Austin Peay shouldn’t be a very difficult opponent. That’s who the Cincinnati Bearcats will play to kick off the season on Aug. 31. It should be a glorified scrimmage, at least if things go according to plan. Last year, the Bearcats had a similar game in their opener, facing off against Tennesse-Martin and although they won, the 28-7 verdict was much closer than expected. Plus, the decision far from a done deal until the game neared the end of the fourth quarter. Obviously, the early stumble was a harbinger of doom for a disastrous season.
Whether or not Austin Peay does the same thing as the Skyhawks or serves as a punching bag for the Bearcats remains to be seen, but we can already say that the opener will not be the hardest game of the schedule nor part of the most difficult portion of it.
The Bearcats won’t have to wait very long after the opener for what is the gauntlet of the 2017 schedule. In three successive weeks from Sept. 9 to Sept. 23, they will face a difficult run of games. In a three-game road trip, they will play Michigan, Miami-Ohio and Navy.
Obviously, Michigan is the marquee matchup on the slate overall, not just in this three-game stretch. The Wolverines have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons and finished in the top 15 in both years, as Jim Harbaugh has constructed a juggernaut in Ann Arbor. They ranked No. 2 in the country in defensive S&P+ last season (7.7) and finished No. 3 in S&P+ margin. If there is any ray of hope for the Bearcats, its the fact that Iowa somehow surprised the Blue in Ann Arbor last season. Still, this is one of those games that will be difficult to watch as a Bearcat fan.
The Miami game is always a fun one since it has a rivalry trophy attached to it. The Victory Bell has been owned by UC for more than a decade, as the Bearcats have won 11-straight against the RedHawks. However, the contests have gotten more competitive of late, with each of the last three games decided by seven points or fewer. The Bearcats were actually down 20-17 in the fourth quarter last season and only barely escaped with a victory. Miami went on to go 8-5 and appear in a bowl game where they narrowly lost to Mississippi State. It has a host of returning talent on the roster and is going to be much tougher to deal with than usual.
Playing Navy is always tough, just ask the 2016 Houston Cougars. UC has not played Navy since 1956, though, so there isn’t much history in this one. The Midshipmen are consistently strong and play a bruising style of offense that can be tough to game plan for, even when you know its coming. They have been to a bowl game in five-straight seasons and played in the American Athletic Conference championship game last winter. Being tested by such an opponent, on the road, is a tough way to start the league campaign and these three games are an almost impossible way to begin the year overall. A win in just one of these contests would go a long way to inspire confidence in UC’s ceiling for 2017.