With the National Championship Trophy in attendance on the sidelines, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football looks to continue the second-longest home win streak in NCAA Division I football. This Saturday, the Bearcats welcome the 3-2 University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights in their second American Athletic Conference (AAC) matchup of the season. The Bearcats home win streak is at 23 games, second only to the Clemson Tigers.
The Bearcat football team heads into the game ranked No. 3 in the country by the Associated Press. This ranking is the team's highest in program history and the league's highest ever for a non-Power Five conference program.
Once again, the Cincinnati Bearcat football team has been looked over by the ESPN College Gameday staff regarding what matchup they will be covering on Saturday. College Gameday has now chosen to go to Athens, Georgia, twice rather than show up to the Bearcats at Notre Dame and now hosting UCF.
Over the years, an unnatural rivalry has blossomed between the Bearcats and the Knights, despite being over 900 miles apart. Cincinnati famously ended UCF's 19-game AAC win streak in 2019, a game that many current Bearcat football players remember and reference as the best atmosphere they've ever played in.
"In five years, they've been the top team in the conference," head coach Luke Fickell said. "Overall, in my time here, they've been the best team in the conference. We made it a rivalry I guess you'd say because they were the best, and in order to be the best, you've got to be able to beat the best."
The two programs are also widely known for being two of the more successful non-Power Five football programs in the country, specifically the current Bearcat team and the 2017 UCF squad.
"I think more than anything, it's respect," Fickell said. "Respect for who these guys are and what they've done in the past four years."
On the field, Cincinnati has been successful in all facets throughout their undefeated season thus far. Running back Jerome Ford just crossed the 500 rushing yards mark on the season and is averaging over 1.5 touchdowns per game. Quarterback Desmond Ridder has three rushing touchdowns, and three other Cincinnati rushers have a touchdown to their name.
If the game isn't clicking on the ground, the Bearcats default to the air will more than suffice. Ridder has 1,300 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, and nine different receivers have caught at least one touchdown. Wide receiver Alec Pierce leads the Bearcats with 387 receiving yards this season.
Cincinnati's defense, which is giving up only 12.2 points per game, has been on lock-down mode all season as well. Aside from holding one of the nation's top wide receivers - Indiana's Ty Fryfogle - to one catch in their matchup, Ahmad Gardner and the Cincinnati secondary kept the Temple offense from scoring a touchdown in their most recent outing.
This momentum on and off the field for the Bearcats could be too much to handle for the UCF Knights, who are giving up over 27 points per game on the defensive to pair with their two offense-heavy losses this season.
Both quarterback and running back play have been split throughout the season thus far, with two of the Knights quarterbacks having over 60 attempts and 400 passing yards this season. Two UCF backs are nearing 300 rushing yards on the season, giving the offense quite the variety through five games.
"They still have the talent," head coach Luke Fickell said of the UCF players. "They still have the big-play capability, I think they're better defensively than they have been."
UCF is on their second head coach since their popular 2017 season, with head coach Gus Malzahn, a recent hire, joining the program after a seven-year stint as head coach with Auburn. Malzahn has an SEC Coach of the Year under his belt for his 2013-14 season accomplishments that resulted in a National Championship Game loss for Auburn.
"There's a reason he's a great football coach. There's a reason he's been successful everywhere he's been," Fickell said. "He doesn't just go in and say this is what we're going to do. You go in there, and you realize what it is that you have and what was really good from what someone did before there."
The highly anticipated Cincinnati-UCF matchup will kick off at noon on Oct. 16. The game will be aired live on ABC, and the Cincinnati crowd is being told to wear red to Nippert stadium.