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Cincinnati Bearcats Bye Week: Early Season in Review, Luke Fickell, Playoff Picture And More

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Congrats, everyone! You’ve made it. You’ve made it to bye week. And the Cincinnati Bearcats are still undefeated.

Truth be told it wasn’t pretty (that Indiana game was shaky in the least) but UC has managed to hold its place as a top ten team and possible late-season College Football Playoff contender.

The Bearcats are undoubtedly looking talented with their signal-caller —Desmond Ridder — reaffirming his role as the top group of five field general and Jerome Ford popping off for multiple touchdowns in multiple games. One could make the argument for the defense performing even better with its top five status staying intact thanks to the likes of names including Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner.

UC is now officially one week away from their top 15 showdown with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish, who currently sit at 3-0, take on the Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, today at 12:00 P.M. ET on Fox. Former Bearcats HC Brian Kelly is looking to become the all-time wins leader for the storied program in lieu of a fantastic season last year.

Here’s the info on that game, as well as some of the other stories surrounding the world of college football.


  • Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. ET, Saturday, September 25th 2021
  • Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
  • Television/Stream: FOX
  • Online: FOX Sports App | FOXSports.com/Live
  • Television Announcing Crew: Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst), Jenny Taft (sideline)
  • Radio: Notre Dame Radio Network, SiriusXM (Channel 129) 101.5 FM & 960 AM (South Bend)
  • Notre Dame Radio Announcing Crew: Paul Burmeister (play-by-play) and Ryan Harris (analyst)
  • Wisconsin Radio: : BADGER SPORTS NETWORK, Varsity Network App | Satellite: Sirius 134, XM 196
  • Wisconsin Radio Announcing Crew: Matt Lepay (play-by-play), Mike Lucas and Mark Tauscher (analysts), Patrick Herb (sideline reporter)
  • Series History: Notre Dame leads overall series 8-6-2. The two teams last faced off in 1929 at Soldier Field in which the Irish came out on top.

Notre Dame Proves to Look Shaky, But So Does Everyone Else

NCAA Football: Purdue at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when Notre Dame received all that hype about qualifying as the holy grail matchup of Cincinnati’s schedule?

Yea, that’s actually still the case. But only because the rest of the college football world looks like a shadow of its former self. UCF under glorified new HC Gus Malzahn dropped its first of 2021 after a road loss to the Louisville Cardinals — the same team that was shellacked by Ole Miss on a neutral site field. Indiana is somewhat good (we hope that is, at least), but the Hoosiers possess a number in the loss column concurrent with their overall total from 2020.

And the usual CFP contenders? Well, they look like a shadow of their former selves. The college football world has never once witnessed a stretch of three games so ugly for the Ohio State Buckeyes since the birth stages of the national championship era.

A loss to Oregon. A scare to open it all up against Minnesota. And, quite possibly worst of all, a struggle-some matchup at home against the same program — Tulsa — that couldn’t even beat an FCS UC Davis team to start off the season.

Among the teams in the Buckeyes’ boat happen to be their fiercest CFP contender companions: Clemson and Oklahoma. The Tigers offense is so incredibly underwhelming that most Clemson fans would likely prefer the high school senior version of Trevor Lawrence over D.J. Uiagalelei in the present. Their defense certainly carries the makings of a playoff contender but no team ever won it all without putting points on the board.

And as for OU? Well, they still can’t put away opponents to save their lives.

One possession games at home to Tulane and Nebraska? Really? How’s that going to fair against Alabama?

Heck, even schools like Iowa, Michigan, Penn State and even Ole Miss look primed to do better than the three mentioned above.

The point: it’s a crazy season, and anything and everything will transpire.

Luke Fickell USC Rumors

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Perhaps the most arduous news for Cincinnati Bearcats football comes in light of the USC’s recent head coach firing of Clay Helton. The Trojans, who are certainly no stranger to stardom and success, fired their long-term leader after an unprecedented loss at home to the unranked Stanford Cardinal. Rest be assured SC budged, and Donte Williams — the associate head coach — finds himself now at the helm of operations.

For now, that is.

Technically, Williams has performed fairly well for himself on the big stage thus far. He guided the Trojans to a 45-14 cruise-control victory over the Washington State Cougars.

But that likely doesn’t stick. The fact of the matter is the Trojans are no longer the clear most talented team in the Pac-12 for the moment. Oregon is. And SC certainly doesn’t want a lesser-known name fixing the mess that Helton started.

The university’s athletic director, Mike Bohn, proclaimed that “the search was on” for a new leader after Helton’s unexpected firing from the program. There’s already been a few candidates that have received widespread support in getting a chance at the job.

One of those guys is Luke Fickell. The same guy, who, was hired by Bohn — the former athletic director of UC — when he joined the program in 2016. The same guy, who, by many standards is one of the most talented middle-age minds in the sport.

Call it a bit deja vu in comparison to 2009. Nothing would hurt Bearcat fans more than seeing their beloved head coach leave AGAIN after presenting a storybook season. But this is “strictly business” as College Gameday’s Lee Corso tends to say, and ain’t nobody getting in Fickell’s way of earning a bigger paycheck.

The Path to the Playoff

At 3-0 and No. 8 in the current AP Poll, Cincinnati holds a 9% to achieve College Football Playoff status this winter (according to ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor). The Bearcats find themselves behind a handful of the usual suspects — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma — but some unfamiliar faces including the likes of Michigan, Ole Miss and Penn State also garnered better odds to reach CFP status

Just for giggles, Luke Fickell and co. would still possess a 70% chance to make the “little dance” IF they managed to finish the slate spotless. They’re considered clear favorites in all their games except for next week’s matchup at Notre Dame, which is basically a 50/50 shot according to the Playoff Predictor.

Here are the full game odds:

@ Notre Dame: Sat, Oct 02, Odds: 47%

Temple: Friday, October 08, Odds: 98%

UCF: Saturday, October 16, Odds: 78%

@ Navy: Saturday, October 23, Odds: 98%

@ Tulane: Saturday, October 30, Odds: 73%

Tulsa: Saturday, November 06, Odds: 87%

@ South Florida, Friday, November 12, Odds: 93%

SMU: Saturday, November 20, Odds: 77%

@ East Carolina: Saturday, November 27, Odds: 85%

If Cincinnati does happen to stay undefeated, the critical question will be who do they play in the conference championship game and how do they defeat them. Truth be told a struggle-some win on arguably the most important stage of the season will not serve as enough to get the Bearcats in — at least not against a two-loss AAC team.

The best bet would be a 12-0 Memphis squad, who, Cincinnati luckily missed out on facing this year in the regular season due to the complexity of AAC scheduling. The Tigers produced one of the better last string of years in the conference with former HC Mike Norvell garnering a conference championship and New Year’s Six Bowl appearance for the Tigers only two years ago.

If, and only if that scenario manages to play out, you’re looking at approximately 2-3 ranked opponents as the bear minimum on UC’s schedule. That might just qualify as enough to earn the Bearcats some sway in the final playoff standings.

AAC Rankings

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 AAC Championship - Tulsa at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The final segment of the day highlights Down the Drive’s AAC rankings for the post-first quarter of the 2021 college football season. These will be continuously updated every few weeks as the journey towards conference championship week progresses along.

  1. Cincinnati Bearcats (3-0, 0-0), Previous Game: @ Indiana 38-24, This Week: @ Notre Dame
  2. Memphis Tigers (3-0, 0-0), Previous Game: Mississippi State 31-29, This Week: UTSA
  3. SMU Mustangs (3-0, 0-0), Previous Game: @ Louisiana Tech 39-37, This Week: @ TCU
  4. UCF Knights (2-1, 0-0), Previous Game: @ Louisville 35-42, This Week: Bye
  5. Houston Cougars (2-1, 0-0), Previous Game: Grambling State 45-0, This Week: Navy
  6. Tulane Green Wave (1-2, 0-0), Previous Game: @ Ole Miss 21-61, This Week: UAB
  7. East Carolina Pirates (1-2, 0-0), Previous Game: @ Marshall 42-38, This Week: CHSO
  8. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (0-3, 0-0), Previous Game: @ Ohio State 20-41, This Week: AR State
  9. Navy Midshipmen (0-2, 0-0), Previous Game: Air Force 3-23, This Week: @ Houston
  10. South Florida Bulls (1-2, 0-0), Previous Game: Florida A&M U 38-17, This Week: @ BYU
  11. Temple Owls (1-2, 0-0), Previous Game: Boston College 3-28, This Week: Wagner

That wraps up this week’s preview. As always, thank you for supporting Down the Drive and go Bearcats!