#17 Cincinnati Football 2020 Preview

Cincinnati Bearcats
Overall Rank: #17
#1 American
 Cincinnati Logo
Cincinnati is coming off an 11-win season where they were in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl bid all the way to the end of the year before losing twice at Memphis in consecutive weeks. Head Coach Luke Fickell and his staff have proven so far that there is more than enough room in the state of Ohio to have topflight teams at the power five level (Ohio State) and at the Group of Five level in the Bearcats.
2019 Record: 11-3, 7-1
2019 Bowl: Ticketsmarter Bowl vs. Boston College (38-6 L)
Coach: Luke Fickell (0-1 at Cincinnati, 0-1 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Denbrock
Defensive Coordinator: Marcus Freeman
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Desmond Ridder, QB, 650 yards
Passing:  Desmond Ridder, QB, 2,164 yards
Receiving: Alec Pierce, WR, 652 yards
Tackles: Darrick Forrest, S, 106
Sacks: Michael Pitts, J, 5.5
Interceptions: Ja’Von Hicks, CB, 5
Other Key Returnees: RB Gerrid Doaks, CB Ahmad Gardner, LB Jarell White, CB Coby Bryant, DT Elijah Ponder, OL Darius Harper, OL Jakari Robinson, OL Lorenz Metz, DL Myjai Sanders, DT Jabari Taylor, CB Arquon Bush, J Ethan Tucky, DE Malik Vann
Key Losses: RB Michael Warren, TE Josiah Deguara, WR Rashad Medaris, LB Perry Young, OL Chris Ferguson, OL Morgan James,
There is some work to be done for the Cincinnati offense if they are going to get win the conference title and go to a New Year’s six bowl in 2020. Desmond Ridder will return as the starting quarterback this fall and will be looking to take a step forward with his overall development as a passer. Ridder completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards, 18 touchdowns, and nine interceptions in 2019. The 55 percent completion percentage has to improve into the 60-65 percent range in 2020 in order for this offense to really take off. Alec Pierce is the top returning receiver for the Bearcats as he caught 37 passes for 652 yards and two touchdowns. There is some work to do at running back as Michael Warren moved on after the 2019 season where he rushed for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gerrid Doaks and Alabama transfer Jerome Ford will form a 1-2 punch at running back that will need to pick up the slack for the loss of Warren.  
Cincinnati was the best team in the American Athletic conference when it came to scoring defense last season as they limited teams to just 20.6 points per game. Derrick Forrest is the leading returning tackler with 106 and Ja’Von Hicks picked off five passes to lead a defense that had 16 interceptions in 2019. Michael Pitts is back at the Jack position and he will need to build off a solid 5.5 sack effort in 2019. Myjai Sanders and Ethan Tucky will provide additional pass rush depth as they combined for seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss as well last season. One key point of emphasis for this defense as 2020 approaches is stepping up and stopping the run against quality opponents. In the losses against Memphis, the Bearcats allowed the Tigers to rush for a combined 393 yards in the two games. Thus, the ability to control the line of scrimmage with more consistency against quality competition will be a gamechanger for this program this season.
The Bottom Line:
Austin Peay will come to Nippert Stadium to kickoff the 2020 season followed by a Friday night game against Western Michigan. On September 26 there will be a huge opportunity for Cincinnati to pick up a Power Five road win at Nebraska that can really make a statement with the CFP committee. The rematch with Memphis will take place on Halloween after a stretch of four out of five games on the road. A road trip to UCF in late November will be another potential landmine for the Bearcats as the Golden Knights will be looking to avenge a 27-24 loss to Cincinnati last season. The defense will keep the Bearcats in every game as there is too much talent returning on that side of the ball for them not to hold up their end of the bargain. It all boils down to the progress of the offense and, if they can average 35 points per game, then Cincinnati should win the conference championship in 2020.
Projected Bowl:  Orange Bowl
2019 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 208.0 (25th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 182.3 (107, 10)
Total Offense: 390.3 (80, 10)
Scoring Offense: 29.6 (60, 7)
Rushing Defense: 138.6 (44, 2)
Pass Defense: 222.8 (60, 8)
Total Defense: 361.4 (40, 3)
Scoring Defense: 20.6 (24, 1)
Turnover Margin:  0.43 (31, 3)
Sacks: 2.21 (60, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 2.50 (99, 8)