By Lucas Owens
It is fascinating that this early into the life of the American Athletic Conference, ranked matchups are becoming something that happens a few times each year now, instead of just once or twice. Never, though, have two teams as good as Cincinnati and SMU played this early in the season. For that reason, instead of briefly looking at each game, I am going to look at each team’s resume and how they stack up against each other.
No. 16 SMU Mustangs
SMU made waves last year by remaining the last team in the AAC to stay undefeated, and they do the same this year. The Mustangs are 5-0 after a slow start and some fantastic wins. Still, there is some worry to be had with the Pony Express. They barely squeaked past Texas State in week 1, 31-24, and have had a few close calls with three-point wins over both Tulane and Memphis, with the former being in overtime. The one consistency for the Mustangs in all those games, though, has been quarterback Shane Buchele. The senior has been off to a good start, as he carries a QBR of 81.4 (10th in the country) and 1710 yards passing so far this year. He is a little light on touchdowns, with just 12 so far, but that is due to the interior run game of SMU, led by Ulysses Bentley IV. Bentley IV has 506 yards and 8 touchdowns to his name so far this year, but SMU as a unit combines for an average of 204 yards rushing a game. The defense does leave a lot to be desired, with 407 yards given up per game, but the offense has been able to keep them afloat to this point in the season.
No. 9 Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati comes into this matchup as the road underdogs, despite being ranked seven spots above SMU. The Bearcats are ranked that high mostly for their fantastic defense. In their two matchups against FBS teams, Cincy has given up only 17 points combined, and held a fantastic Army offense to just ten points. Teams looking to pass the ball against the Bearcats best beware, because their phenomenal pass defense has given up just an average of 171 yards a game through the air.
As an opposite to SMU, Cincinnati has left a lot to be desired on the other side of the football. Quarterback Desmond Ridder struggled at times last year, and continues that through to this campaign, as the Junior has just 597 yards passing and six touchdowns this year, but also carries a QBR of 50.3 and four interceptions. So, safe to say, not the best performance so far. Cincinnati, so far this year, has gotten by on great defense and an offense just good enough to put games away early. Cincinnati also has the added factor of COVID-19 affecting them, as there is no clue who will be available for this game.
The Matchup: No. 9 Cincinnati Bearcats (+3) @ No. 16 SMU Mustangs
Gerald J. Ford Stadium has not seen a matchup as good as this in a long time, as the American gets set to watch two great teams take the gridiron. Overall, I think with Cincinnati’s player pool possibly being limited due to quarantining and SMU’s ability to move the ball offensively, that SMU will come out on top, but obviously it would not be as good of a matchup as it is if it could not go either way. The key to the game will probably be how Cincinnati moves the ball, as if the Bearcats are able to finally get it going offensively, they could easily see themselves on top here.
Edited by Emma Moloney