Scott Frost and Luke Fickell have faced each other once before, as Frost was coach of the Central Florida Knights in 2017 during Fickell’s first year at Cincinnati. And though Frost was the winner that day, the fortunes of both coaches have flipped since. Fickell just got a big contract extension to stay at UC after being wooed, while there might not be a hotter seat outside of South Los Angeles than in Lincoln.
Let’s take a closer look at the big Week 4 matchup.
Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
When and where
Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
Why the line is what it is
Because it’s put up or shut up time for Huskers alum Scott Frost in Lincoln. Following a 4-8 season in his return, Nebraska went 5-7 in 2019, and missed a bowl game for the third year in a row for the first time since 1961.
Adrian Martinez will be key to reversing the fortunes in Lincoln, and he’s going to need to be better. 1,955 yards passing in 10 games with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions isn’t going to get it done. Wan’Dale Robinson and JD Spielman lead a talented group of skill players, but they’ll need to perform better. An improved offensive line should help, but a defense that performed well at times last season loses their entire line as well as DB (the other) Lamar Jackson.
Luke Fickell was wooed by Michigan State, but decided to stay in Southern Ohio with a very large contract extension. The Bearcats finished last season 11-3, including a close loss at Memphis for the AAC title. It was the second-straight 11-win campaign, but now UC wants to crack that ceiling and reach the Group of Five’s New Years Six bowl bid. A win here would go a long way to assuring that if they can pair it with a league title.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder is a dual-threat that can key the offense especially well, and backup Ben Bryant likely suffers from the lack of a spring practice to get an even better chance to compete. Running back Michael Warren II left for the NFL after 2,594 rushing yards and 36 total TD’s in just two seasons, and though there’s depth at that position, the lack of wide receiver talent could be a real issue.
The defense-first Bearcats will need to be even more stout in 2020 to achieve their goals, and return enough starters where that might not be a problem
Why it might change
Cinci has already seen a transfer portal out in wide receiver Malick Mbodj, and while Nebraska seems to be about bringing players in, UC as a non-P5 school could certainly see key pieces leave early. But with the coronavirus locking down so much already,
Where the value is now
Until someone shows that Nebraska can efficiently move the ball without turning it over, why not ride with a ball-control team with a Top 30 defense even if they’re on the road? If Nebraska can stem the flow of giveaways in Weeks 1-3 against Purdue, Central Michigan, and South Dakota State, maybe do some buying back. But these are two teams that can be prone to mistakes, and it’s possible NU’s defense doesn’t answer a lot of questions they’ll have early. Take the points.
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