Strange.
Sounds like the last 15 years of the Battle of the Victory Bell. Since 2006, every game has ended with the Bearcats ringing the bell. The overall series is tied at 59, with the Bearcats likely to finally break the tie in 2022.
With the Bearcats heading to the Big 12 in 2023, the future of this series may be in question?
9/24 vs Indiana – Mysterio’s Illusions, Spiderman: Far From Home
Hoosiers had a breakout year in 2020 and were ranked in the preseason top 25 at the start of 2021, with high expectations.
In Spiderman: Far From Home, Peter Parker fought Mysterio, who used the art of illusions to battle. Quentin Beck, aka, Mysterio, used drones to create illusions which helped give Mysterio a false sense of security and helped make him look like a hero, as opposed to a villain who was just trying to manipulate and fool everyone.
In 2020, Indiana may have used similar tactics, during the COVID year to go 6-1, including historic wins over Penn State and Michigan. The win over Penn State was just their second ever (in 26 chances) and the Michigan win was there first since 1988.
Apparently, it was all smoke and mirrors (or drones and illusions) as they crashed and burned to a 2-10 season in 2021.
When these teams met in week 3 of the 2021 season, Indiana led 14-0 with one of the program’s largest crowds ever. The stadium was on fire (quite literally it was 100 degrees that afternoon). That fire slowly went out, and the hot start felt like an illusion as Cincinnati outscored the Hoosiers 28-10 in the second half, on their way to a 38-24 victory.
10/1 @ Tulsa – Loki
Among his many nicknames, Loki is referred to as the God of Mischief and he has many powers. He can impersonate others, he can create an optical illusion that he is one place, when he is really another place. But mischief is the word I want to focus on.
Tulsa has been nothing but mischievous to Cincinnati in recent years. In 2020, the Bearcats won the AAC Championship in a game that came down to a last second field goal, despite being favored by 14+ points.
In 2021, again, the Bearcats were double-digit favorites and also hosted ESPN’s College Gameday. But once again, Tulsa came into Nippert Stadium with a mischievous attitude. Cincinnati’s defense got 8 consecutive stops inside the 5 yard line, preventing Tulsa from getting within a two point conversion of tying the game.
10/8 vs South Florida – Thor: Ragnorak
In the beginning of Thor: Ragnorak, after Thor and Loki reunite (for the third time?), they head to Earth to search for their father, Odin. In the process, Doctor Strange intervenes, as he has a list of all beings who may be dangerous to the planet, with Loki being one of them. As a result, he casts a spell that ends with Loki saying the following…
“I have been falling for 30 minutes.”
Kind of feels like USF football, huh?
Here are a couple of stats for you
- Jeff Scott is 3-18 overall and 1-14 in AAC play over the last two seasons
- Since starting 7-0 in 2018, the Bulls have LOST 26 out of 39 games played
It just feels like they have been falling for a while.
Another analogy to this movie, is that Thor, and Loki, are both stuck on this weird, random planet called Sakaar. In 2023, Cincinnati, along with UCF and Houston, will depart the AAC for Big 12. Without any big-time programs, the AAC may feel like Sakaar for USF – a random, weird conference that they are stuck in.
10/22 @ SMU – Aldrich Killian, Iron Man 3
In the third Iron Man movie, the villain got hot. I mean VERY hot. Aldrich Killian was literally breathing fire and then turned into a human fire ball, along with his disciples.
SMU is a team that tends to get hot, and then fails towards the end. Look at the last 5 years.
- 2017 – Started 6-2, lost 4 of last 5 to finish 7-6
- 2018 – 5-5 through 10 games, lost last 2 to fail to reach bowl eligibility
- 2019 – Started 8-0, ranked #15 before first loss, went 2-3 after that, to finish 10-3
- 2020 – Started 5-0, ranked #16, lost to Cincinnati, won 2 more and lost last 2 to finish 7-3
- 2021 – Started 7-0, lost 4 of 5 (including Cincinnati), to finish 8-4
A game at UCF is the only thing theoretically standing in between SMU being 6-0 entering their home game vs Cincinnati this season. Still, even at 5-1, they have a chance to continue this trend of downward spiraling after the Bearcats game.
10/29 @ UCF – Iron Man escapes purgatory, Iron Man
During this movie, which helped set the stage for the MCU as a whole, Tony Stark found himself trapped in a cave after being kidnapped by terrorists. You could say, he was stuck in purgatory and had to find a way out.
UCF and Cincinnati have represented the Group of 5 in NY6 bowl games in 4 of the last 5 years. However, the AAC has felt like purgatory, has felt like being stuck in a cave.
Like Stark in the cave, these teams had to find a way to dig themselves out, which they managed to do as they will both (along with Houston and BYU) will officially join the Big 12 in 2023.
At the end of the movie, Stark addressed the media, claiming “I am Iron Man”. From there, his whole life changed. For Cincinnati and UCF, proclaiming “I am Big 12” will change everything for these programs. UCF missed out on the playoffs in 2017 and 2018, while going undefeated in back-to-back seasons, while Cincinnati managed to make it in 2021. Big 12 will offer both schools much greater access, as well as more exciting schedules throughout the year.
11/5 vs Navy – Captain America: First Avenger
Captain America: First Avenger was based on the 1940s and World War II. The Naval Academy was a significant player in WW2, so associating the football program and this movie is a small jump.
This will be the final meeting between the two before Cincinnati departs the AAC for Big 12. While their first conference matchup was in 2017, their first ever game was in 1940, a year before WW2. Navy won that game 14-0. When the two met in that 2017 game, the score looked a lot better than it truly was. Navy won 42-32, and ran for 622 yards.
11/26 vs Tulane – Captain America Falcon
With Steve Rodgers out of the picture in the MCU, Sam Wilson is the new Captain America. Sam is from Louisiana, as we learned during the Falcon and Winter Soldier Disney+ Series. Tulane is also from Louisiana.
The connection here is starting in 2023, Cincy, UCF, Houston will all leave the AAC and there will be a void at the top. While recent history hasn’t been kind to Tulane, there is an opportunity for them to emerge as the new top team, the new Captain America, if you will.
Still to come – East Carolina, Temple