No. 8 Bearcats take big step, next one looms at Notre Dame

Sep 18, 2021, 11:08 PM | Updated: Sep 19, 2021, 11:10 am
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) celebrates as he runs off the field following an NCAA col...

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) celebrates as he runs off the field following an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Bloomington, Ind. Cincinnati won 38-24. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — No. 8 Cincinnati took one small step toward playoff contention on Saturday.

In two weeks, the Bearcats could have another breakthrough moment at No. 12 Notre Dame as they aim to break up the Power Five’s monopoly on College Football Playoff bids.

“I hope we’re past having to prove ourselves,” said receiver Alec Pierce, who caught the go-ahead score in Cincinnati’s 38-24 victory at Indiana. “But I think people are still going to doubt us, to view us as a Group of Five team.”

Coach Luke Fickell, the former Ohio State star, assistant and onetime interim coach, understands how far this program has come under his watch.

He has posted three perfect Septembers in four years and won 12 of his last 13 games and 22 in a row at home. He watched Cincinnati post back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2018 and 2019 and has presided over 32 victories in the past 3 1/4 seasons.

Yet the Bearcats’ resume was only good enough to get the American Athletic Conference champions into last season’s Peach Bowl, where they lost 24-21 to Georgia in Atlanta.

So Cincinnati entered this season on a mission to convert the doubters. Some critics docked the Bearcats for a slow start against Murray State in Week 2, dropping them from No. 7 to No. 8.

But after the Hoosiers used two first-half turnovers to take a 14-0 lead and linebacker Micah McFadden was ejected for targeting late in the first half, Cincinnati took complete control on Saturday. It was enough to get Fickell involved in a wild locker-room scene even as rumors swirl about him being a candidate for the Southern California job.

Fickell has no notion of addressing the speculation now because there’s more work to do at Cincinnati.

This week’s bye not only gives the Bearcats (3-0) a chance to savor their win but two weeks to prepare for arguably the biggest game in school history and perhaps another memorable victory celebration.

“I told the boys we’ll take a picture this week after we win and we’ll take a picture after the Notre Dame game if we get a win,” quarterback Desmond Ridder said. “These are stadiums and atmospheres some of these guys only get to play in once in their lifetime or maybe a couple of times.”

The schedule seems to be perfectly set up for the Bearcats — if they beat the Fighting Irish.

They’ll host Temple and UCF before heading to Tulane and Tulsa. Cincinnati wraps up the season by hosting Tulsa, visiting South Florida, welcoming SMU to the Queen City and visiting East Carolina before the AAC title game.

Win them all and the Big 12-bound Bearcats just might be in position to make their next large leap — into the playoffs and in fitting fashion. Cincinnati opened summer camp in West Harrison, Indiana, just west of the Ohio state line, and already has one win in the Hoosier State. If it gets another in two weeks, the Bearcats might have to be taken seriously by the CFP selection committee.

Especially in a season when some of the usual superpowers in college football have looked less than super.

If the Bearcats want to dream really big, the national title game is in Indianapolis in January.

“This season is really big for putting Cincinnati on the map,” linebacker Darrian Beavers said after forcing a fumble, recovering it and posting a key sack to help preserve Saturday’s victory. “We’re going into the Big 12 in a couple years, but this can solidify us as a top-10 program.”


More AP college football: and Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter:

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton (14) makes a pass to wide receiver Chris Olave (12) to s...
Associated Press

Saints’ Allen expects Dalton to start at QB vs. Seattle

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Andy Dalton is expected to start at quarterback for New Orleans when the Saints host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, while receiver Michael Thomas has been ruled out for a second straight game because of his foot injury. “I think it’s going to be Andy,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said Friday […]
15 hours ago
Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm makes a catch on a ball hit by St. Louis Cardinals' L...
Associated Press

Phillies’ 6-run ninth tops Cardinals in 6-3 wild-card win

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Philadelphia scored six times in the ninth inning off the stingy St. Louis bullpen, highlighted by a bases-loaded single by Jean Segura, and the Phillies beat the NL Central champion Cardinals 6-3 on Friday in the opening game of their National League wild-card series. The Cardinals, who were 74-3 on the […]
15 hours ago
England's Georgia Stanway shoots to score from the penalty spot during the women's friendly soccer ...
Associated Press

England women beat US 2-1 in statement victory at Wembley

LONDON (AP) — Ten weeks after conquering Europe, England women proclaimed themselves ready for even more after beating the world champion United States 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley Stadium on Friday. Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway scored to help England beat the U.S. for the first time since 2017 and less than 10 months […]
15 hours ago
FILE - Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson walks on the field during an NFL preseason footb...
Associated Press

Deshaun Watson set to return to Browns during 11-game ban

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Browns expect Deshaun Watson to return to their facility on Monday as the polarizing quarterback continues serving his 11-game NFL suspension for alleged sexual misconduct. Watson has been away from his new team since Aug. 30, undergoing counseling and treatment in accordance with a settlement he made with the league. […]
15 hours ago
Nashville's Nino Niederreiter, right, celebrates after scoring his sides third goal San Jose's goal...
Associated Press

Niederreiter scores in debut, Predators top Sharks in Prague

PRAGUE (AP) — Nino Niederreiter scored his debut goal for the Nashville Predators, who beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 in the Czech capital on Friday night in the NHL regular-season opener. The teams will play again on Saturday at Prague’s O2 Arena as part of the league’s return to Europe for the first time […]
15 hours ago
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (1) makes a catch as Denver Broncos cornerback Ron...
Associated Press

Broncos lose Bolles, Darby to season-ending injuries

The Denver Broncos lost two more starters to season-ending injuries when medical tests Friday morning revealed left tackle Garett Bolles (lower leg) and cornerback Ronald Darby (ACL) need surgery. They were injured in Denver’s 12-9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night, just four days after the Broncos lost star running back Javonte Williams […]
2 days ago
No. 8 Bearcats take big step, next one looms at Notre Dame