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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Cincinnati Bearcats with Down the Drive

Cincinnati is aiming to secure its spot in the top 10 and make it 15 consecutive wins over Miami (OH).

South Florida v Cincinnati Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The battle for the Victory Bell is the oldest non-conference rivalry in college football dating back to 1888. The 2021 edition of the rivalry between the crosstown Ohio schools features higher stakes than most of the previous matchups.

For one, the series record is on the line. The Miami RedHawks have lost 14 consecutive games, but the Cincinnati Bearcats can tie the all-time series at 59-59-7 with a victory. Also, Cincinnati has its highest preseason ranking ever attached to its name. The Bearcats checked into the initial AP Poll at No. 8, so a convincing win over the RedHawks will be required for the reigning AAC champs to maintain the lofty standing.

To preview the Bearcats, Clayton Trutor (@ClaytonTrutor) of Cincinnati’s SB Nation blog, Down the Drive (@downthedrive), joins us to answer questions about Saturday’s matchup and the current state of Cincinnati:

Steve Helwick, Hustle Belt: Let’s hypothetically hire you to become the athletic director at Cincinnati. Do you continue the annual rivalry with Miami (OH), or explore other non-conference scheduling options? (Editor’s note: this question was written before reports were released that Cincinnati is submitting an application to the Big 12)

Clayton Trutor, Down the Drive: Yes, absolutely. College football is just pro football lite without traditional rivalries.

Helwick: How are Cincinnati fans reacting to the preseason No. 8 ranking? Does it feel more like well-earned respect for the program, or does it pressure the Bearcats into a ‘New Year’s Six or bust’ type of season?

Trutor: Bearcats fans think the team should be ranked in the top 4. They are eager for another opportunity for their team to prove it belongs in the national conversation.

Helwick: Cincinnati produced four 2021 NFL Draft picks last April — James Hudson, Darrick Forrest, James Wiggins, and Gerrid Doaks. Which of these four names will be the most difficult to replace this season? And who steps up in his place?

Trutor: Gerrid Doaks was the heart and soul of the offense. Not only was he a versatile back. He was a genuine warrior on the field. Jerome Ford and Charles McClelland will share the duties at tailback and perform admirably. What the Bearcats lose with Doaks is more intangible than anything.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Cincinnati
Jerome Ford played a major role for the Bearcats late in 2020. The running back registered touchdowns of 42 and 79 yards in the AAC title game and Peach Bowl, respectively.
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Helwick: Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats’ offense got off to a slow start offensively last year, eking out low-scoring wins vs. Army and South Florida. Then everything seemed to click in the second half of the SMU game, and the offensive firepower sustained for the remainder of the regular season. What can Cincinnati do to ensure the offense storms out of the gate strong in 2021?

Trutor: Throughout his career, Desmond Ridder has proven to be a streaky player — a guy who can flounder at times and a guy who can step in poop and turn it into gold at others. I think the Cincinnati offense will go as he does as long as he is the team’s field general.

Helwick: Miami led the country in sacks per game last year, albeit a 3-game schedule. Is there any concern about the RedHawks controlling the line of scrimmage, or is there another facet of Miami’s game that you feel Cincinnati should be wary of?

Trutor: Miami’s defensive front is formidable. Kameron Butler presents a genuine challenge for any group of linemen on the edge and will almost certainly bring pressure against Cincinnati all afternoon.

Helwick: What has to go wrong for the Bearcats on Saturday in order for the RedHawks to have a chance?

Trutor: If Miami can assert itself on the defensive front, they could gum up the Bearcats’ offensive attack. Miami returns a very veteran team in 2021 and they could well be one of the surprises in the MAC.

Helwick: Predict who takes home the Victory Bell, and with what score. Who are the offensive and defensive MVPs of the game?

Trutor: Miami hangs around all afternoon and makes this one competitive but the Bearcats hang on for a 27-21 victory.

The RedHawks kick off their 2021 season at Nippert Stadium in hopes of upsetting the Bearcats at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 4. The game is available on ESPN+.