Season openers are always electric. The feeling of having college football back is unlike any other, but sometimes fans can read too closely into the results of a single game. Today, we’re going to be looking back at every season opener in Luke Fickell’s tenure in Cincinnati and seei how the result for that game aligned with the trajectory of the season.
8/31/17 26-14 Win vs. Austin Peay
In Fickell’s first game as head coach for the Bearcats, he was able to see which players he’d be able to build his program around and where the talent lied on his roster against an FCS opponent. While it did count as a victory for Cincinnati, it was anything but pretty. Hayden Moore passed for 3 touchdowns and Mike Boone ran for 100 yards, but it was clear the offense wasn’t functioning anywhere close to what it should have been against Austin Peay after only gaining 248 total yards.
The defense had a great game, only allowing the Austin Peay Governors to score 14 points and go 3/16 on third down conversions. While the defense only had one sack, they did rack up 10 tackles for loss. Three players had double-digit tackles and Bryan Wright even had an interception. It was also the debut of one of the best Cincinnati punters ever, James Smith, as he averaged 42.2 yards per punt.
The Bearcats did end up victorious from this sloppy game, but this win was one bright spot out of a few for Fickell’s first season. The team would finish 4-8 in 2017, and the three other wins were only by a combined six points. Honestly, if things didn’t go correctly for Cincinnati, this season opener could have been the lone win of the season.
9/1/18 26-17 Win at UCLA
This game put the Luke Fickell era on the public’s notice. No one had any expectations for the Bearcats to be competitive in this game. Coming off a bleak 4-8 season, and having to fly all the way to UCLA for Chip Kelly’s first game with the Bruins, analysts all over the country had the home team cruising in this matchup. In a game that Hayden Moore started at quarterback, it’ll always be remembered for Desmond Ridder.
Michael Warren II also put his stamp on the Cincinnati program as he rushed for 142 yards, including three TD’s. The defense came up big yet again as Cortez Broughton made sure his presence was known when he came away with 5 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and 2.5 sacks. This game is considered one of the biggest points during the Fickell era, and it paved the ground work for a great season as Cincinnati finished 11-2, including a Military Bowl victory.
8/29/19 24-14 Win vs. UCLA
Again, the Cincinnati Bearcats were taking on the UCLA Bruins in their season opener, and the scores were almost identical in both games. Ridder looked more comfortable this game as he threw for 242 yards and two TD’s. Warren II also had another great game against the Bruins as he rushed for 92 yards and had two total TD’s.
The defense was again all over UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson as he only completed eight passes and rushed for -20 yards. The Blackcat defense created four turnovers and really helped the Bearcats close out the game down the stretch. Cincinnati would go on to play in the AAC championship, and even though they lost, they still finished the season 11-3 with another bowl game victory.