- Time and date: Saturday, September 16 at 7:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: Nippert Stadium — Cincinnati, OH
- Spread: Cincinnati (-14)
- Over/under: 46.5
- All-time series: Cincinnati leads, 60-59-7
- Last meeting: Cincinnati 38, Miami (OH) 17 — September 17, 2022
- Current streak: Cincinnati, 16 (2006-22)
Setting the scene
One rivalry conference realignment has not deterred is the iconic Battle for the Bell. Cincinnati and Miami (OH) hold the honor of sharing the oldest non-conference rivalry in college football, initially meeting in 1888. The crosstown rivals — separated by fewer than 40 miles — have competed for a trophy since the 19th century as well. The Victory Bell was originally an actual bell from Harrison Hall on Miami’s campus and was stolen by Cincinnati fans in the 1890s. Eventually, the original bell temporarily disappeared and was replaced by a replica, which has been utilized as the rivalry trophy for decades.
The Victory Bell is property of Cincinnati and has been for 16 consecutive meetings. The Bearcats finally took control of the series lead after last year’s meeting at Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals. This year, the series returns to the Bearcats’ home at Nippert Stadium, where the new Big 12 member hopes to make it 17 straight over the underdog RedHawks.
Miami (OH) RedHawks outlook
Only three MAC teams defeated an FBS program in the first two weeks of the season, and Miami (OH) belongs in that category. After a rough offensive start to the season in Miami (FL), Chuck Martin and the RedHawks rebounded nicely with a 41-28 road win at UMass. While Miami struggled with turnovers and penalties in the victory, the talent on either side of the ball was apparent as the team claimed a 13-point victory. But rather than return home after splitting a pair of road games, the RedHawks must remain visitors for the third-straight week to open 2023.
Miami’s offense is centered on the abilities of quarterback Brett Gabbert. The fifth-year starting quarterback — who has somehow only played Cincinnati once — proved his gunslinger abilities last week, firing for 302 passing yards on just 12 completions — the fifth-highest output of his career. He tossed a pair of uncharacteristic interceptions, snapping a streak of six consecutive starts without one. Still, it was a strong bounce-back performance after Miami’s offense only managed three points in Week 1.
Gabbert has increased comfort with the offense now that he has settled on a No. 1 receiver. Gage Larvadain transferred into Oxford, OH from Southeastern Louisiana of the FCS this offseason, and he already is posting All-MAC numbers. In Week 1, Larvadain caught eight passes for 80 yards. In Week 2, he one-upped that with the best receiving performance of 2023 — eight receptions, 273 yards, and three touchdowns. Now, Larvadain leads the FBS in receiving yardage at 353.
Larvadain is the overwhelming target for the RedHawks. No other receiver has captured more than two receptions in a game this season, so Cincinnati should have one primary focus on defense. If Larvadain is blanketed, the targets Gabbert may look toward include wide receivers Miles Marshall and Joe Wilkins Jr. Tight end Nate Muersch will have a larger role cut out for him as well, since starter Jack Coldiron is out for the season with a lower-body injury.
Miami’s run game under Martin has typically been a running back by committee approach, but the RedHawks found a hot hand in UMass, who could sustain a bellcow role. South Carolina transfer Rashad Amos fielded 23 of 27 handoffs, gunning for 115 yards — the second-highest rushing total by a Miami player since the start of the 2020 season. Keyon Mozee should operate in the secondary back role, hoping to sustain the running backs’ collective 5.3 yards per carry from the prior week.
Defensively, allowing 28 points to UMass looks worse on the surface than it actually was. Seven of those points stemmed from a pick-six and seven came as a result of a fumble UMass recovered two yards from the goal line. Miami allowed only two sustained touchdown drives, powered by a run defense which looked far better than it did Week 1. Defensive ends Caiden Woullard and Brian Ugwu led the stifling of the run, as did two-time All-MAC linebacker Matt Salopek. Salopek contributed 14 tackles, one sack, and a pair of tackles for loss in the victory, and he’ll be instrumental to halting Corey Kiner and the Bearcats’ run game Saturday.
The back end allowed 244 passing yards and a hat trick of aerial touchdowns to the Minutemen. Still, the RedHawks possess plenty of veteran talent in the safety room to counter opposing passing attacks. Michael Dowell has been the spotlight of that group this year with a pair of interceptions through two contests.
And while special teams doesn’t often get shine in matchup previews, the presence of Graham Nicholson on Miami’s roster is essential. The kicker is 3-for-3 this season, draining deep shots as long as 48 and 44 yards — making 14-of-18 between 40 and 49 yards in his college career.
Cincinnati Bearcats outlook
Cincinnati was selected to finish 13th of 14 teams in the preseason Big 12 media poll. While the Bearcats have yet to face Big 12 competition in their inaugural year, they already impressed with an impressive non-conference road upset at Pittsburgh last Saturday. Cincinnati took a commanding 27-7 lead over the Panthers, allowed the deficit to slice to six, but sealed the game with a relentless pass rush and the heroics of running back Corey Kiner.
Kiner, in his second year with the program, strung together a performance for the ages in the Steel City. He surpassed the century mark for the second time in his college career in Week 1, but topped that in Week 2 with 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against Pitt. Kiner is sixth in the FBS in rushing total, and he’ll remain Cincinnati’s primary running back as the program prepares to square off against Big 12 competition.
Kiner played a substantial amount of snaps in 2022, but he is one of 10 new starters in the Bearcats’ offense. Another significant new starter is quarterback Emory Jones. The Florida and Arizona State transfer couldn’t have launched his Cincinnati tenure in more explosive fashion with a 345-yard, 5-touchdown performance in Week 1 with just four completions. While Jones’ aerial numbers regressed against a challenging Pitt pass defense in Week 2, the quarterback has other ways to attack. In 2021 at Florida, Jones finished the season with 759 rushing yards, so Miami’s defense must be prepared for the journeyman’s dual-threat capabilities.
Cincinnati may have lost over 95 percent of receiving production from 2022, yet, the receiver room remains a strength of this program. The Bearcats stocked up heavily through the transfer portal and landed Xzavier Henderson from Florida and Braden Smith and Dee Wiggins from Scott Satterfield’s former stomping grounds of Louisville. Those three have 159, 131, and 91 yards, respectively, and will be utilized to attack a Miami passing defense which currently ranks 92nd.
Kiner was fantastic in the run game, Smith produced some valuable receptions, but if there’s one number to point to why Cincinnati beat Pitt, it’s the sack total. The Bearcats generated five sacks and eight tackles for loss in the victory, applying heaps of pressure to the point where Pitt quarterback Phil Jurkovec finished 10-of-32. That duress was on full display when the Panthers saw a 1st and 10 on the Cincinnati 29, with an opportunity to win in the final minutes. Two rapidly-forced incompletions and a Jack Dingle sack put Pitt to bed, concluding one of the best defensive line performances witnessed in college football this season.
The ringleader of it all is defensive tackle Dontay Corleone, who earned All-American honors as a freshman in 2022. Nicknamed “The Godfather,” the 6’2”, 318 pound superstar has produced four tackles, but most importantly, he’s caused enough havoc in the interior to open lanes for pass rushers. Defensive end Eric Phillips leads the roster with 2.0 sacks, but the wealth has been spread evenly across a defense that ranks ninth nationally in sacks per game.
Other key defenders to watch on Cincinnati include Utah State transfer Daniel Grzesiak, who excels as one of the team’s premier pass rushers from the outside linebacker role. Grzesiak ranks second on the team in tackles, only trailing outside linebacker-converted-safety Deshawn Pace. Pace is an omnipresent player who was key to Cincinnati’s 2021 College Football Playoff run, tallying 9.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions during that spectacular season. He’s joined in the safety room by a talented group of veterans in Bryon Threats and Taj Ward, who should be instrumental in providing help to shut down Miami’s budding star Gage Larvadain.
The Victory Bell is Cincinnati’s to lose. It is every year.
The Bearcats have authoritatively claimed this rivalry and made it one of the most one-sided in college football by winning 16 consecutive matchups. While there were doubts about this Cincinnati team headed into the season given the coaching turnover and mass exodus of talent lost on offense, the Bearcats’ Week 2 performance against Pitt proved that this team remains a force — especially on defense.
Miami (OH) should move the ball better offensively than it did in Week 1, but the RedHawks’ rushing offense could be stonewalled by Dontay Corleone and the Bearcats’ established veteran line. That will force plenty of third-and-long situations for Miami, which should become very pass-happy as the game progresses.
In the end, Corey Kiner and the Cincinnati offense generate enough success for a multi-score win at Nippert Stadium.
Prediction: Cincinnati 28, Miami (OH) 16