The new year has started, and University of Cincinnati (UC) football is gearing up for its biggest game of the season against the University of Georgia in the annual Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
It's the Bearcat's first appearance in a New Year's Six bowl game since 2009 and the first since head coach Luke Fickell took over the program in 2017. Last year, Fickell led Cincinnati to the Birmingham Bowl, where they triumphed over Boston College with a final score of 38-6.
However, the Georgia Bulldogs are quite used to these big occasions, having made an appearance in a New Years Six bowl game for their fourth season in a row and having made the National Championship game in 2017 where they lost to Alabama 26-23 in overtime.
Over the past three games, leading the Bulldogs' charge has been quarterback J.T. Daniels, who transferred from the University of Southern California before the start of the season.
In those three starts, Daniels has revitalized the Bulldog's offense, putting up impressive numbers. Among them is a 66.67% pass completion percentage, 839 yards, nine touchdowns and throwing only one interception. All of which surpass or nearly meet former starter Stetson Bennett's numbers over seven games.
"J.T. brings a different dynamic to their offense," UC defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman said. "You can tell by over the last three games, they've averaged over forty points a game. He's got a very strong arm, probably the strongest arm in my time of being here as defensive coordinator."
Meanwhile, Cincinnati's quarterback has been having a breakout season. Although Ridder is starting for his third straight season as a junior, his total average of yards per game has increased by over 80 yards in four fewer appearances, as well as totaling six more touchdowns.
Mostly, this increase in touchdowns has come due to Ridder's increased reliance on his legs and mobility. In 2019, Ridder totaled five rushing scores, compared to his mark of 12 so far this season. Ridder has also been circled for several major quarterback awards.
"I would put [Ridder] in the top three quarterbacks we've played this season," said Georgia's defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. "He's obviously a really savvy player from an intelligence standpoint. He can make all the throws, is a dynamic runner as well."
With both quarterbacks potentially putting on a show, it looks like this matchup could become a matter of defensive capability.
The Bearcats defense, most notably its secondary, has been among the best in college football. Allowing an opponent pass efficiency rating average of only 94.05 and only six passing touchdowns allowed in their nine games played, the fewest of any team that has played nine or more.
For the Bulldogs, their defensive strength has relied on their ability to halt the run game. Their rushing defense is one of the best, allowing an average of only 69.3 yards on the ground per game, 23 yards fewer than any other defense. With this, the Bulldogs may keep Ridder in the pocket and force the Bearcats to score through the air.
The Bulldogs will likely look to thrive with their run game and exploit the play action with the dynamic J.T. Daniels. Meanwhile, Cincinnati will rely on Ridder's arm to open up the ground game.
After the tumultuous year that has been 2020, both of these programs conclude their seasons at noon on Jan. 1 on ESPN.