- Time and Date: Saturday, September 17 at 12:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPNU
- Location: Paycor Stadium — Cincinnati, OH (neutral-site)
- Spread: Cincinnati (-21.5)
- ESPN FPI: Cincinnati has 94.2% chance to win
- All-time series: Series tied, 59-59-7
- Last meeting: Cincinnati 49, Miami (OH) 14 — September 4, 2021
- Current streak: Cincinnati, 15 (2006-21)
The Victory Bell
First launching in 1888, Cincinnati and Miami (OH) partake in college football’s oldest running non-conference rivalry. Like many great rivalries, the schools roughly 40 miles apart compete for a coveted trophy — the Victory Bell.
However, the Victory Bell has not exchanged sidelines since 2006. Led by head coach Mark Dantonio, Cincinnati edged Miami 24-10 that September afternoon at Nippert Stadium, and the rivalry trophy has since been rebranded to a permanent fixture in the Bearcats’ facilities ever since.
Prior to that 2006 meeting, Miami held a considerable upper hand in the rivalry, leading its cross-town rival 59-44-7 in the all-time series. But Cincinnati’s program began to blossom toward the end of the 2000s, and the Bearcats rattled off 15 consecutive wins to knot the series at 59 apiece. Now, Cincinnati boasts elite stature as one of 13 FBS programs to claim an appearance in the exclusive College Football Playoff, and the overwhelming favorites look to make it 16 in a row over its annual MAC opponent.
The venue for this year’s edition of the rivalry is technically neutral, as the game will transpire at the newly-named Paycor Stadium (formerly known as Paul Brown Stadium) — home of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Miami RedHawks outlook
Heading into the season, a double-digit loss to the current No. 9 team in the country and a double-digit win over an FCS team was the expectation for the RedHawks. However, the team’s current situation is worse than many would have imagined.
Quarterback Brett Gabbert suffered an injury in the season opener at Kentucky, and the All-MAC gunslinger is expected to be “out for a while,” according to head coach Chuck Martin. Gabbert’s presence on the roster was a major reason why Miami was selected to win the MAC East in the conference’s preseason media poll, and without him, the offense takes on a different form.
Playing in relief of the longtime starter is Aveon Smith, whose in-game experience was limited to five passing attempts and nine rushes entering last Saturday. The redshirt freshman earned his first career start Saturday against FCS program Robert Morris, providing a perfect opportunity to ease into his new No. 1 QB role at home in a buy game. Smith fired three touchdown passes and an interception on 22 attempts, totaling 155 passing yards and 38 rushing yards — adding a degree of mobility to Miami’s offense.
Smith established a strong rapport with the team’s top receiver in Mac Hippenhammer and together, the two produced 52 yards of offense and two touchdowns on four connections. Hippenhammer, the most explosive player on Miami’s offense, will face the daunting task of going against a Cincinnati secondary which has earned a reputation for being one of the nation’s bests throughout the Luke Fickell era. Assisting Hippenhammer in guiding the RedHawks’ passing offense are tight end Nate Muersch and wide receiver Jalen Walker, who both can serve as lethal threats in the short yardage game. Muersch, not expected to be one of the top three receiving options in preseason, now takes on a larger role due to the absence of the team’s starting tight end Jack Coldiron.
Gabbert and Coldiron aren’t the only starters out for Miami. The RedHawks suffered another crucial injury at Kentucky when left tackle Sam Vaughan was lost for the season. Will Jados, a 6’8”, 308 pound redshirt freshman, took over for Vaughan in the starting lineup last Saturday and the result was initial success. The front five prevented Robert Morris from tallying a single sack and paved the way for the RedHawks’ most productive rushing performance in their last eight contests.
If “running back by committee” could describe one team in college football, Miami might be bested suited for that definition. The RedHawks trot out five experienced running backs, and any opponent can expect utilization of all five throughout a contest. Keyon Mozee, the team’s leading rusher from 2021, is most likely to serve as the starter with Jaylon Bester co-starring in the backfield. However, Kevin Davis, Kenny Tracy, and Tyre Shelton have all been very productive this season with averages surpassing seven yards per carry. Davis and Tracy are the team’s main receiving backs set to assist Smith in the flats and on screens in the passing game.
On the defensive side, one of the bigger question marks heading into the season involved how Miami would replace losing its top five sack leaders — including current Bearcat outside linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. But transfer portal taketh, transfer portal giveth. Miami secured Indiana edge rusher Ty Wise from the portal, and with Wise in the lineup, the unit is responding to the mass exodus of pass rushers very well. The RedHawks are currently tied for 16th in the FBS with three sacks per game.
One key component on defense is a longtime roster member who missed nearly the entirety of last season. Middle linebacker Ryan McWood suffered a season-ending injury early in 2021, but he is looking like his 2020 self again with a team-high 18 tackles this season. McWood’s stat-line also features an interception, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a share of a sack. His presence benefits the run defense to a conspicuous degree, and the RedHawks rank fifth in the FBS by surrendering just 45 rushing yards per game.
The passing defense doesn’t enjoy quite the same status, however, situated at 87th in average yards permitted. When combining the two facets, Miami still fields an upper quartile defense through the diminutive sample size of 2022.
Cincinnati Bearcats outlook
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, recording consecutive College Football Playoff appearances is off the table after a 31-24 Week 1 defeat to Arkansas in Fayetteville. While the Bearcats lost a considerable amount of production — including nine 2022 NFL Draft picks which only trailed Georgia and LSU — Luke Fickell’s team still appears to be one of the stronger programs in the AAC.
Just like the RedHawks, Cincinnati bounced back from a Week 1 defeat in SEC country by regaining confidence against an overmatched FCS squad. The Bearcats piled the points onto Kennesaw State, tying their highest scoring output of the Fickell era in a 63-10 decision.
One of the first orders of business for Cincinnati this offseason was to find the successor to Desmond Ridder — the third winningest college quarterback of all-time. Former Eastern Michigan quarterback Ben Bryant won the competition in fall camp and is set to retain his duties after an efficient Week 2 outing where he equated his touchdown total of three with his number of incompletions. This won’t be Bryant’s first start against the RedHawks though. Last October at Eastern Michigan, the ex-MAC quarterback completed 21-of-31 passes for 206 yards in a 13-12 victory over Miami.
When trying to defeat this team for his second year in a row, Bryant will have a completely different set of surrounding weapons. So far this season, the wealth has been distributed fairly evenly with seven players ranging from five to eight receptions — and no Bearcat exceeding eight. Tyler Scott, who burned Miami’s secondary en route to an 81-yard touchdown on Cincinnati’s first drive of 2021, continues to hold status as the team’s most lethal deep threat. Jadon Thompson, Tre Tucker, and Hawaii transfer Nick Mardner complete the receiving corps which supports the Bearcats’ 22nd ranked passing offense. The offense also thrives on heavy usage of two physical tight ends as Josh Whyle and Leonard Taylor provide stellar blocking skills in addition to possessing reliable sets of hands.
Cincinnati’s offense has been more prone to airing it out than running thus far, but despite taking its lumps against Arkansas, the run game returned in full force last Saturday. The Bearcats produced 232 yards and four touchdowns on a 7.7 average. In the absence of starter Ryan Montgomery, Charles McClelland and LSU transfer Corey Kiner should get the bulk of handoffs, but Myles Montgomery showed plenty of promise by taking his first eight reps of his college career for 108 yards in the home opener.
The specialty of a Fickell-coached squad typically lies on the defensive side, but the unit experienced a rough start by allowing 31 points and 447 yards to Arkansas in the opener. One of Cincinnati’s most crucial areas to address on defense this season involved replacing NFL Draft selections Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant at cornerback. So far, Arquon Bush has performed well in his move from nickelback to the boundary, and the Bearcats enjoy a respectable 28th overall ranking in pass defense with Bush leading the mix.
Another key name on this defense to watch includes Miami (OH) transfer Ivan Pace Jr., who is playing on the other side of the crosstown rivalry after losing two prior matchups as a RedHawk. Pace is Cincinnati’s leader in total tackles (23), tackles for loss (4.5), and his early 2022 résumé features a sack and forced fumble — well on his way to All-AAC status. Ivan plays alongside his brother Deshawn, another vital member of the Bearcats’ defense who recorded a team-high four interceptions from the outside linebacker position last fall.
The run defense has been the most concerning aspect of Fickell’s unit this season. While the numbers weren’t much to marvel at when Cincinnati ranked 61st a year ago by permitting 149 yards on the ground per game, that value ballooned to 183 through the Bearcats’ first two contests — giving the team a national ranking of 105. Nose tackle Jowon Briggs is one of the team’s better defenders when it comes to eating up ball carriers around the line of scrimmage. Briggs checks in at third on the team in total tackles — a rare feat for nose tackle — and will command a significant portion of attention from center Rusty Feth and the Miami offensive line.
This matchup could take on a different form if Miami trotted out Brett Gabbert at quarterback. But unfortunately for the RedHawks, their bowl game and MAC championship winning signal caller will be sidelined for the foreseeable future, thus changing the dynamic of the offense. Aveon Smith’s second start will be against an intimidating defense with plenty of College Football Playoff experience stretching across the unit.
The Bearcats shouldn’t have too much issue cutting of Miami’s new-look passing attack with Arquon Bush and Ja’Von Hicks manning the secondary. Producing on the ground isn’t typically a strength of the RedHawks’ offense, so Cincinnati’s greatest weakness may not be exploited to a noticeable degree in this matchup. On the other side of the ball, the Bearcats trot out a reliable offense with plenty of weapons scattered across the skill positions — similar to the Kentucky team that upended Miami 37-13 in Week 1.
The spread is 21.5, and Cincinnati’s margin of victory should mirror what Vegas predicts, considering the Bearcats’ advantages on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Cincinnati 37, Miami (OH) 17