University of Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell equates the first game of each season with Christmas morning.
Fear and excitement fill the air on Christmas Day when the children wake up bright and early to find out what Santa left behind under the tree. In Fickell’s case, he’ll wake up early Saturday and travel to Nippert Stadium to find out what his Bearcats on the No. 8/10 (Associated Press / Coaches) are made of when they open the 2021 season against state rival Miami University ( 3:30 p.m. on ESPN +).
“As always, it’s really like for me to see what kind of team we have in week 1,” said Fickell. “We know we have some really good football players, but how do we fit together as a team?”
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For the first time since 2019, Cincinnati will face the RedHawks, a squad the Bearcats have defeated in 14 consecutive matches. Last season’s matchup has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first break in the rivalry series since World War II.
The 125th battle for the victory bell will take place on Saturday.
“Really, it all comes down to respect for your opponent and the way you prepare and what you do,” said Fickell, who is entering his fifth season at the helm of the Cincinnati program. “Everyone will be excited for Saturday, everyone will be excited for Saturday, but I think it has created a lot of awareness for us in the last 10 days of training. … We don’t just prepare for any pre-game, we prepare a rivalry game. “
Our first look at the Miami RedHawks
HISTORY OF THE SERIES: The nation’s oldest non-conference-based rivalry streak dates back to 1888. Although the Bearcats have had a one-sided matchup advantage in recent history, Miami leads the all-time series 59-58-7.
Fickell managed to keep Cincinnati’s winning streak against the RedHawks alive, but it wasn’t easy.
The Bearcats fell 10-0 in the first quarter of the 2019 meeting, only to recover to a 35-13 win.
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In heavy rain, Cincinnati entered the fourth quarter of the 2018 game just 7-0 before finally pulling away with a 21-0 win. At the 2017 meeting, Fickell’s first in the series, the coach is still scratching his head.
“With two minutes left of the game, there was about a 95% chance they’d win the game,” said Fickell.
The Bearcats scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, 15 of which were unanswered in the final at 2:52 to escape Oxford with a 21:17 win.
“There has been some fighting,” said Fickell.
EXECUTIVE TRAINER: After leading the RedHawks to a 2-1 record in a shortened three-game list in 2020, Chuck Martin is returning for his eighth season in Miami.
The 53-year-old coach is 32-46 years old during his tenure at Oxford, his best season coming in 2019 (8-6, Mid-American Conference championship).
“It probably doesn’t get any better than that for us,” said Martin. “Miami Football, we’re playing Cincinnati straight off the slide, it’s our big rival, they’re # 8 in the country, we’re on our way. I reckon with a full house based on what you’ve been up to last.” Year. So I don’t know how it will get better for us. “
Prior to Miami, Martin spent four seasons in Notre Dame, where he served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Fighting Irish in 2012 and 2013.
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Prior to joining Brian Kelly in South Bend, Martin served as the head coach of Division II Grand Valley State (2004-09) twice as National Coach of the Year for the American Football Coaches Association. Martin led the Lakers to consecutive national championships in 2005 and 2006.
KEY FIGURES: Picked runner-up in the MAC’s East Division by the league’s 12 coaches, Miami has 13 starters returning from the 2019 RedHawks MAC championship team.
Quarterback Brett Gabbert, the 2019 MAC Freshman of the Year, and tight end Andrew Homer lead the way on offense. The 6-foot-6, 246-pound homer, a product of St. Xavier High School, had stellar efforts for Miami in 2018 and 2019 before missing all of last season with an injury.
Running back Tire Shelton scored the RedHawks’ only touchdown, a 1-yard run, in their meet-up against the Bearcats in 2019. The 5-foot-11, 191-pound Shelton didn’t play last season either.
Wide receiver Jack Sorenson, named MAC Championship Offensive Player of the Game 2019 after eight catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, is also back for Miami.
Defensively, the RedHawks are led by Junior Sterling Weatherford, who had eight passports in 2019, making it the seventh largest among FBS collateral.
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In total, Miami has 26 players in the 2021 roster who took part in the 2019 MAC Championship Game.
SIDE FACT: Cincinnati starts their home game on Saturday with a winning streak of 20 games at Nippert. The Bearcats have been unbeaten at home for the past three seasons.
Fickell said he was looking forward to seeing the home crowd (40,000 fans) after playing to limited fans last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“I think they (the players) are more excited to really be back at Nippert and get ‘The Ruckus’ and win the crowd, something that was really, really missed last year.”