Through the first four weeks of the 2019 college football season, Cincinnati Bearcats are 2-1. Heading into week 5’s game with Marshall, the Bearcats are right where they were expected to be record wise, but performance wise is another story.
The next three weeks will determine the full story and what kind of season this will be for the Bearcats.
What we learned from the first 3 games
Before we can properly assess why the next three games will define the season, it’s important to note what we know about the 2019 Bearcats from the first three games.
Well, among many things, what we have learned so far is
- They are not on Ohio State’s level
- Miami Ohio is not on Cincinnati’s level
- Offensive line is a work-in-progress
- Penalties must be cleaned up
- Michael Warren II is still good (220 yards rushing, 4 rush TDs, 1 receiving TD)
- But the running game isn’t the strength it was once thought to be due to a weak offensive line and injuries impacting their depth
- Young wide receivers have a lot of potential
- QB Desmond Ridder has taken a step back (3 INTs, including 2 in redzone, after throwing just 5 all of last season)
- TE Josiah Deguara is still Mr Reliable
- Kicking game needs work - Sam Crosa is 8-8 on extra points, but 1-3 on field goals
- Defense misses James Wiggins
- But Darrick Forrest and Ja’Von Hicks, among others, have done a good job filling his shoes
- LB Perry Young returned from injury better than ever
- Front seven is a major strength (led by Michael Pitts, Malik Vann, Bryan Wright, Myjai Sanders, Young)
Despite being 2-1, Bearcats have looked far from great. Their wins are against UCLA and Miami. UCLA started 0-3, before last year’s miraculous 67-63 comeback win against Washington State and Miami is 1-3 and have now lost 14 in a row against Cincinnati.
What makes the next three important
These next three games are so important because they represent the toughest stretch of competition they will face all season. Two of the three are on the road, and road games are always tough. It’s not crazy to think Cincinnati could lose all three games. If they could win all three, they could be in position for a very special season.
Week 5 - @ Marshall
Cincinnati lost their lone road game this year, 42-0. Luckily, Marshall isn’t as good as Ohio State. But they should not be overlooked. The Thundering Herd beat Cincy at Nippert Stadium in 2017, jumping out to a quick 24-0 halftime lead in which the Bearcats offense was lifeless.
Bearcats struggled on the road in 2018, losing both of their games away from Cincinnati (UCF and Temple) and struggling in wins at SMU and neutral site vs Virginia Tech.
Coming off of a bye week, this game could set the tone for the rest of the season. Do they clean up the excessive penalties? Did they solve the offensive line issues? Do they open up the passing attack even more? If they play like they did against UCLA and Miami, this game will be struggle.
Week 6 - vs UCF (Friday)
UCF is for everything. Ohio State was a big game as far as measuring where Cincinnati stood against an elite team. But the season was always going to be defined by what happens vs UCF. If they beat the Knights for the first time since 2015 (when UCF was 0-12), then the AAC Championship will be within the Bearcats grasp. A loss would put a serious damper on those championship expectations.
These teams met last year as part of ESPN’s College Gameday showcase game. Cincinnati started slow and penalties (shocking) played a factor. They need to play a crisp, clean game to have a chance. Playing at Nippert Stadium at night should be a huge advantage. Bearcats need to control the tempo and cannot afford to make any mistakes. It’s also important to jump out to an early start, as they learned from last year’s UCF game and Ohio State - once the hole is dug, there’s no getting out.
Week 7 - @ Houston
Back on the road, the Bearcats will be coming off a game against a tough UCF team. Houston has beaten them the last two meetings. Cougars are a surprising 1-3 (losses to Oklahoma, Washington State, and Tulane) and news broke on Monday that QB D’Eriq King, who combined for 50 TDs in 2018, will redshirt for the remainder of 2019.
If Cincinnati loses to UCF next week, bouncing back and avoiding a second straight loss will be crucial to the confidence and mindset of this young team. It’s hard to overcome consecutive losses and winning needs to become a habit at Cincinnati. Road wins are always tough to come by, especially.
How season will be defined
If Cincinnati goes 3-0, they will be the favorites to win, not just the East division, but the AAC as a whole. And in the mix with Boise State for the Cotton Bowl bid.
If they go 2-1, they can scratch the Cotton Bowl off the list (regardless of who the loss is to) and likely the AAC Championship (if the loss is to UCF/Houston). An 8-9 win season would still be realistic outcome for 2019.
0-1 wins and bowl eligibility may become a question mark entering the second half of the season.