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2015 MAC football non-conference previews: Cincinnati Bearcats

Can Miami win the Battle for the Victory Bell for the first time since 2005?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After traveling to Madison in Week 2 to take on the Wisconsin Badgers, Miami returns to Yager the following week for homecoming to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats in the 120th edition of the Battle of the Victory Bell, the oldest active non-conference rivalry in college football. The 'Cats have won the last nine match-ups with the RedHawks (although Miami leads the series 59-53-7), including last season's 31-24 thriller at Paul Brown Stadium, and finished 2014 in second place in the American. The team hosts Alabama A&M and AAC opponent Temple before making its way to Oxford.

Leading an offense that averaged 34 points per game in 2014 is Gunner Kiel, who got named to the Maxwell Award Watch List this offseason. Kiel showed why he was recruited by Notre Dame last season as he threw for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in Tommy Tuberville's vertical passing offense. In the game against Miami, he went for 271 yards through the air four touchdowns, two interceptions, and got sacked once.

The passing looks to be just as strong in 2015 as Cincinnati returns all 31 of its receiving touchdowns from a season ago, with Mekale McKay and Chris Moore leading the way with eight touchdowns each. In the meeting with the RedHawks, the diminutive Shaq Washington caught seven passes for 71 yards while the 6'6" McKay was the recipient of two of the four passing touchdowns. Tight ends are pretty much a non-factor in the offense as DJ Dowdy leads the group with five receptions for 36 yards.

The Bearcats have a serviceable running game as well, as they bring back 908 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, with Mike Boone topping the rest of the backfield with 650 yards and nine touchdowns as well as six receptions for 62 yards. Running the ball is fairly easy with the big offensive line of UC, which boasts 13 players 6'5" or over and six 300+  pounders. Tion Green had success against the 'Hawks last season as he rushed for 73 yards on 13 carries and added two receptions for 17 yards.

Defensively, the team has improvements to make as it allowed 27.2 points per game in 2014 despite generating 35 sacks. Helping the cause up front is Silverberry Mouhon, who tallied 46 total tackles and four sacks last season, while the strength of the defense is the secondary, where Leviticus Payne had 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and an interception while Zach Edwards leads the team with two interceptions. Against Miami the defense was opportunistic as it recovered two fumbles and snagged an interception, which led to 14 points for the offense.

Special teams is also pretty solid for the Bearcats as Sam Geraci pinned opponents back last season with 15 punts inside the 20-yard line while Andrew Gantz went 16/20 on field goal attempts with a long of 47. Kickoff specialist is still a question mark for the team, but return men provide some steady production as Washington averaged over six yards on punt return with a long of 46 while Johnny Holton busted of a 40-yarder on kickoff and averaged over 20 yards per return. In the game against Miami, the team was 1/1 on field goal, had six touchbacks on six kickoffs, and had a 50+ yard punt.

For Miami to snap UC's winning streak and bring the Victory Bell back home, it needs to be able to run the ball against a front seven that lost all but two starters and shorten the game for their defense. On defense, the RedHawks need to stop the run to get the Bearcats in obvious passing downs and find ways to create pressure on Kiel. If the Red and White can do theses things, they can expect to win the 60th game of the series on September 19.