Cincinnati can win the AAC this year, which means much more now than it ever has before.
As one of the “stubborn six,” the AAC champion could appear in the College Football Playoff for the first time.
Cincinnati, who is ranked No. 20 in the most recent A.P. Poll, fell short in the conference championship game last season. The loss to Memphis in the last week of the season didn’t keep them out of the championship game. But they did have to play Memphis again the next week, and couldn’t prevent the sweep.
This year, they play Memphis mid-season, as well as UCF and SMU. UCF is ranked one spot below Cincinnati at 21, while Memphis and SMU received votes.
Winning the conference won’t be easy. The Bearcats were only three points away from losing to UCF last season, which would have cost them an appearance in the AAC Championship.
Let’s assume that Cincinnati has to go undefeated so they can win the AAC in 2020.
Here’s how they do that.
How Cincinnati Can Win The AAC in 2020
Desmond Ridder Continues To Develop
Cincinnati has the best quarterback in the conference in Desmond Ridder. He won Rookie of the Year in 2018 with 2,445 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. The Bearcats’ 34.9 points per game in 2018 was 23rd best in FBS.
In his second year, Ridder took a small step back. His completion percentage dropped. His touchdown to interception ratio worsened. Pretty much every statistical category declined in 2019.
He did play through a shoulder injury for the last part of the season, but that wan’t the only reason for the decline.
Cincinnati can win the AAC if Ridder learns to go through his progressions. That’s the one area which he can, and must, improve.
Ridder has all the physical tools a quarterback needs. He has arm talent and mobility that scouts look for. Ridder just needs to read the field better.
The Team Fixes Their Penalties Problem
In 2019, Cincinnati had the most penalties in college football, and ranked 122nd out of 130 FBS teams in penalty yards per game.
Thankfully, three teams on the Bearcats’ schedule in 2020 (UCF, USF, and Tulsa) ranked below them in yards per game.
You do not have to be a football genius to know how bad that is.
If Cincinnati can stop giving up nearly 70 yards a game in penalty yards, that will help them win the AAC.
Cole Smith Finds Consistency (Or Someone Takes His Job)
As a freshman, Smith missed two extra points and only made five of his twelve attempted field goals. That’s only 41.7 percent accuracy.
Smith was so unreliable, he made four of his five field goals in the month of October.
When Crosa came in and made 14 of his 19 attempts, the Bearcats were relieved.
But Crosa has graduated, and the kicking duties fell to Smith once more.
If Smith can’t figure things out soon, however, there are other options.
There are two freshman place kickers on Cincinnati’s roster right now. Bryce Burton and Alex Bales can provide some competition for Smith.
If Smith can figure out his problems, then that would be fantastic. But if he can’t, then there are two freshmen to fall back on.