There won’t be as many proven, game-changing quarterbacks lining up on the other side of the Cincinnati defense this season. That’s primarily because the scheduling gods looked somewhat kindly on the Bearcats (except for in September) and kept them from playing Memphis and Houston. That means no Riley Ferguson and Kyle Allen, who are two of the best in the American Athletic Conference.
There will still be challenges on hand and the Bearcats defense will need to be ready, especially with a shaky secondary and the hopes of an improving defense. Here are the best they will face this season.
Quinton Flowers, USF
This is an easy one. Flowers is considered the best quarterback in the AAC and for good reason. He was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and the groundswell of support for an underdog Heisman Trophy campaign has already gotten started. The 6’0”, 210-pound senior from Miami just threw for a career-high 2,807 yards and 24 touchdowns on 62.5 percent passing, as he really developed into a more efficient passer. But what sets him apart is his ability to scrap original play calls and take off. Sometimes the original play asks him to do just that. Flowers racked up 1,530 yards and 18 touchdowns. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson was the only QB in the country to get more done on the ground last season and he won the Heisman.
Flowers actually played a so-so game against UC last year, throwing for only 196 yards and tallying 88 on the ground, but he did score twice and navigate the Bulls to a 45-20 rout, so even if he’s not running on all cylinders, he’s still going to be difficult to deal with.
Wilton Speight, Michigan
It’s no surprise that the two toughest quarterbacks that UC will face play for the two toughest opponents on the schedule. Speight is entering year two as the starter for the Wolverines, who have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons and are being run extremely well by Jim Harbaugh. Although Harbaugh’s ability to coax out a good defense, wear khakis and give aggressive handshakes are his calling cards, he is a former NFL quaterback who has guided some talented passers at both the college and professional level.
In year two as a starter, the idea is that Speight, a 6’6”, 243-pound beast who will be difficult to tackle, will take a big step forward after he was a functionally sound leader in 2016. He threw for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns, compared to seven interceptions, while completing 61.6 percent of his pass attempts. He may not end up being Harbaugh’s next Andrew Luck, but he will be one of the best QBs to throw a pass against UC this season.
Ben Hicks, SMU
With an honorable mention nod to UCF’s McKenzie Milton, Hicks gets the last spot on this list. Hicks is prone to mistakes, as evidenced by his 15 interceptions last season, and he’s not always accurate (55.5 percent passing), but he has a good arm and a great receiver in Courtland Sutton. Hicks ranked fifth in the conference in passing yards last season, ahead of Flowers, and with the Mustangs projected to improve once again, Hicks should be able to keep racking up the yards.