CINCINNATI (AP) — No. 8 Cincinnati has hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff and has big games on the nonconference schedule at No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 17 Indiana. But none of that will matter if the Bearcats don’t take care of business in the season opener against instate rival Miami on Saturday.
“It’s like Christmas morning,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. “I really want to see what we’ve got. To see some of those guys who need to take the next step. How we mesh together as a team. That first time seeing what this team is made of. It’s always unique every year.”
Fickell said he prefers starting the season with a rivalry game. And despite having a 14-game winning streak against the RedHawks, several of the games have been close, including 2019 when Miami jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the Bearcats rallied for a 35-13 win.
Of the 124 meetings, 54 have been decided by seven points or fewer.
“It put a lot of heightened awareness in the past 10 days,” Fickell said. “We’re not just getting ready for any other game. We’re getting ready for a rivalry game. There have been some battles against them. We want them to understand that.”
Miami, picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference East Division, hasn’t beaten the Bearcats since 2005.
The “Battle for the Victory Bell” is the longest college football rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains, dating to 1888. It also is the fifth-most played rivalry in Division I (FBS only) with 124 all-time meetings.
Saturday’s game is a big opportunity for Miami.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said RedHawks coach Chuck Martin. “It’s our huge rival. It’s the No. 8 team in the country. I don’t know if there’s a bigger opportunity for us. There are easier openers, but we can’t ease into a season."
The Bearcats return 16 starters from last year’s squad, which went 9-1 and lost 24-21 to Georgia in the Peach Bowl, including senior quarterback Desmond Ridder. Ridder passed for 2,296 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing better than 66% of his passes. He also had 12 rushing TDs.
“He’s really grown as a passer since we saw him as a freshman,” said Martin. “Keeping Ridder in the pocket, easier said than done. But you have to limit the time he gets out. It’s scary every time he drops back. He can beat you in a hurry.”
Miami sophomore quarterback Brett Gabbert is the brother of NFL quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Brett Gabbert passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns in two games last season. In 2019, he was named MAC freshman of the year after passing for 2,411 yards and 11 TDs. He tied a Miami bowl record with 22 completions in the LendingTree Bowl against Louisiana, including a streak of 12 straight.
BACK AT IT
Due to the pandemic, the two teams did not play last season. It was the first time they hadn’t faced each other since 1945. Aside from 1943 and 1944, the Bearcats and RedHawks played every year from 1909 to 1942. The schools recently announced the series would be extended through 2029.
Cincinnati established a school record for season ticket sales with more than 22,000. That eclipses the 18,836 season tickets sold for the 2010 season.
Miami leads the all-time series 59-58-7, but the Bearcats have won the last 14 meetings. Miami’s last win came on Sept. 28, 2005, a 44-16 triumph in Oxford.
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