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Way-Too-Early Preview: Cincinnati game likely to hold major playoff implications

| Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Next up on our way-too-early previews for the 2021 Notre Dame football season is the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Opponent: Cincinnati Bearcats

Date: Oct. 2, 2021

Location: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana

Kickoff: TBD

History of the Matchup

Despite being relatively close geographically, the schools have only played once before with that game being on October 26, 1900, at Cartier Field in South Bend, Indiana. In that game, the Irish dominated the Bearcats to secure a 58-0 victory. That Irish squad would finish the year with a 6-3-1 record.

2020 Performance

The Bearcats had a dream season in 2020, as they put together a perfect 8-0 regular season. They then went on to win their ninth game of the year in the American Athletic Conference Championship against Tulsa by a score of 27-24. Many believed that the Bearcats deserved consideration for the College Football Playoff for their efforts, but they ultimately ended up playing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl where they fell to Georgia by a score of 24-21.

Last year, the Bearcats outscored their opponents by a large 375-168 margin. Their biggest strength on offense was arguably their run game, as they averaged 212.4 rush yards per game. Leading the way for the Bearcats on the ground was Gerrid Doaks, who had 673 rushing yards on the year off of 144 carries. Quarterback Desmond Ridder was also a force in the rushing game, as he rushed for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Jerome Ford received some carries as well for the Bearcats, gaining a total of 483 yards on 73 attempts.

In the passing game, Ridder was the quarterback all season for the Bearcats. In addition to his contributions in the ground game, Ridder passed for nearly 2,300 yards and threw for 19 touchdowns.

In the receiving game, the Bearcats team was very balanced with four receivers recording over 300 yards on the season. Leading the way in catches for the Bearcats was Michael Young Jr., who previously played for the Irish before transferring to Cincinnati. The lead receiver in touchdowns and receiving yards for the Bearcats was tight end Josh Whyle, who recorded 353 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

The Bearcats’ defense was also very solid throughout the course of the 2020 season under former defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who was recently hired as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Their defense held their opponents to 24 points or less in every game, except for their 36-33 win over UCF. Getting points off turnovers was also a big part of their defense, as they scored 56 points off turnovers on the season.

Cincinnati cruised to easy victories in their first seven games of the season, but their last three games were all decided by three points with the Bearcats beating UCF and Tulsa by scores of 36-33 and 27-24 and losing to Georgia in the Peach Bowl by a score of 24-21.

In the Peach Bowl game, the Bearcats went toe to toe with the Georgia Bulldogs, but they ultimately came up short. In fact, the Bearcats had a 21-10 lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs were able to rally late and ice the game with a 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.

2021 Outlook

The Bearcats will likely be a force again in the American Athletic Conference this season, and they will look to build off their magical 2020 season in 2021. In some early preseason predictions, in fact, the Bearcats are ranked above the Irish.

While the Bearcats lose their leading rusher from 2020 in Gerrid Doaks, it is expected that Jerome Ford will take over the role as lead back. Ford looked impressive in his redshirt freshman season last year, and it is expected that he will play a pivotal role for the Bearcats in 2021. Charles McClelland could also play a role for the Bearcats in the backfield in 2021.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder will return for the Bearcats in 2021. Ridder is the heart and soul of this Cincinnati offense, and it is expected that the offense will once again revolve around his playmaking ability in 2021. If Ridder can become more efficient in the passing game this coming year, he could land himself on some Heisman watch lists. The Bearcats will also be returning most of their balanced receiving corps from the 2020 season.

As far as the defense side of the ball goes, the Bearcats will look to regroup after the departure of Marcus Freeman to Notre Dame. While the loss of Freeman will undoubtedly be a huge loss for the Bearcats in 2021, the team still possesses enough playmakers and talent from last year to have a successful 2021 campaign.

Before playing the Irish, the Bearcats will play games against Murray State University, Miami University of Ohio and Indiana University. It is expected that the Bearcats will win their first two games easily, but their game against the Hoosiers in Bloomington will undoubtedly be one of the better non-conference games of the season. The Bearcats are then on a bye week before traveling to South Bend.

The game against Cincinnati will mark the fifth of the year for the Irish. While it is likely the Irish will beat Florida State, Toledo and Purdue to start the year, they will have a challenging game against Wisconsin at Soldier Field the week before their showdown with the Bearcats.

If both teams can find a way to be undefeated heading into this game, it is almost certain that this will be a top-10 showdown in South Bend and have huge College Football Playoff implications for both teams.

(Way-Too-Early) Predictions

Nate Moller — Sports Writer

This will no doubt be one of the biggest games for the Irish next year, as Cincy is primed to be a top-10 team once again. As they showed in their narrow loss to Georgia in last year’s Peach Bowl, they are for real and they can compete with the best of the best. I also expect there will be extra motivation behind the Bearcats in this one with Brian Kelly and Marcus Freeman having previously coached at Cincy.

I anticipate this one being a high scoring affair with Desmond Ridder leading the way for the Bearcats and Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree for the Irish. Both teams will have a lot to play for in this one, and I don’t anticipate either team going down without a fight. Although the Irish will build an early lead, the Bearcats will be able to claw back into the game and even take the lead with five minutes to go. A late drive for the Irish, though, will seal the deal and keep Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff hopes alive.

Final: Notre Dame 38, Cincinnati 34

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