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Indiana football 2022 opponent preview: Cincinnati

After sky-high offseason expectations turned into a 2-10 regular season campaign in 2021 for Indiana football, head coach Tom Allen and company are looking to get back on track in the 2022 season. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as the Hoosiers look to right the ship. Up next is Cincinnati, a team who reached the College Football Playoff and defeated Indiana a season ago.

  • Opponent: Cincinnati
  • Date/Time/TV: Sat., Sept. 24, Time/Network TBA
  • Location: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • 2021 record/postseason result: 13-1 overall, 8-0 in the AAC, reached College Football Playoff, lost 27-6 in Cotton Bowl to Alabama.

Returning Starters, Offense (6): WR Tyler Scott, TE Josh Whyle, T James Tunstall, G Jeremy Cooper, C Jake Renfro, T Dylan O’Quinn.

Starters Lost, Offense (5): QB Desmond Ridder, WR Alec Pierce, WR Michael Young Jr., RB Jerome Ford, G Vincent McConnell.

Offensive Outlook: After back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, Cincinnati will see significant turnover at the skill positions but returns four out of five starting linemen. Two-time American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year Desmond RIdder is now an Atlanta Falcon, while standout wide receivers Alec Pierce and Michael Young Jr. are Indianapolis Colts and star running back Jerome Ford is a Cleveland Brown.

In Ridder’s absence, the Bearcats are expected to start senior Ben Bryant under center, a transfer who started for Eastern Michigan last season after beginning his career at Cincinnati. At wide receiver, Hawaii transfer Nick Mardner, an all-Mountain West honorable mention a season ago, slots into Pierce’s role as a big-bodied target standing 6’6”, while deep ball threat Tyler Scott returns after a productive sophomore season.

After an Alabama transfer in Ford shined at tailback for UC a season ago, the team turns to another SEC transfer in former LSU Tiger Corey Kiner, a Cincinnati native who ran for 324 yards and two touchdowns in Baton Rouge last season. While Kiner joins from LSU, former offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock left for LSU in the offseason to join Brian Kelly’s staff, with Gino Guidugli replacing him in the Queen City. While the team will look different than the one that made college football history in 2021, the Bearcats still pose a formidable offensive attack.

Returning Starters, Defense (3): S Ja’von Hicks, LB Ty Van Fossen, CB Arquon Bush.

Starters Lost, Defense (8): CB Ahmad Gardner, CB Coby Bryant, S Bryan Cook, DE Myjai Sanders, DE Malik Vann, DT Curtis Brooks, LB Darrian Beavers, LB Joel Dublanko.

Defensive Outlook: Cincinnati’s defense was among the top units in the nation in 2021, but returns just three starters from that group. Last season, the Bearcats ranked first in the nation in pass efficiency defense (103.37), second in passing yards allowed (169.2), third in interceptions (9) and fourth in opponent completion percentage (54%). With three defensive backs taken in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft in Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant and Bryan Cook, returning safety Ja’Von Hicks, a former all-AAC player, and company will have big shoes to fill.

On the defensive line, end Noah Potter transfers from across the state at Ohio State, a former four-star from Mentor, Ohio, who played in four games in 2020, but missed the entire 2021 season with foot and a detached retina in his left eye, which led to him nearly losing sight in that eye. Linebacker Ivan Pace is another in-state transfer, joining Cincinnati from rival Miami after being named the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 with the RedHawks.

Defensively, head coach Luke Fickell and defensive coordinator Mike Tressel always seem to get the most out of their rosters, and despite returning so few starters, a pair of high-profile transfers could be just the jolt this staff needs to attempt and replicate last season’s success.

Returning Starters, Special Teams (2): P Mason Fletcher, LS Cayson Pfeiffer.

Starters Lost, Special Teams (1): K Cole Smith.

Special Teams Outlook: With Cole Smith graduated, Cincinnati turns to Delaware transfer Ryan Coe at kicker. Coe made 24 of 32 field goal attempts in his two seasons as Delaware’s starter, including a long of 54 yards. Punter Mason Fletcher, a ProKick Australia alum like IU punter James Evans, returns following a freshman season in which he finished fourth in the AAC in net average with 42.94 yards per kick. Also of note on special teams, starting cornerback Arquon Bush blocked two kicks in 2021, tied for the most of any player in the country.

Overall Outlook: Despite Indiana controlling the game early, the team fell apart in the stretch following Micah McFadden’s ejection in last year’s meeting. While this season’s Cincinnati group looks very different on paper from the team that beat IU a season ago, it still figures to be one of the toughest teams to beat in the nation and certainly a favorite to claim the Group of Five bid for a New Year’s Six bowl spot for a third year in a row.

Fickell has had a penchant for success during his stint in Cincinnati, particularly in the regular season, and in a raucous environment at Nippert Stadium that rarely gets to host Big Ten competition, the Hoosiers have quite the non-conference test ahead of them on Sept. 24.

The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”