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SMU vs. Cincinnati Football Prediction and Preview

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati Bearcats Football

Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats put their undefeated record and more on the line when they host the Mustangs in a critical AAC matchup

The undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats are on the doorstep of a spot in the College Football Playoff, but they cannot afford to get tripped up now. SMU will visit Nippert Stadium this weekend to offer Cincinnati’s biggest challenge in American Athletic Conference play to date, and the Mustangs (8-2, 4-2 AAC) can throw a slight wrinkle into the picture if they can score a massive upset on the road against Luke Fickell’s Bearcats (10-0, 6-0).

A Cincinnati win will clinch a spot in the AAC Championship Game, but Cincinnati has a bigger goal in its sights. But for any of that to remain a possibility, it must play a good clean game against a good SMU Mustangs program.

SMU at No. 5 Cincinnati

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN
Spread: Cincinnati -11.5

When SMU Has the Ball

SMU has an explosive offense and is arguably the best attack Cincinnati has faced this season. Quarterback Tony Mordecai helped SMU snap a brief two-game losing streak by putting up 377 passing yards and three touchdowns in a blowout of UCF in Dallas. Mordecai comes into the week leading the AAC in passing yards per game (326.4) and has run away with the conference lead in touchdown passes with 37. Mordecai may have a tougher time racking up big plays and yardage this week though because of Cincinnati's top-ranked defense.

The Bearcats are holding opposing offenses to just 164.4 passing yards per game, and have intercepted 16 passes this season, both of which pace the AAC. Only Iowa has more picks (19) in the FBS. Linebacker Deshawn Pace leads the defense with four interceptions and he has 78 return yards off those picks too. Arquon Bush and Coby Bryant each have three interceptions to their credit as well.

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When Cincinnati Has the Ball

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder may not have the same kind of stats his SMU counterpart is racking up, but Ridder has been no slouch for the Bearcats. Ridder passed for 304 yards last week with a pair of touchdowns in a decisive road victory at South Florida for his best showing of the season. Ridder also can pick up some good yards on the ground, including 65 and a score in the win over the Bulls. Ridder has five rushing touchdowns this season to go with his 22 touchdown passes.

Jerome Ford leads the AAC with 98.7 rushing yards per game, and he owns an AAC-best 15 rushing touchdowns. SMU does have the conference’s second-best rushing defense though, so keep an eye on how well Cincinnati is able to run the ball.

Final Analysis

SMU is fully capable of keeping things close with Cincinnati, but time and time again we have seen the Bearcats make a bit of a statement in this type of situation. This week will be no different. Cincinnati’s defense will have the answers for the SMU offense and the Bearcats will jump to an early lead and manage to keep the Mustangs at arm’s length the entire way.

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, SMU 20

Podcast: Week 12 Predictions + Picks Against the Spread, CFB Playoff Rankings, and the Latest in Coaching Searches

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.