Week 3 - September 19, 2015 - Time: 3:30 PM - Yager Stadium
Cincinnati Bearcats at Miami (OH) RedHawks
Who Are They?
They are technically a rival of Cincinnati, although that distinction has been questioned for a number of years now. The RedHawks have mostly become known as the birthplace of coaches and Ben Roethlisberger, but haven't been good enough on the field to give the Bearcats much reason for concern. While they continue to rebuild, Cincinnati is looking to beat the RedHawks by more than the 31-24 result from last season at Paul Brown Stadium.
Miami (OH) is coming off a season where they finished 2-10 and 2-6 in the mighty Mid-American Conference. While they certainly "earned" their 2-10 record, the final scores weren't as bad as you would think. Including their surprising game against Cincinnati, the RedHawks lost five games by only one possession. Where Tulsa couldn't hold anyone under 40, the RedHawks defense actually managed to keep them in some games with the offense lacking the firepower to take advantage. Certainly the RedHawks were blown out a couple times, but the offense wasn't always helping things. Now, Miami (OH) enters the 2015 season with even more question marks on offense as quarterback Andrew Hendrix, a former Notre Dame transfer, has graduated. Senior Drew Kummer offers experience and redshirt freshman Gus Ragland offers promise. The running backs are essentially brand new, returning 261 rushing yards combined, and the receivers are relatively young with junior Jared Murphy the top returning receiver with 42 receptions, 600 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line is replacing three starters as well.
Defensively, the RedHawks are almost the complete opposite. Second round NFL pick Quinten Rollins is gone from the secondary, but most of the starters from a year ago return, including all four defensively linemen. The linebackers are mostly intact with senior Joe Donlan bringing his 77 tackles back and 2013 second-team All-MAC Kent Kern returning as a senior after missing games last season. The secondary has three returning starters, including last season's leading tackler (98 tackles) junior Heath Harding.
Why Should We Worry?
Let me preface this by saying there is no reason why Cincinnati should bat an eye at the RedHawks of Oxford, but in my rankings, I have Miami (OH) as a tougher game than Alabama A&M, Connecticut and Tulsa because of a couple key factors...
First of all, I know there are many out there who question if a rivalry still exists. The Battle for the Victory Bell has lost its luster and does seem a bit dated. While that may be the case for Bearcats fans, Miami (OH) doesn't necessarily share the same sentiment. They know they have been really, really bad over the past couple years, but that's kind of the point. They have absolutely nothing to lose. They can get hyped up in front of their home crowd to play a team that they desperately want to beat to make a statement and Cincinnati will have to maintain their focus. Last season was an appetizer and this year is the main course in their eyes.
The other element here is second-year head coach Chuck Martin. The former Notre Dame assistant coach had a number of coaching opportunities open up to him because of his success as an offensive coordinator with the Fighting Irish, but he chose Miami (OH) because he wanted a challenge. Now, in his second year, his program, conditioning and players are starting to infiltrate the program. I believe Martin is a good coach who is still working to right the ship, but I think the RedHawks are trending up with him at the helm. Do I really think that the RedHawks will matchup with the Bearcats and win? No. What I do think, is that this is one of the scarier games this season, not because of the quality of the opponent, but because of the potential pitfall/overlook game it could be.
And Why We Shouldn't...
As stated above, the Miami (OH) offense is a major question mark. Their defense is better, but there's a reason why the RedHawks were 2-10 last season. For me, it's a simple matchup. The Miami (OH) offense will likely be awful, especially in the early part of the season. The Bearcats defense, despite their own question marks, certainly has the talent and skill on paper to shut down what will likely be a young RedHawks offense. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati offense shouldn't have any trouble in Oxford moving the ball on the RedHawks defense simply because of their raw talent on that side of the ball. Cincinnati should easily win both sides of the ball and this really shouldn't be a contest.
There is no reason to think that Miami (OH) will actually upset the Bearcats, but this particular game makes for a potential trap game with a road game at Memphis the following Thursday night for Cincinnati. In the context of these rankings, the RedHawks are no more than the ninth hardest game on the Cincinnati schedule, not because they have the talent to challenge the Bearcats like Memphis or Miami (FL) can, but because the RedHawks appear to be on the rise with Martin at the helm. Not to mention, Miami (OH) will likely care a heck of a lot more about this game than Cincinnati will, regardless of what is said externally. It's a dangerous setup against a bad opponent, even if Cincinnati should wipe the floor with them.