Cincinnati is looking to secure a victory over a Big Ten team to add to its profile down the line, but the Hoosiers have already taken some of the steam out of this Week 3 matchup. What could have been a battle of Top 25 programs was taken away with Indiana's season-opening loss to Iowa, but the Hoosiers will be ready to give Cincinnati some trouble at home this weekend in Bloomington.
Cincinnati entered the 2021 season as the runaway favorite to be the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion at the end of the season, and being able to add a quality win over a Big Ten school that could still work its way back into the Top 25 by the end of the season is certainly a terrific opportunity for the Bearcats. Will Cincinnati be able to handle the pressure of being a road favorite against the Hoosiers?
Cincinnati at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Cincinnati -4
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
Cincinnati has been off and running on offense in its first two games of the season. The Bearcats have averaged 8.18 yards per play against their overmatched opponents, Miami (Ohio) and FCS Murray State, and Cincinnati has put up more than 40 points in each of its first two games. So things seem to be rolling along just fine for the AAC favorite.
Desmond Ridder has completed 72.3 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown for six touchdowns to give him a 206.4 passer rating, which ranks fourth nationally. Jerome Ford has been the main guy running the ball with 234 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the first two games of the year.
Indiana's defense has not been giving up a ton of yards. The Hoosiers allowed 303 yards to Iowa with an even distribution between run and pass, and Indiana allowed 261 yards to Idaho last week. But Cincinnati will likely offer the most versatile and explosive offense Indiana has faced early on this season.
When Indiana Has the Ball
It was a rough start to the season for Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who was picked off three times by Iowa, with two being returned for a score. A game against FCS Idaho allowed Penix to redeem himself a bit with a much better completion percentage and a couple of touchdowns. If Indiana is going to top Cincinnati, they will need Penix to connect with Ty Fryfogle and getting some production on the ground from Stephen Carr.
Cincinnati's defense has allowed just 3.74 yards per play early on this season, as head coach Luke Fickell has done well in molding a team that can play on both sides of the ball. The Bearcats ranked 13th in the nation in 2020 by allowing just 324.6 yards per game. Cincinnati has yet to allow more than 278 in a contest so far.
This has all of the makings for a fun afternoon of college football between one of the nation's top Group of 5 programs and a Big Ten team looking to prove last year was no fluke. Indiana has already come up short against a tough defensive team in Iowa, and Cincinnati should cause some frustrations again. Don't expect a ton of points in this one. In the end, Indiana will block Cincinnati from leaving with a win.
Prediction: Indiana 24, Cincinnati 20
Podcast: Complete Week 3 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread