Preseason school soccer publications like Cincinnati once more lead the group of 5

Luke Fickell has led the Cincinnati Bearcats to a 31-6 record for the past three seasons. (Photo of … [+] Benjamin Solomon / Getty Images)

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Late May and early June are an exciting time for college football fans. After all, the first releases of the preseason have hit the shelves.

A year ago, those releases couldn’t cover much in terms of spring training, as most teams only had a workout or two, if any, before the pandemic wiped the calendar blank.

So it was in the air what to look forward to as anyone could guess what the season would be like. While all but a few Football Bowl subdivision teams started and had some sort of season, they did so on a phased basis and in front of a limited number of fans or not at all.

Many teams suffered virus-related cancellations and a number of bowls announced they would not have a game or their games were ultimately canceled.

College football fans would probably agree that seeing this year’s releases on the shelves is exciting as we are all looking forward to a season that should bring us back to what we are normally used to, or something a lot close to it.

Of course, we’re used to seeing companies like Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State in the upper echelons of the top 25. This year is no exception. In fact, two of the leading publications, Athlon and Lindy’s, agree on the composition of the top 10 (including the Crimson Tide at # 1), with few teams differing by one place. (While the print edition was out, Lindy’s had not yet fully published its top 25 online at the time of this publication.)

It’s also hard not to notice the team that ranks 8th in the rankings of both publications: Cincinnati.

The Bearcats made school history last year when they checked in at number 20 in the AP preseason poll released in August. This marked the first time UC landed in the AP’s preseason top 25 since the service released such a poll in 1950. (The survey has been around since 1936, but it would be another 14 years for a preseason version to hit the market.)

With the Bearcats in the top 10, both releases – plus ESPN, which had Luke Fickell’s # 9 team in their top 25 after spring – agree that what happened last season will be carried over. Cincinnati won all nine regular season games and rose to 8th place in the final college football playoff rankings and 6th place on the AP prior to their Peach Bowl appointment with Georgia on New Years Day.

The Bearcats lost 24-21 when UGA’s Jack Podlesny scored a 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining. UC slipped to 8th place in the last AP poll, making it the program’s highest postseason ranking of 2009 under Brian Kelly. The bowl loss came two weeks after Cole Smith scored a 34-yard field goal when time ran out to bring Cincinnati to a 27-24 win over Tulsa in the AAC championship game.

Cincinnati goes into this season with a 31-6 role for the past three years. The team returns with a quarterback who was the American Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, along with some key figures in a defense that ranked third nationwide in terms of pass defense efficiency and intercepted the country’s third most passes (16) Has.

We’ll have a good idea whether Cincinnati is actually headed for another New Year’s Six Bowl when the conference game begins on Friday night, October 8th against the visit of Temple. Should the Bearcats come into play 4-0 after successfully mastering the non-conference slate, the Nippert Stadium will rock to its core before kick-off. Getting through the opening month of the season unscathed would ultimately mean defeating Indiana and Notre Dame on the road.

True, the Hoosiers and the Fighting Irish both have questions with the quarterback. Michael Penix’s health (ACL recovery) is a primary concern for IU and Ian Book has left South Bend with Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan as the likely successor. Still, even with a week off in between, this is a great way to finish off a non-conference schedule starting with Miami, Ohio and Murray State at home.

A familiar face will be on the sidelines of Fighting Irish. Marcus Freeman, who has been Fickell’s defensive coordinator for the past four years, left Cincinnati in January to serve in the same capacity under Kelly.

New DC Mike Tressel, who has traveled from Michigan state, has a few new starters to pull in, but also has four all-conference performers returning to the corners Ahmed Gardner and Coby Bryant and linemen Myjai Sanders and Marcus Brown.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder scored a total of 31 touchdowns (19 passing games) in 10 games. While Gerrid Doaks left, former Alabama running back Jerome Ford had an impact (6.6 ypc, 8 TDs) on the offense last year and should take the load this season.

Whether the Bearcats live up to the ranking will of course be decided from Labor Day weekend in both directions.

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