The Cincinnati Bearcats finally get to open their season when they host FCS opponent Austin Peay on Saturday.
The Bearcats jumped from No. 20 to No. 13 in the AP Top 25 Poll without playing a single snap yet. Will they live up to their lofty ranking? Cincinnati returns 16 starters and is stacked with skill and experience on defense. The Bearcats are widely seen as a serious contender to claim the American Athletic Conference championship.
The Governors (0-2) may not offer a useful measuring stick to determine if these cats have claws. After getting drilled 55-0 by Pittsburgh last weekend, Austin Peay does not seem capable of posing a serious challenge against a Top 25 squad. The Governors totaled 137 yards and seven first downs against the Panthers. They went 4-of-16 on third down and totaled a single rushing yard on 22 carries.
Cincinnati leads the all-time series 6-0, including a 26-14 victory in the most recent meeting between the two teams in 2017.
Austin Peay at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 19 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Cincinnati -33.5
When Austin Peay Has the Ball
Cincinnati returns 13 of its top 15 tacklers from a defense that allowed just 20.6 points and 361.4 yards per game a year ago. That's not good news for the Governors. Austin Peay struggled to move the ball against Pitt, committing three turnovers and crossing midfield on only two drives.
Jeremiah Oatsvall has struggled with accuracy over his first two games. Oatsvall threw for 96 yards and an interception on 7-of-18 passing against Pitt. He is completing just 43 percent of his passes through Austin Peay's first two games. If DeAngelo Wilson can regain the form that led to him earning All-OVC honors last season, that should help Oatsvall progress in his playmaking.
The Governors need to generate much more production from their running game to keep Cincinnati's offense off the field. CJ Evans Jr. was limited to four yards on four carries against Pitt after running for 98 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against Central Arkansas a week earlier. Brian Snead has tallied just 52 yards on 21 carries through two games.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
Top running back Michael Warren II is gone, but that doesn't mean the running game left with him. The Bearcats have plenty of horses in the stable to keep a rushing attack that ranked 25th nationally moving at full speed. Gerrid Doaks figures to have a larger role in the backfield after amassing 526 yards and five touchdowns last season. Alabama transfer Jerome Ford adds another promising playmaking option.
The team's top returning runner is quarterback Desmond Ridder. He is a true dual-threat and is a threat to make big plays on every snap. Ridder rushed for 675 yards and five touchdowns during his sophomore campaign. He did even more damage through the air, throwing for 2,164 yards and 18 scores. Ridder posted these numbers even while battling injuries much of the season. Now, back at full strength, he expects to take a major step forward in his junior season.
Cincinnati's offensive line could be an area of strength. Jakari Robinson and Darius Harper are returning starters and Michigan transfer James Hudson is eligible after sitting out last season. They give the Bearcats a core group to mold the rest of the line around and free Ridder to do what he does best.
Cincinnati rode a stout defense to an 11-win season and Top 25 ranking a year ago. With so many key contributors back, the Bearcats have a decent chance to make another run at the AAC title in 2020. Austin Peay does not have the skill or depth necessary to hang around past the first quarter.
Prediction: Cincinnati 49, Austin Peay 7
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of Cincinnati Athletics)