To the surprise of many (at least outside the city of Cincinnati), the Bearcats are off to an exciting 2-0 start with a road win at UCLA and a neutral site victory over Miami Ohio in a monsoon.
While being 2-0 for the first time since 2014 is obviously exciting, how good is this team and how successful can 2018 be?
Is Desmond Ridder for Real?
Here are Ridder’s three best qualities – his age, his legs, and he isn’t Hayden Moore.
The red-shirt freshman QB, who turned 19 years old the day before the UCLA game, has helped boost an offense that was anemic and hard to watch in 2017. His legs along with his poise and calmness have helped Cincy win their first two games. Being a freshman means Cincinnati is now in a position where they possibly have their starting QB for 3-4 years on the roster, which is a great thing. Especially for a team with the third youngest roster in FBS, they can all grow together.
So far, he has run for 163 yards on the ground, including a 100-yard day against Miami Ohio and he is averaging about 5 yards per carry. That’s all great. He’s the most dynamic dual threat QB Cincinnati has had since Zach Collaros earlier this decade. But can he throw?
He has thrown for only 145 yards total and a completion percentage of 54.3. Now look, I get it – his first collegiate game was coming off the bench, on the road, at the Rose Bowl, against a hyped up Chip Kelly team. The second game, which he started, came in a monsoon. So there’s certainly reasons why the passing game hasn’t gotten rolling yet. I’m not saying it won’t, but it needs to for this 2-0 start to mean anything long term.
The Bearcats absolutely need to get their vertical passing game going, because they need the threat of passing to benefit the run game.
Michael Warren for Heisman?
No, not really. But it’s worth noting he leads the league in touchdowns, with 5. It’s also worth noting he has 64 carries in two games. The Bearcats need sophomore Gerrid Doaks to return from leg injuries asap and also need to work in other RBs to spell Warren. As awesome as he has been, there are still at least 10 games left, and they need their workhorse to be fresh and healthy all season.
The Defense IS for Real
While we wait on the answer of how good Desmond Ridder can be, there’s no questioning the defense. Opponents may be a factor as UCLA has the fourth youngest team and utilized more true freshman on offense than expected in week 1 and the Miami game was played in a monsoon.
But forget the opponents. Cincinnati’s defense got lit up by bad opponents in 2017 (Hi, East Carolina). They have given up just 8.5 ppg and limiting the big plays and yards that teams torched them for a year ago. The young guys seem comfortable but the upper classmen have been dominant. Like Cortez Broughton and Marquise Copeland in the middle of that defensive line and Bryan Wright has been amazing at linebacker, he’s been all over the field.
Luke Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman have put their stamp on this team. They have these guys playing within themselves and playing with a confidence and comfort level that was non-existent a year ago.
RING THE BELL
13 straight years…
Annual update from the football office.
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) September 10, 2018
While the defense has been great, it’s also not like their schedule is all that challenging. It doesn’t get that much tougher.
Initially, I thought Cincy would steal a win at UCLA and lose at home to Ohio. Now, after seeing Ohio play against Howard, I’m anxious to see them against Virginia this week. I’m starting to think there is a good chance Cincinnati will win that game next weekend. At (expected) 3-0, in front of a hopefully sold out Nippert Stadium crowd, I expect a big time effort.
Then it’s conference play – @ Uconn, Tulane, @ Temple, @ SMU. Those teams have combined for one win, and that’s Tulane’s week 2 win over Nichols State. The schedule doesn’t get more simple than that. Uconn has been blown out twice, albeit to good teams (UCF and Boise St), Tulane lost at home to Wake Forest, Temple lost back-to-back home games to Villanova and Buffalo and SMU has gotten blown out by North Texas and TCU.
Best case scenario:
Let’s argue for a minute that this Cincinnati team is in fact, for real and they open conference play with four straight victories – that puts them at 8-0 entering November. Getting Navy at home is favorable. Last year the triple option confused the Bearcats like never before. I was there, I saw it first hand. But if the defense is as good as advertised they will play tougher and could shock Navy at home. Getting USF at Nippert is also a huge boost. Are they as good as the last few years? Let’s say this one is a loss along with @ UCF the following week. The day after Thanksgiving is East Carolina at home, a win. That’s an amazing 10-2 season.
Realistic case scenario:
Okay now let’s start over. I don’t actually think Cincinnati gets to 8-0. They’ll slip up somewhere (Ohio, one of the road conference games). They aren’t going to beat USF and UCF and I think Navy will be extremely tough. I think 8-4 is a very realistic goal and would be an outstanding season, considering the recent disasters this program has ensured. Which brings me to my final point..
Worst case scenario:
This team will get to 6 wins and a bowl game. No matter what. Worst case is 6-6 with losses to USF, UCF, Navy, Ohio, SMU and one more unforeseen game.
The Future is Beyond Bright
Luke Fickell has done an outstanding job recruiting since coming to Cincinnati and the last two year’s worth of classes prove it. As Fickell’s classes get older and gain experience, that’s when the clock starts on his coaching career as he will need to prove he can pick them and coach them.
This year may be exciting and Cincy seems to be ahead of schedule and may wind up with 8-9 wins. But the real work will begin next year and the foundation has been laid for the program to get back on track after a few down years.
It’s a good time to be a Cincinnati Bearcats fan. Let it fly!