TOP 25 COLLEGE PREVIEW: #15 CINCINNATI VS. SOUTH FLORIDA
NOW IT’S TIME FOR THE BREAKDOWN The No. 15 University of Cincinnati football team returns to Nippert Stadium on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET, closing out a three-game homestand in their AAC opener against USF. The game will air on ESPN+ and 700 WLW AM. The Bearcats are 2-0 on the young season with wins over Austin Peay and then No. 22 Army West Point. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, no fans will be allowed in the stadium on gameday except for immediate family members of players and coaches from Cincinnati and USF. Limited numbers of UC’s spirit groups from band, cheer, dance and the Bearcat mascot will be socially distanced in the stands but not performing on field. THE SERIES Saturday marks the 18th meeting between UC and USF in a series which dates to 2003. Cincinnati leads the all-time series 10-7, including a 6-2 edge in Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats snapped a three-game slide in Raymond James Stadium a year ago when Sam Crosa hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired. THE COACHES LUKE FICKELL, the 2018 American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, is in his fourth season at UC. He has led UC to back-to-back 11-win seasons, the 2019 AAC East Division Championship along with consecutive bowl-game wins in the 2018 Military Bowl and 2019 TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl. A veteran of 20 years in the FBS ranks, Fickell has been a part of two national championship squads, nine conference title-winning teams (seven as a coach, two as a player at Ohio State) with 16 postseason games and 13 NFL Draft selections under his belt. JEFF SCOTT is 1-1 in his first year as USF’s head coach. The Florida native took the job in Dec. 19 after 12 seasons at Clemson, the last five as co-offensive coordinator. He helped lead the Tigers to a five ACC championships, four CFP Championship game appearances (2015, 2016, 2018 & 2019) and two national titles.
STREAKS, STORYLINES, SIDEBARS … • UC plays its 133rd football season in 2020. The Bearcats program dates to 1885 and is one of the 10 oldest in the NCAA FBS. UC has won a league title five times in the last 13 years and has played 11 bowl games in the past 14 years. • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UC lost games at Nebraska and vs. Miami (OH) and Western Michigan. The APSU game was moved from Sept. 3 to Sept. 19 and the Bearcats played Army West Point on Saturday, Sept. 26 in Nippert Stadium. • No fans will be allowed in the stadium, except for immediate family members of players and coaches. • UC has won five-straight American Athletic Conference FB Team Academic Excellence Awards from 2015-20. • During the 2019-20 calendar year, UC was the only school in the NCAA FBS to play for a conference title in MBB (winter 2019), lacrosse (spring 2019), baseball (spring 2019), volleyball (fall 2019), football (fall 2019) and WBB (winter 2020). • Fifteen states and four countries are represented on UC’s 2020 roster, which features nearly 62 percent (77/125) Ohio natives, including 31 from Cincinnati. Eighty-three of UC’s 125 players (66.4 percent) are sophomores or below. • UC is 24-5 since 2018, ranking among the Top-10 teams in CFB in winning percentage during that span (.821). • Cincinnati is No. 15 in this week’s Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. • UC comes off a 24-10 win over then No. 22 Army which saw the UC defense hold Army to a season-low 182 yards on the ground. The Black Knights entered the game with the NCAA FBS’ top rushing offense, averaging 389.5 yards per game. • UC has won 15-straight games in Nippert Stadium, the sixth-longest active streak in the NCAA FBS. Clemson (23) leads the way, followed by UCF (21), Notre Dame (20), Ohio State (20), UAB (19) and Cincinnati (15). • QB Desmond Ridder became the eighth signal caller in school history to cross the 5,000-career passing yards plateau. He has thrown for 5,063 yards in his career thus far and sits seventh on the all-time passing chart. • DE Ethan Tucky blocked an Army punt in the second quarter, his first of the season and fourth of his career.
BULLS OPEN CONFERENCE PLAY AT CINCINNATI After COVID-19 issues stemming from the Bulls’ previous game at Notre Dame caused the postponement of last Saturday’s contest at FAU, USF will look to continue the 2020 campaign with just its third conference road opener since joining the AAC in 2013. USF is 2-6 in trips to Nippert Stadium, the fifth-oldest stadium in the nation opening in 1915. The Bulls lost 35-23 to the No. 25-ranked Bearcats in their last trip to Nippert in 2018 on a freezing November night with a kickoff temperature of 28. USF won in its previous trip, 45-20, in the 2016 season. n CONFERENCE OPENERS: USF is 10-7 all-time in conference openers and 5-2 in The American. Beginning its eighth season in The American, Saturday’s contest will mark the first conference opener on the road for USF since the Bulls traveled to Cincinnati and won, 45-20, to begin the 2016 AAC campaign, which stands as USF’s only other road conference opener since joining The American in 2013. USF lost last year’s opener to SMU in Tampa, 48-21. n FORD FUSION: 5-5 Johnny Ford has been the most explosive member of the USF offense to date after posting a 42-yard carry at Notre Dame and a 43-yard run vs. The Citadel. Ford leads USF with 141 rushing yards and is posting 9.4 yards per carry. n VS. RANKED: USF is 11-29 all-time vs. FBS ranked opponents, with its last win coming on Oct. 28, 2016 with a 52-45 victory over No. 22 Navy in Tampa. The Bulls lost to three ranked teams last year and have lost their last seven matchups with ranked foes, including at No. 7 Notre Dame (52-0) this season. USF is 4-13 in road games at ranked opponents, with its last victory coming at No. 16 Notre Dame, 23-20, in 2011. A win at No. 9 West Virginia in 2006 (24-19) is the highest ranked foe beaten on the road. USF downed No. 5 West Virginia (21-13) in Tampa in 2007 for the highest ranked foe beaten in program history, also the last top-10 foe defeated. USF has downed three top-10 teams in its history.
LAST TIME OUT BULLS FALL TO NO. 7 NOTRE DAME IN SECOND TRIP TO SOUTH BEND Underdog USF couldn’t rekindle the magic of its 2011 upset win at Notre Dame, falling to the seventh-ranked Irish, 52-0, in the second game of the all-time series last Saturday at historic Notre Dame Stadium. n Saturday marked the second game in the all-time series between USF and Notre Dame. The Bulls posted a 23-20 victory in the schools’ first-ever meeting at Notre Dame Stadium in 2011. The new three-game series, which was announced in August, will continue with Notre Dame traveling to Tampa for the first time and USF returning to South Bend. n USF headed into Saturday leading the nation with a plus-3 turnover margin. The Bulls forced two fumbles against the Irish but didn’t record a takeaway and again didn’t turn the ball over on offense. n Sophomore back Johnny Ford shined, rushing for a team-high 70 yards on six carries (11.7). Two of Ford’s runs went for 42 and 22 yards on two of the Bulls’ five trips inside Irish territory. n Starting quarterback Jordan McCloud completed 8-of-14 passes for 64 yards and averaged 4.2 yards on five carries. n Safety Nick Roberts totaled a team-high nine tackles (six solo). Senior cornerback KJ Sails added a career-high seven tackles while sophomore lineman Jason Vaughn also set a career high with six stops (five solo). n Notre Dame scored TDs on five of its first six possessions and led 35-0 at the half. The Irish outgained USF, 429-231.
LAST TIME VS. CINCINNATI L, 20-17, NOV. 16, 2019 USF gave No. 17 Cincinnati all it could handle in a heartbreaking 20-17 loss that went to the final second at Raymond James Stadium. A strong defensive effort helped USF to a 10-0 halftime lead, but four missed field goals hampered the Bulls’ chances of winning. n USF outgained Cincinnati 438-278, which marked the Bulls’ fourth game with at least 400 yards and third opponent held below 300 yards. USF recorded four sacks and held UC to 4-of-14 on third down. n Sophomore LB Antonio Grier led the Bulls with a career-high 10 tackles. n Sophomore WR Randall St. Felix had a season long 55-yard reception that set up a touchdown on USF’s first drive. St. Felix finished with two catches for 70 yards. n USF increased its streak of games with a takeaway to 10, with junior DT Kevin Kegler recovering a fumble in the first half. The Bulls began the week ranking third nationally with 21 takeaways.