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Cincinnati Football: What to Look Forward to in 2020

Coming off back-to-back 11 win seasons, what should you be excited about for the 2020 Bearcats football season?

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bearcats just completed a highly successful 2019 season that ended with an 11-3, AAC Championship Game appearance and a second consecutive bowl victory. You can read more about the success of 2019.

But now we turn the page and look ahead to 2020, which should see similar, if not greater, results. Expectations will be high for the Bearcats - an AAC Championship and NY6 bowl game are both realistic.

Among the many reasons to be excited for 2020, here are 6 things to watch for next football season.

Return of James Wiggins

In the days leading up to the home opener against UCLA game, there were many rumors, which were ultimately confirmed about the health of safety James Wiggins. Wiggins tore his ACL in practice and missed the entire season. His absence allowed guys like Darrick Forrest and Ja’Von Hicks to step up and make plays at the safety position. Hicks, his direct replacement, led the team with 5 interceptions and also had 4 fumble recoveries.

In 2018, Wiggins led the team with 4 interceptions, including three that sealed the game and one epic pick six (in overtime against SMU). He was named Second Team All-AAC and also finished second in the team with 9 pass deflections.

Despite Hicks’ breakout and Forrest’s strong performance, Wiggins return only strengthens the Bearcats defense. Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman employs multiple sets and often schemes for his opponents. He also likes rotating guys in and out, so Wiggins return won’t just completely discard Hicks. There could be defensive looks that include both (plus Forrest) and multiple cornerbacks. Freeman and Fickell will no doubt get creative with Wiggins and the secondary.

James Hudson’s Role

Hudson, a 4-star OL prospect who transferred to UC from Michigan, was forced to sit out the 2019 season due to the transfer rules.

Cincinnati’s offensive line became a question mark throughout the season, whether it was inconsistent play or undisciplined penalties. Hudson should provide some stability and improvement in that area.

Hudson was eligible for the Birmingham Bowl and after seeing him maul over Boston College defenders in the bowl game, it’s hard not to get excited about watching him play next season.

Last hurrah for Luke Fickell’s first recruiting class

Luke Fickell inherited a bad football team in 2017. But in the short amount of time he had until national signing day, he was able to salvage a strong recruiting class. Cincinnati was ranked in the low 100s when Fickell arrived, and finished ranked as the #63 class.

Several of those recruits have played since day one, which means they will be entering their senior seasons.

With linebackers Perry Young and Bryan Wright are graduating, there is a huge void at linebacker in 2020. That void will need to be filled by Jarrell White, one of the most notable players in Fickell’s first recruiting class. Fickell immediately came in and talked about “the state of Cincinnati” and keeping local prospects home. White was among the first. He was a 3 star linebacker, who was ranked 23rd among all Ohio players and played at LaSalle High School. White finished 4th in tackles in 2019, 2nd in 2018, and 8th in 2017 as a true freshman.

Safety Darrick Forrest Jr. and CB Coby Bryant are also seniors from Fickell’s 2017 class. Forrest played a big role in 2019, leading the team in tackles with 106 (63 solo). He was also second on the team with 3 interceptions.

Bryant has 3 career interceptions and 17 pass deflections and has been a lock down corner for this defense for the last three years.

Rushing TD Record

2020 is also the last hurrah for RB Michael Warren II, a key part of that 2017 recruiting class. Warren IS the Cincinnati offense. In two seasons as the go-to back, Warren has compiled 34 rushing touchdowns, which is just three shy of DeMarco McCleskey’s school record of 37 career rush TDs.

Warren is coming off of back-to-back seasons rushing for 1,200 yards and has a chance to go down in the history books as one of the best RBs in UC history if he maintains his pace in 2020.

Historic OOC road game

Nebraska football stinks. They have stunk for three years, with win totals of 4, 4, 5, respectively, since 2017. That said, playing in Lincoln, Nebraska still means something.

Also, playing at Nebraska is a lot easier than playing at Ohio State or Michigan, which is the big game Cincinnati has played in 2 of the last 3 years. The opponent is much easier, but still should not be taken lightly. A win at Nebraska won’t mean what it used to in the 80s-90s, but will still mean something to UC and would still represent a road win over a Big Ten school and give them a path to a NY6 bowl game.

Chance to beat Memphis

Memphis is the only AAC team that Luke Fickell has yet to beat in his tenure at UC. He’s only had two chances, losing the regular season finale and AAC Championship Game this past season. But in 2020, Memphis comes to Nippert Stadium. Remember what happened the last time the defending conference champions came to Nippert Stadium?

Tigers enter 2020 with Ryan Silverfield as their new head coach, replacing Mike Norvell, who departed for Florida State. They return several key starters on offense. There is a good chance this is set up as a week night ESPN game, giving the AAC and Cincinnati some more exposure and a big opportunity to break through.

What are YOU looking forward to in 2020?