The Victory Bell is divided into two halves: one black, one white.
Every season, one side of the bell is updated with the current year, depending on who emerges victorious in the rivalry. But since 2006, one half has remained unchanging, failing to record a single victory.
Miami (OH) is currently riding an 11-game losing skid versus Cincinnati in this cross-town annually rivalry. But with each meeting in the past three seasons, Miami seems to inch closer and closer to its foe that resides just one hour away. The RedHawks lost each contest from 2014-2016 by just one possession, forcing the Bearcats to earn hard-fought victories for the right to ring the bell.
Going into the 2017 matchup, the tables have seemingly turned. Miami, a program that fared 5-37 in the 42 games before 2016's midway point, is listed as five-point favorites at home.
From 2007-2014, Cincinnati experienced an impressive stretch where the Bearcats won at least nine games seven times. In that span, the team reached the 10-win mark five times in a six-year stretch (2007-2012). Ever since the creation of the American Athletic Conference, the Bearcats have slightly fallen off their pedestal. Last season ended in a crushing manner as Cincinnati failed to contend for a bowl game for just the second time since 2005.
Through just two games, both Miami and Cincinnati sport identical 1-1 records. However, both wins occurred against the same team — Austin Peay of the FCS — so the teams can be compared in the manner in which they defeated the perennial FCS bottom feeder that is Austin Peay (29-straight losses, 1-47 since 2013).
Cincinnati 26, Austin Peay 14
On 2017's opening Thursday night, fans at the century-old Nippert Stadium were treated to a Bearcat home victory — Cincinnati's first since October 22, 2016. First-year head coach Luke Fickell and his team never trailed in the game, but Austin Peay remained dangerously close throughout. Until the 5:13 mark in the game's final quarter, the Governors were within striking distance, trailing just 20-14.
On Austin Peay's only potential game-winning possession, the Governors failed to drive the required 90 yards. Instead, they punted after achieving one yard on the drive and handed Cincinnati beneficial field position. The Bearcats capitalized and sealed a 12-point victory after a relieving Mike Boone touchdown run. Cincinnati's offense was actually out-gained in the game, but won as a result of dominating the turnover battle. Austin Peay twice turned the ball over in Cincinnati territory, including tossing a momentum-shifting interception to the Bearcats right instead of scoring near the goal line before the half.
Miami (OH) 31, Austin Peay 10
The RedHawks breezed through their Week 2 FCS test, topping Austin Peay by three touchdowns. The teams were deadlocked at 7-7 after one quarter of play, but covering wide receiver James Gardner proved too daunting of a task for the Governors. Gus Ragland connected with Gardner on touchdown passes of 42 and 34 yards in the second quarter, providing Miami a comfortable lead it would not relinquish.
Both teams committed a frightening three turnovers last Saturday, but Miami's defense was able to recover to suppress Austin Peay. However, the FCS program out-rushed both Victory Bell rivals in the opening two weeks of the season.
Miami: Gus Ragland, QB
Ragland is still searching for his accuracy to begin the season, completing just 51.5% of passes at the moment. Entering 2017, Ragland's career completion percentage stood at an impressive 64.9%. The junior quarterback, who hails from Cincinnati, attempted a career-high 44 passes in the Week 1 loss at Marshall but cut his number of attempts in half for the Austin Peay game.
His touchdown-interception ratio still stands at a remarkable rate. He has tossed five scores and only turned the ball over once through the air this season — creating a career ratio of 25 touchdowns-to-2 interceptions.
Ragland does not function as an air raid quarterback, but instead excels as a reliable pocket passer who has mastered short-yardage throws to spark Miami's offense.
If Ragland continues his turnover-free ways and reverts to his 2016 accuracy, Miami's offense will look poised to snatch the Victory Bell and return the hardware back to Oxford for the first time in 12 years.
Cincinnati: Mike Boone, RB
In a tough road battle against Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines, Cincinnati failed to ignite the offense and pull off the upset, losing 36-14.
Quarterback Hayden Moore completed just 15-of-40 passes with two interceptions and running back Mike Boone averaged only 3.7 yards per carry in the struggle. As a whole, the rushing game failed immensely, finishing with 68 yards against Michigan's elite defense.
But when Cincinnati defeated Austin Peay, senior running back Mike Boone positively impacted the Bearcats in the victory with a 100-yard, one touchdown performance.
However, Boone injured is ankle on the final play of the Michigan. Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer expects the senior (22 career rushing touchdowns) to take the field on Saturday despite the minor setback. Boone's 2016 performance against Miami was a memorable one in which the halfback acquired 74 rushing yards and a crucial touchdown to tie the game at 17 in the third quarter.
In the scenario that Boone sits on the sidelines on Saturday, freshmen running backs Gerrid Doaks and Michael Warren II will earn playing time. The duo, along with Boone, are the only running backs to earn rushing attempts this year in Fickell's offense. However, these freshmen are rather inexperienced, tallying a collective 10 carries for 35 in their brief college careers.
The skirmish for the Victory Bell begins at 8 p.m. EST in Oxford, Ohio. After 11-straight losses in the series, the favored Miami RedHawks hope to rally around their home fans at Yager Stadium to earn a solid non-conference victory. Both teams are still searching for their first FBS win of the season after Cincinnati lost to Michigan and Miami to Marshall.
Saturday night's game will be streamable on ESPN3, a part of WatchESPN's online programming.
After spending 15 years on the Ohio State coaching staff, Cincinnati's rookie coach Luke Fickell looks to claim his first Victory Bell. Although Cincinnati's recent dominance has been unquestionable, the RedHawks are still grasping the upper-hand in the series, 59-55-7.
Cincinnati's offensive struggles will be too insurmountable for the Bearcat defense to make up for. The Bearcats have been unable to operate the scoreboard in recent games dating back to 10 months ago. Last season in November, Cincinnati experienced a three-game stretch when it scored a total of 13 points.
Cincinnati has lost six-consecutive matchups against FBS opponents and five-straight games on the road. Conversely, Miami is riding a four-game home winning streak and has triumphed in seven of its last nine.
Ragland's offense is more versatile than Cincinnati's, possessing a formidable two-back duo (Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young) and valuable receiving assets including James Gardner and tight end Ryan Smith. Miami's defense held its own against Marshall, primarily losing that game in the special teams aspect. The unit is definitely strong enough to stave off Moore and the Bearcats, and the Victory Bell will finally return to Oxford rather than the usual destination of Cincinnati.