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UC running back Michael Warren (3) catches a pass against UCF on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 at Nippert Stadium.

Early Tuesday morning, The University of Cincinnati (UC) football program was ranked second in the 2020 American Athletic Conference (AAC) preseason poll, behind only the University of Central Florida (UCF).

The Bearcats collected 201 votes and seven first-place tallies, just three votes and first place nods behind UCF. Meanwhile, the 2019 conference champion, the University of Memphis, finished third in the poll with 192 votes and two first-place tallies, as voted on by the qualified media.

This marks the second consecutive season in which UCF and UC have shared the number 1 and 2 spots. Last year was the first season in which the Bearcats routed the Knights to finish first in the AAC’s East Division, though eventually falling to Memphis in the conference championship game.

Following two consecutive 11-win seasons and ranked finishes in 2018 and 2019, the Bearcats have been ranked in the FBS AP Poll for the first time in their 132-year history, coming in at #20. Starting near where they left off in 2019, when they finished ranked #21 in the nation in all three major polls.

UCF (#21) is the only other team within the AAC that was also ranked in the AP Poll, notching in just behind the Bearcats. In fact, across the various major polls, the Bearcats and Knights seem to switch places.

In USA Today’s Coaches Poll, the Knights remain at #21. However, the Bearcats fall just behind at #22, having their #20 spot from the AP poll usurped by the University of Utah, who will not be playing this fall as the PAC-12 have famously postponed play until the spring.

In CBS Sports 130 poll — which notably does not account for all of the teams that have postponed play until the spring — the Bearcats rank even higher at #13 in the country. Followed closely by AAC rivals Memphis and UCF at #14 and #15, respectively. 

Cincinnati will look much the same on the field as they did in 2019, with 16 of their 22 starters returning on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball. On defense, 13 of the Bearcats top 15 tacklers will be lining up again, including senior safety Darrick Forrest who led the team with 106 total tackles.

Forrest, along with fellow senior safety James Wiggins and sophomore cornerback Ahmad Gardner, we’re all nominated for the covetous Jim Thorpe award last season, which recognizes the top defensive back in the nation.

Cincinnati was the only school to have three nominees for the award, and all three will be returning in 2020.

On the offensive side, the Bearcats have lost two key contributors to the NFL in running back Michael Warren II and tight-end Josiah Deguara, who combined for 24 of the Bearcats 52 touchdowns last year.

Among quarterback Desmond Ridder’s most prolific offensive weapons this year will include senior running back Gerrid Doaks and junior wideouts Alec Pierce and Jayshon Jackson.

The Bearcats officially begin their season on Sept. 19 against Austin Peay University in Nippert Stadium.