No. Eight Cincinnati has risen in standing

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For the past 12 years, the American-Statesman’s sports staff has spent July breaking down our own top 25 preseason rankings. The eventual semi-finalists of last year’s College Football Playoffs ranked first, second, third, and ninth in our 2020 poll.

# 8 Cincinnati

College football is still waiting for its first real underdog in the playoffs. If there is a serious challenger for a place this year, it will likely come from the same place as last year. Cincinnati starts 2021 exactly where it ended in 2020. Coach Luke Fickell, 47, has created a Group of Five monster that has broken records of 11-2, 11-3 and 9-1 for the past three seasons. His Bearcats led Georgia 21:10 in the fourth quarter of the Six Peach Bowl in the fourth quarter before falling by 24:21. Fickell might have the right mix to make another run, led by the highly decorated dual-threat senior QB Desmond Ridder. He’s going to throw to TE Josh Whyle and proven wideouts. The Bearcats have high-level defensive talent, including leading cornerback duo from Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant and edgerusher Myjai Sanders. The questions revolve around offensive tackle and safety, with the need to replace NFL drafting decisions. Cincinnati’s main challenger in American Athletic is likely to be Central Florida, which will be played on October 16.

Cincinnati was ranked 22nd in our preseason poll last year. The Bearcats ranked 8th in all three major final votes.

About the bear cats

2020: 9-1, 6-0 in the AAC – they defeated Tulsa 27-24 in the Conference title game, then they were defeated 24-21 by Georgia in the Peach Bowl. The last three games of the season were all decided with three points.

Coach: Luke Fickell, 41-21, including 35-14 in four seasons with Cincinnati; In 2011 he went as the interim head coach for Ohio State at 6-7.

Recurring starters: 15 (8 attack, 7 defense)

Inflatable shoes: OT James Hudson (Browns, 4th round); S Darrick Forrest (Washington, 5th); S James Wiggins (Cardinals, 7th); RB Gerrid Doaks (Dolphins, 7th); WR Jayshon Jackson (broadcast, Ball State); QB Ben Bryant (Transfer, East Michigan)

Catching up

Cincinnati bricked teams with a suffocating defense and a low-risk offense last year. That’s the formula again, but all eyes are on the new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel, who replaces Marcus Freeman, one of the hottest young DCs in the country who is now running Notre Dames D. Tressel, nephew of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, was an assistant at Michigan State for 14 years. … Big things are expected from Virginia transfer DT Jowon Briggs and one more transfer. James Tunstall, will be pushing for one of the open OT spots. … Although the Bearcats can’t recruit like Ohio State, they own their league and have been first, first, second, first, and first place for the past five years, according to the summary of 247Sports.

Returned executives

Pass: Desmond Ridder 186-281-2,296, 19/6 (led team)

Hurry: QB Desmond Ridder 98-592-12 (2nd), Jerome Ford 73-483-8 (3rd)

Reception: Michael Young Jr. 29-332-3 (lead team), TE Josh Whyle 28-353-6 (2nd)

Attacks: LB Darrian Beavers 58 (2nd), LB Joel Dublanko 51 (3rd)

Bags: DE Myjai Sanders 7 (led team)

Interception: CB Coby Bryant 4 (led team), CB Ahmad Gardner 3 (2nd)

Back all conference

Offense: QB Desmond Ridder (Player of the Year and 1st Team), WR Michael Young Jr. (2nd), TE Josh Whyle (2nd)

Defense: DL Myjai Sanders (1st), CB Ahmad Gardner (1st), CB Coby Bryant (1st), DT Marcus Brown (2nd), LB Darrian Beavers (2nd)

Special teams: RET Tre Tucker (2nd)

Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver Tre Nixon in central Florida during the 2019 game.

For your information

How the pandemic affected Cincinnati: The Bearcats avoided early problems, but a COVID-19 outbreak in the program resulted in postponements and ultimately cancellation of the Temple and Tulsa Games. And towards the end of the season, the undefeated Cats were four weeks without a game and lost three places in the polls. Out of sight out of mind. No fans were allowed in home games until Cincinnati hosted the AAC championship game; only 5,831 fans were allowed to enter the gates.

Hoosier Papa: Two trips to Indiana outside of conferences will make or break Cincinnati’s potential playoff push. A September 18 trip to Indiana # 13 is followed by an appointment on October 2 at Notre Dame # 9. Last year the Bearcats bumped into a wall with the CFP committee because they lacked a marquee win. This time the schedule shouldn’t be a problem. Hit the Hoosiers and Irish, and the Street Cred will be there.

No trespassing: He’s 6-2, comes into your grill, and has creepy ball instincts. It is best to avoid Gardner, a consensus NFL first-round cornerback prospect. The former three-star recruit from Detroit only allowed 16 first downs with 22 passes defended to 84 goals in press coverage, the best numbers in FBS in 2019-20. Opposing QBs have a miserable pass rating of 35.3 when thrown into his primary cover.

National statistics rankings 2020 2020

Where Cincinnati ranked nationwide in various statistical categories last season – and how the Bearcats ranked in 2019.

Rating: 17th (2019 – 60th, +43 places)

Scoring Defense: 8. (24., +16)

Total violation: 24th (80th, +56)

Overall defense: 13. (40th, +27)

Pass: 55th (107th, +52)

Passport Defense: 39. (60., +21.)

Hurry: 22. (25., +3)

Rush Defense: 13. (44th, +31)

Bags: 16. (32nd, -17)

Interception: 3. (76th, +18)

Offenses in the red zone: 78th (69th, -9)

Defense of the red zone: 15. (12., -3)

Sales margin: T-30. (31st, +1)

Ownership time: 24. (26., +2)

Our top 25 – so far

Good. 25 old lady: Rebels have a lot of firepower to work with

No. 24 Washington: Huskies back for more after 3-2 season

# 23 Louisiana: Ragin ‘Cajuns want to prove that they belong

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum going

No. 21 State of Oklahoma: Cowboys have offensive questions for a change

# 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes hope this is the year to bump into the Buckeyes

# 19 Carolina Coast: Upscale chanticleers are looking to stay here, ready or not

No. 18 Texas: Longhorns start over with coach, quarterback, offense, defensive

# 17 Wisconsin: Badgers longed for a season to catch up in Big Ten

# 16 Miami: Hurricanes set D’Eric King’s return from injury

# 15 Oregon: Duck out to win three consecutive Pac-12 title games

No. 14 LSU: Last year’s tough blows could pay off for this year’s Tigers

No. 13 Indiana: Hoosiers have stocked their shelves with transfer talent

No. 12 USC: Trojans are evolving in the right direction in Pac-12

No. 11 Florida: Minus the big names, Gators start over on the offensive

No. 10 North Carolina: Tar heels work to keep things going

No. 9 Notre-Dame: Irish should rely on Williams and the running game

# 8 Cincinnati

Come tomorrow

Our No. 7 team. Would you like a hint?

It is the third Big 12 team in our survey.