There’s plenty of Big Ten football on the way, but how to know if the Wyoming Cowboys are a good Mountain West team or just an also-ran that beats Illinois? If Washington State beats Wisconsin, should we point and laugh or nod and say “Well, the Coogs are supposed to be better this year”?
That’s where Beyond the Empire comes in.
We reached out to writers from other conferences around the country, previewing all their games against the Big Ten, asking where they stand in realignment, and giving us all the talking points for your Tuesday night MACtion and Wednesday night FUNBELT viewing.
Today, we welcome Clayton Trutor of Down the Drive, SBNation’s Cincinnati blog, to talk all things Bearcats, AAC, and College Football Playoff. Be sure to give him a follow @ClaytonTrutor and Down the Drive @downthedrive.
Part I: The Game Previews
SMU Mustangs at Maryland Terrapins
September 17 | 6:30pm CT | FS1 | Line, O/U TBD
SMU has played a wide-open game since the days of Chad Morris trolling the sidelines. Look for SMU to adopt more of a standard pro set under head coach Rhett Lashlee. Veteran QB Tanner Mordecai and a battle-tested offensive front will serve this approach well. On the defensive side of the ball, SMU returns just 3 starters from a unit that wasn’t particularly strong. Look for Maryland to exploit the Mustangs’ defense.
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Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Temple Owls
September 17 | 1pm CT | ESPN+ | Line, O/U TBD
A string of coaching changes over the past decade have transformed Temple into a rudderless mess. The Owls have a new coach again in Stan Drayton and will take plenty of lumps in 2022.
The future may be bright, though. Multi-talented sophomore signal caller D’Wan Mathis is a former Georgia Bulldog and an SEC caliber talent.
Battle of the Delaware River:
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The red tire fire
The scarlet tire fire
September 24 | Time, TV TBD | Line, O/U TBD
To quote myself:
Your Cincinnati Bearcats will contend with many roster changes this season. Most obviously at quarterback and in its secondary.
Counteracting that instability is the rock of Cincinnati’s offensive line. One could make a strong argument that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Baylor Bears have the country’s top returning O-Line but I’d put my money on the Bearcats.
LT James Tunstall, LG Jeremy Cooper, C Jake Renfro, RG Lorenz Metz, and RT Dylan O’Quinn are all back. They were all excellent last year and are all bound to be forces again in 2022.
New offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli will have plenty of flexibility with building an offense around a front five that proved so adept in both the passing and running games last season. Cincinnati averaged nearly 37 points per game in large part due to this crew. One could easily make the case that all five are the best returning player at their position in the AAC.
Despite the obvious losses from the secondary and defensive line, Cincinnati returns a veteran cadre on defensive that will unleash Kevin Nash/Scott Hall, early NWO-style mayhem on the AAC.
In the battle of the 39th parallel...
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original-to-their-state pork tenderloins
Part II: What Cincinnati Football Means to Me
OTE: Is there a quintessentially Cincinnati–and specifically UC–experience that you think even fans of a Big Ten team would get on board with? What’s one tradition, one rivalry, one team, one event that we ought to know more about (and please don’t say the chili)?
CT: I think the aspect of Cincinnati most similar to the Big Ten is the use of Ohio State as the measuring stick. Cincinnati fans are preoccupied with the Buckeyes and no matter what heights the program reaching, there is still this resentment towards the Buckeyes.
OTE: If there’s anything you’ve written or done at Down the Drive (an interview, podcast, article, etc.) that you think we should read, feel free to link it here!
In 2016, I ranked the relative handsomeness of every coach in college football:
I wrote a one-act play featuring Bret Bielema and Rob Ryan:
My colleague Phil and I ranked the uniforms of every CFB program:
Part III: The State of the Conference
OTE: Where DOES the AAC go from here? Will the additions of UAB, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, UNT, Rice, and UTSA shore up the conference, or is this a slip out of the P6 and back to the G5? Clayton, since you’re a Cincy man, too, we’ll let you toss in any thoughts you have on the future of Cincinnati and the Big XII.
The AAC will remain a hoop to jump through for programs with aspirations for the big time. Nobody actually wants to be in this league. It is a gateway drug.
Part IV: Season Predictions
OTE: Will the move to the Big XII keep Luke Fickell in Cincinnati long-term, or is there someone who could come calling and snatch the head man away?
Luke Fickell will only leave Cincinnati for the Ohio State or Notre Dame jobs.
OTE: How does the AAC shake out in 2022, and how do things go for Cincinnati specifically? Is anything short of a College Football Playoff repeat the standard here?
Cincinnati is up here.
Everybody else is down here.
Nothing short of another CFP bid will please the people in Clifton.
Up next: Peaches aren’t all that come in a can...