Week 1 - Sept. 5, 2015 - 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN3) - Nippert Stadium
Alabama A&M Bulldogs at Cincinnati Bearcats
Who Are They?
Alabama A&M is a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in the FCS (formerly Division II). The Bulldogs finished last season with a 4-8 (3-6) record. They were 3-1 in the SWAC East - of which they are a member - defeating Mississippi Valley State, Alabama State and Jackson State. Their lone win outside of the conference came against Tuskegee. The only other recognizable matchup on their schedule from a year ago was UAB and the Bulldogs lost, 41-14, in that matchup on the road.
Offensively, the Bulldogs return their top three running backs from a year ago. Harvey Harris and Brand Eldemire ran for 651 (4.2 avg.) and 530 (3.7 avg.) yards, respectively. Bryan Brower added 447 rushing yards (4.0 avg.). As you can imagine with those numbers, the Bulldogs don't air it out offensively in quite the same fashion that the Bearcats do. In fact, according to my research, there are no quarterbacks on the roster who attempted a pass last season. The top returning thrower from 2014 is listed as a wide receiver on the 2015 Spring Roster, followed by the kicker who was 1-for-2 with a pick. The receiving situation is similar in that their top pass-catcher is gone and the next-man-up is coming off a 33-catch, 432 receiving yard campaign with zero touchdowns.
There isn't a whole lot to talk about defensively either. Cornerback Dexter Reese intercepted five passes last season and linebacker Byran Brower returns after leading the team in tackles last season with 83 total tackles (46 solo). Long story short, this is a young team.
Why Should We Worry?
Uhhh... well... I'm not quite sure.
As always, I have to remind you of the Appalachian State's upset in the Big House in 2007 (that was 8 years ago?). That said, Appalachian State was not just any DII team, but a DII team that was dominating at their level and then took that "Any Given Sunday/Saturday" football moniker to heart. In this case, the Bulldogs aren't the class of the FCS and it is likely a stretch to predict even a .500 season for them in the SWAC.
In an attempt to be fair and just though, I will say Cincinnati fans should hold their breath through the first quarter. Alabama A&M is led by young talent. Young talent tends to be heavily influenced by emotion and momentum. If Cincinnati scores in the first quarter (and they really, really should), then this game is over. If the Bearcats, quite literally, let them hang around, this could* be a game.
*but not really
And Why We Shouldn't...
Just look at the rosters. No disrespect to the Bulldogs, but this is a tune-up game for a team of Cincinnati's talent. With the Bearcats' offensive firepower, there are few FBS teams who will have enough skill defensively to slow them down. Each Cincinnati receiver can, and will, win one-on-one matchups on the outside all year and Mike Boone will emerge this season as a more developed playmaker out of the backfield. Gunner Kiel should have a field day against a defense that didn't have a player secure more than four sacks last season. The offense is good enough to challenge even elite defenses, why should they have issues here?
Defensively there are question marks for the Bearcats entering this season, but this simply isn't the opponent to exploit them. I don't know who the quarterback will be, but it will be someone who is inexperienced, walking into a rowdy "Welcome Back!" Nippert Stadium crowd against a Cincinnati team that could push teams as the postseason nears in November and December. Throw in that Kiel and company will likely score points in bunches and it will take a pretty magical performance for a Bulldogs quarterback to handle that pressure. The defense has the athleticism and talent to hold their own and, again, this isn't the offense to really challenge them in that capacity.
Look, the countdown has to begin somewhere and for the Bulldogs it begins with them. Cincinnati will be celebrating a new season and a newly renovated Nippert Stadium at that. Even if Cincinnati starts slow, the disparity between the two teams in talent alone is largely insurmountable unless the Bearcats simply gift Alabama A&M the win.