Cincinnati Bearcats finished the 2019 football season 11-3, losing the AAC Championship Game (their first ever appearance) and winning the Birmingham Bowl.
Back-to-back 11 win seasons
There’s are some places in college football where winning 10 games is routine and the standard. Cincinnati, historically is not one of those places. 2019 represents the 8th 10-win season in program history and the the third time Cincinnati has won 10 (or more) games in consecutive seasons - 2007-2009, 2011-2012, 2018-2019.
It is also the second time they have won 11 games in back-to-back seasons (2008-2009) and just the 3rd time in program history accomplishing that many wins.
Back-to-back bowl wins
Cincinnati won the Military Bowl in 2018 and the Birmingham Bowl this season. It’s just the third time in school history that they have won a bowl game in consecutive seasons (2006-2007 and 2011-2012).
The Birmingham Bowl is the 10th bowl victory in school history (in 19 appearances).
11 players honored on All-AAC team
While the season was a success for the Bearcats team, individually, almost a dozen players were honored by the conference. That’s a big sign of success and respect.
First Team - OL Morgan James, TE Josiah Deguara, DL Elijah Ponder, LB Bryan Wright, LB Perry Young, CB Ahmad Gardner, S Darrick Forrest
Second team - RB Michael Warren II, P James Smith
Honorable mentions - K Sam Crosa, S Ja’Von Hicks
No bad losses
Cincinnati lost three games to two teams who went a combined 25-3 (Ohio State and Memphis). Sure, there were a lot of close wins (ECU, USF, Temple) but wins are wins and there is no shame in losing to one of the best team’s in the country and the AAC conference champs.
Victory Bell stays “home”
Cincinnati beat Miami for the 14th consecutive season. This one feels like a bigger-than-usual win, because Miami (8-5) won the MAC Championship Game.
First win against a ranked opponent in 10 years
Cincinnati beat UCF 27-24, to open conference play on October 4. UCF came into the game ranked #18, giving Cincinnati their first win over a ranked opponent since the famous Pitt game on 12/5/2009.
Luke Fickell gets “off the schneid”
Coming into that UCF game, Fickell’s Bearcats were 0-6 vs ranked teams since the start of the 2017 season. The UCF win was his first against a ranked opponent and his first against UCF.
In addition to being 0-2 vs UCF, Fickell was also 0-2 vs Temple, whom the Bearcats beat 15-13 in late November. He also got his first wins against Houston and Tulsa.
2 P5 wins
“Power 5” wins are a fairly meaningless metric, however some people believe beating a team from a power conference has value. Well, Cincinnati won two of those such games in 2019, beating UCLA and Boston College. Both teams finished with a losing record, but it’s still notable that Cincinnati can compete and beat teams with much greater resources.
Nippert attendance record
Despite some social media conversations about the lack of attendance, Cincinnati had more fans in the 6 games at Nippert Stadium than any other season.
Fan support continues to grow!
It’s a NIPPERT STADIUM RECORD!— Cincinnati Bearcats (@GoBEARCATS) November 24, 2019
Average attendance at @GoBearcatsFB games this season was the highest in stadium history, surpassing the 2010 season. pic.twitter.com/VcXKDWVNKu
Emergence of young stars
CB Ahmad Gardner, a true freshman, is a guy who made a major impact in 2019. He had two game-changing pick sixes (UCF and ECU). Was named First team All-AAC and has been named to several publications’ All-Freshman Teams.
Coming into the 2019 season, the defensive line was considered Cincinnati’s biggest weakness, but it proved to be one of the stronger units on the team with guys like Elijah Ponder, Myjai Sanders, Curtis Brooks, Marcus Brown, Malik Vann.
How about the emergence of Ja’Von Hicks? A few days before the season opener, it was announced that star safety James Wiggins would miss the 2019 season. Hicks, a sophomore, was the next man up. He has 5 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries this year.
Return of Gerrid Doaks
As a freshman RB in 2017, Gerrid Doaks led the team in rushing with just 513 (Cincinnati’s area code) rushing yards. Doaks missed the entire 2018 season with an injury and returned this year, emerging as the lead back up to Warren.
Coming into the season, the RB depth chart included Charles McClelland and Tavion Thomas. McClelland tore his ACL and Thomas, after various issues, entered the transfer portal. That left only Doaks behind Warren and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Entering the bowl game, he has 499 yards rushing and 5 rush TDs (plus 1 receiving TD).
#1 Group of Five recruiting class
National Signing Day was a huge success for Cincinnati in 2019. Per 247Sports, their class is ranked #53, the best in the conference and among all Group of Five teams.
This includes a pair of local 4-star recruits, both ranked in the top 350 players nationally and the top 6 players in Ohio - QB Evan Prater and LB Jaheim Thomas.
Success of the AAC
This isn’t necessarily specific to UC, but the American Athletic Conference had a really strong year and deserves continued respect.
When the final polls are revealed, the AAC will have three teams in the top 25 - Memphis, Cincinnati, Navy. And it’s likely UCF is on the brink and finishes in the top 30. That’s more than the Big 12 (2), PAC-12 (2), and ACC (1) will all have. In total, the Group of Five should have 6 ranked teams (App State, Boise St, Air Force).
5 of the AAC’s 12 schools finished the season with 10 (or more wins) - Cincy, Memphis, Navy, SMU, UCF.
The conference went 4-3 in bowl games, with 2 victories over “P5 teams”, including a pretty good Kansas State team (that beat Oklahoma).
What other reasons did we miss that make this 2019 football season a success? Let us know in the comments below?