Folks, football season is nearly among us, and tonight, the Cincinnati Bearcats will be starting their 2019 season against the UCLA Bruins at Nippert Stadium. While tonight’s matchup is definitely one of the more important ones this year, it’s only one very small portion of the entire season, so without further ado, here are my predictions for the first half of the 2019 Cincinnati football season.
Week 1: UCLA at Cincinnati
We’ve been waiting for this game for nearly eight months, and it’s finally here. I have pretty high expectations for the Bearcats going into this game, and deservedly so. They return loads of talent, the majority of one of the strongest defenses in the nation, and an absolutely loaded backfield. The bad news? UCLA returns quite a bit of their talent as well, not to mention, head coach Chip Kelly has his first season for the Bruins behind him, meaning he’ll have a much better understanding of UCLA’s roster this year. From what I’ve read, Kelly has really built a great energy at UCLA, between practice and team building exercises; similar to what we’ve seen Luke Fickell do in recent years at Cincinnati. Although Cincinnati’s biggest concern is their thin secondary, especially with James Wiggins going down with a knee injury on Monday, the Bearcats’ front seven and offensive weapons should be able to hold off the Bruins new and improved offense. The Bearcats haven’t lost a home opener since 2001, and that won’t end this year.
Cincinnati 31, UCLA 23
Week 2: Cincinnati at Ohio State
It’s been a long while since the Bearcats have had a legitimate chance at pulling an upset in Columbus. Ohio State will be led by a first year head coach in Ryan Day, who will be sending out a new quarterback in Justin Fields. There’s no denying the talent Ohio State has on both sides of the ball. Throughout his tenure at Ohio State, Urban Meyer was consistently one of the top recruiters nationally, and it showed with the recent success the Buckeyes have had. While this is technically Ryan Day’s first season as head coach, he filled in for Urban Meyer during his four-game suspension last season, and got the job done just fine, going 4-0 in that span. While Day didn’t face much of a challenge in those four games, he picked up some much needed experience that should help him this season. Cincinnati will be pretty heavy underdogs for this game, and for good reason. Ohio State will almost undoubtedly be a top ten team this season, and playing the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium is always a tough task. While I don’t see the the Bearcats winning this game, it won’t be a cakewalk for Ohio State. Although I very much believe this game will be closer than Cincinnati’s trip to Ann Arbor in 2017 to play Michigan, I can’t say I’m feeling great about this game.
Ohio State 38, Cincinnati 24
Week 3: Miami (OH) at Cincinnati
For the first time since 2016, the Battle for the Victory Bell will be played at Nippert Stadium, and I, like countless other fans, couldn’t be more excited. The Bearcats currently hold a thirteen game winning streak over Miami, which is the longest winning streak of either team in series history. Last year, the game was played at Paul Brown Stadium in the pouring rain, which turned the matchup into a slow paced contest centered around running the ball. Eventually, the Bearcats outlasted Miami, slowly but surely turning it into a 21-0 win. With three year starter Gus Ragland gone, Miami will likely be starting redshirt sophomore Jackson Williamson at quarterback. Williamson only saw the field in two games last season, and frankly didn’t do a whole lot. They also won’t have last year’s leading rusher, Alonzo Smith. While Miami did have an above average defense in 2018, I’m not expecting much out of them at all when they make their trip to Clifton in week 3.
Cincinnati 38, Miami (OH) 7
Week 4: Cincinnati at Marshall
In 2017, Marshall took a trip to Cincinnati and came away with a pretty comfortable 38-21 win. This time around, the Bearcats are looking to even the score. Marshall has definitely been one of the better group of five teams in recent years, and have proved that on a national scale, winning seven straight bowl games in the past ten years. While compared to some of the other teams on the Bearcats’ schedule, this game might seem pretty insignificant, but don’t be fooled, this could easily go down as one of the more challenging games of the season. Marshall returns their leading passer from last year, Isaiah Green, a redshirt sophomore who appeared in all but three games last season. Even with those missed games, Green was still among the C-USA’s best in a variety of categories, including touchdowns and pass attempts. Accuracy at times was a problem, as he threw ten interceptions, but with nearly a full season under his belt, expect Green to make some big improvements. Marshall’s defense was also one of their stronger suits, as they only allowed 21.8 points per game on the year. I have a feeling this game is going to be much closer than most people expect, but nonetheless, I still like the Cats here.
Cincinnati 24, Marshall 20
Week Five: UCF at Cincinnati
Last time UCF came to Clifton, it wasn’t pretty. The Knights destroyed Cincinnati 51-23 in only three quarters before the game was ended early due to inclement weather. Last season it wasn’t much different. UCF routed the Bearcats on national television by a score of 38-13, and eventually won their second consecutive AAC Championship. This time around, things are going to be much different. Both teams retain large portions of last year’s roster, but this year’s game will be played without one of the nation’s top players, UCF’s McKenzie Milton. Against USF last season, Milton suffered a catastrophic knee injury, that will keep him sidelined for the 2019 season. However, UCF managed to pick up one of the more notable transfers this offseason, Brandon Wimbush out of Notre Dame. Although Wimbush ended up losing the position battle to Ian Book, he’s still a very much capable quarterback, and a really nice pickup for head coach Josh Heupel. I have to say, though, taking away McKenzie Milton should make this game much more manageable for Cincinnati’s defense, and I think this is where the Bearcats get their revenge.
Cincinnati 34, UCF 28
Week Six: Cincinnati at Houston
For the first time since 2015, Cincinnati will be taking a trip to TDECU Stadium to face off against the Houston Cougars. Houston currently boasts one of the nation’s top players, quarterback D’Eriq King. As a junior last season, King put up some unbelievable numbers. He threw for 2982 yards and 36 touchdowns, while only throwing six interceptions. Even crazier, King didn’t even appear in two games. The Heisman hopeful also ran the ball incredibly well, putting up 674 yards on the ground as well as fourteen touchdowns. King also led one of the nation’s best offenses, which put up 43.9 points per game last season, good for fifth in the FBS. However, the defense was on nearly the total opposite side of the spectrum, allowing an average of 37.2 points per game. With newly hired head coach Dana Holgerson, Houston could really go places this season, as long as they make some improvements on the defensive end. Although I’m not sure it’s possible to truly contain D’Eriq King, I believe Cincinnati will be able to do so just enough to sneak away with a win. However, it wouldn’t come as much of much of a surprise if this game fell Houston’s way Make sure to keep a close eye on the Coogs throughout the season, as the Bearcats could very well see them again on December 7th in the American Conference Championship.
Cincinnati 31, Houston 28