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Ranking Cincinnati Football’s Opponents from Worst to First

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One - Alabama v Notre Dame Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As we begin our 2021 football coverage, let’s take a quick first look at Cincinnati’s opponents this fall.

12. Murray State Racers

Murray State bolstered a 5-2 record and a top 20 ranking in their 2021 FCS campaign. However, their competition (or lack thereof) was subpar at best. The Racers captured only one top 25 win and failed to qualify for the 2021 playoff, finishing second in their conference in the process.

11. South Florida Bulls

South Florida posted their worst record in program history after an 0-7 showing in 2020. The Bulls failed to produce any production under first-year head coach Jeff Scott and will likely follow suit for thus upcoming season as well.

10. Temple Owls

Like South Florida, Temple’s 2020 season couldn’t have gone much worse. The Owls struggled to get their feet off the ground and went below .500 (1-6) for the first time since 2013.

9. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks

The Miami Red Hawks triumphed in the MAC Conference Championship Game in 2019, but do not appear to have the horses to compete with the Bearcats in 2021 due to their weak conference affiliation.

8. East Carolina Pirates

In most years East Carolina would usually find itself towards the very bottom of the list. The Pirates haven’t managed to break above the .500 threshold since their first season as a member of the AAC back in 2014.

However, the return of several solid offensive weapons should give the program a fighting chance come September.

7. Navy Midshipmen

Will Navy be a contender this year?

That’s a question no one can seem to be able to answer. The Midshipmen stumbled back into mediocrity after their second 3-win season in three years under HC Ken Niumatalolo.

6. Tulane Green Wave

The Green Wave reached a bowl game for the third straight year under HC Willie Fritz.

Whether that streak continues will depend on the production of Tulane’s prolific offense, which averaged 34.7 PPG in 2020.

5. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Tulsa took Cincinnati to the limit in the 2020 AAC Conference Championship Game. The Golden Hurricane were carried by an elite defense that qualified as one of the best in the conference.

However, the losses of Zaven Collins (2020 Defensive Player of the Year) and a pair of notable cornerbacks could spell regression for this southwest squad.

4. SMU Mustangs

SMU’s slow return to relevance has seen a 17-6 record for HC Sonny Dykes and company over the last two years.

The Mustangs should be loaded with talent weapons-wise, but a flimsy situation at the quarterback position leaves a few questions for the program up in the air.

3. UCF Knights

Two words: Gus Malzahn.

Nothing more, nothing less.

2. Indiana Hoosiers

The last time Indiana won a bowl game, Nick Saban was in Cleveland as the Browns DC, Michigan was beating down on Ohio State and split national championships were still a thing.

A lot has changed since then, including the state of Hoosiers football.

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

This is it.

It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for. Notre Dame vs Cincinnati. Brian Kelly vs his former team.

If there’s any game that defines the Bearcats season, it’s this one.

Win, and not only do the Bearcats gain further national relevance, but a possible chance at this year’s college football playoff. Lose, and any hope of reaching the CFP is diminished.

And while UC will certainly be the underdogs, a win in this one is not out of reach.