College Football Game of the Week: Cincinnati vs. SMU
The American Athletic Conference is typically looked upon as the best Group of Five conference, and two of its shining stars will be on full display, as No. 9 Cincinnati (3-0) travels to Dallas to battle No. 16 SMU (5-0) at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24.
Both sides are lobbying for bids to a New Year’s Six bowl game, and a win for either team would help make that path clearer.
The Bearcats entered 2020 with high hopes, as head coach Luke Fickell has made them into a perennial power in the American. Fickell prides himself on strong defensive play, and the Bearcats have done just that so far.
The offense has had some success too through three games too, especially in the running game.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder has played a lot of football in his time as a Bearcat, but his start to 2020 hasn’t exactly been ideal. Ridder has completed 47 passes on 78 attempts for 597 yards, throwing six touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has 15 rushes for 71 yards.
Amid the early struggles from Ridder, the running game has picked up the slack, as senior running back Gerrid Doaks has been picking up those tough yards to wear the defense down. He leads the Bearcats in carries, yards and touchdowns with 42, 145 and four.
Doaks is also a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. His six receptions for 130 yards has put him as the second-leading receiver on the team. He’s also found paydirt twice on the receiving end.
Jerome Ford has also added two scores to complement 24 carries for 87 yards. The Bearcats’ run game is about as old-school and smash-mouth as you could get, and it could play a factor in Saturday’s bout.
Jayshon Jackson and Michael Young Jr. are two of the more reliable receivers on the roster, as Jackson leads Cincinnati in receiving yards with 132, while Young leads all receivers with nine catches.
As mentioned earlier, the defense is what fuels this Cincinnati team, and when you break the stats down, that notion is as bright as day. This team loves to hit hard and create turnovers.
Linebacker Jarell White has been the undisputed leader of the defense with 31 total tackles, 16 of them being solo. The Cincinnati native is looked upon as one of the best defenders in the American.
Four different defensive players have also recorded interceptions for Fickell’s team. Defensive backs Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant and Arquon Bush each have two interceptions apiece, while linebacker Darrian Beavers has one.
For SMU, head coach Sonny Dykes has done wonders with a program that had to encounter 32 years of hardship after the death penalty struck in 1987. That revival and rejuvenation has given Mustangs fans and players a breath of much-needed fresh air.
Quarterback Shane Buechele has been the face of the SMU resurgence. The Texas transfer sits at second in the nation in passing yards with 1,710. Buechele’s 119 completions on 177 attempts and his 12-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio allows his teammates to be successful as well.
Running back Ulysses Bentley IV has filled the void of Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman nicely with 506 yards on 74 carries, along with eight scores. His best performance so far was a 227-yard day against North Texas.
Leading receiver Reggie Roberson was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in the Memphis game. As a result, players like Rashee Rice, Danny Gray, Kylen Granson and Tyler Page have stepped up to give Buechele a number of receiving options. Gray leads all active receivers in touchdowns with four, and Rice has 411 yards receiving.
The SMU defense has a handful of playmakers that create most of the havoc, but it’s not exactly on the level of Cincinnati’s in regards to skill.
Delano Robinson and Richard McBryde lead all Mustang tacklers with 36 and 29 apiece, with Robinson leading all defensive players in sacks with two.
Defensive back Brandon Crossley has three interceptions through five games, and three other players in Trevor Denbow, Jimmy Phillips Jr. and Brandon Stephens have also grabbed a pick.
This game features a stingy, hard-nosed defense against an offense that can put points on the board in a hurry and in bunches. It begs the simple question of which unit is going to cave under pressure.
Cincinnati’s defense hasn’t been tested enough through three games, and it also hasn’t seen an offense like SMU’s in quite some time. The defense will definitely be up to the task, but it’s just a matter of whether a rather lackluster Bearcats offense can produce.
SMU’s offense is one of the top units in the nation, led by a dark horse Heisman contender and a plethora of athletic wide receivers. That unit will be the reason why the best team in the state of Texas will defeat the Bearcats.
Prediction: SMU 34, Cincinnati 31
Christopher Hess is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.