Cincinnati (2-1, 0-1 American) enters the weekend still trying to forget the fourth quarter collapse that allowed No. 6 Houston to leave Nippert Stadium with a 40-16 win during Week 3’s Thursday night showdown.
That bitterness is likely to carry on through next week when the Bearcats host AAC East Division favorite USF as an opportunity to bounce back and play for an eventual conference championship. That’s obviously a big-time game with potentially huge title implications.
But UC needs to put all of its focus on tomorrow’s opponent — the Battle for the Victory Bell against rival Miami — or the game against USF won’t matter nearly as much.
Cincinnati has won the last 10 meetings. Miami is 0-3 with a loss to Eastern Illinois and hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2010. On paper, this looks like an easy win for the ‘Cats. And that’s the very issue.
It’s a trap game.
Over the course of his last 10 seasons as a head coach (between Auburn, Texas Tech, and Cincy), Tommy Tuberville’s teams have an even record of 14-14 following a loss to a ranked opponent. That sample size contains teams that range vastly from quality to what the heck just happened?
The Bearcats are 3-2 in such games, most recently securing a 49-38 win at home vs. Tulsa after the loss to Houston in 2015. But who cares, right? It’s all about this game.
Last season, Cincinnati ranked No. 9 in the nation with 89 plays that went for 20 yards or more. That’s nearly seven a game, which is truly remarkable considering it finished with a 7-6 overall record. But through three games this year, the offense has only 14 plays of 20-plus yards (4.67), which currently ranks 58th.
Despite scoring just 20.7 points to this point, Miami’s offense ranks No. 8 nationally in time of possession compared to Cincinnati’s 121st-ranked unit, which is a huge advantage in favor of the RedHawks — who also sport an even turnover margin, while UC enters having lost control of the ball six times this season (99th).
And if the last three meetings are any indication of how Saturday will play out, we’re in for a very close game; Cincinnati has beat Miami 14-0 (2013), 31-24 (2014), and 37-33 (2015). Do you see the trend?
It’s not like the RedHawks have been tossed around this season, either. They came within 14 points in the fourth quarter against Iowa in the opener after digging themselves in an early 21-0 hole, and played extremely well against a solid Western Kentucky team that gave No. 1 Alabama some fits the week prior.
Their loss to Eastern Illinois doesn’t look great, but the Panthers did just beat an Illinois State opponent that has been the FCS playoffs in three out of the last four years.
By no means am I calling for an upset. Of course, it wouldn’t be all too surprising if Cincinnati made it 11 in a row with authority, steamrolling its neighborhood rival to put itself in prime position for a run at the AAC. All I’m saying is that the ‘Cats must proceed with caution.
Regardless, arguably the most important statistic that hasn’t been written is that UC has an 0-4 record after facing Miami under Tuberville. But that’s something that should be addressed on Sunday and not anytime sooner.