The No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats (2-0) has back-to-back non-conference road games starting Saturday with the Big Ten’s Indiana Hoosiers (1-1).
We are going to find out if Cincinnati is worth its AP ranking over the next two weeks. Indiana is from a tougher conference, and 2020 was the Hoosiers’ best season in decades. Next week, the Bearcats go on the road to play the No. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Cincinnati beat its first two opponents by five touchdowns and was the American Conference champion last season. The Bearcats covered as 22.5-point favorites vs. Miami (Ohio) Sept. 4 but couldn’t cover as 36.5-point favorites at Murray Saturday. In fact, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell has gone 9-1 in 2020, 11-3 in 2019, and 11-2 in 2020 following his four-win first season. Cincinnati is the defending American Athletic Conference champions, and QB Desmond Ridder is the reigning conference player of the year.
Indiana was waxed in their season opener by then-No. 18 Iowa (now ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll) 34-6 as 3.5-point road underdogs. The Hoosiers got back on track with a 56-14 pasting of Idaho Vandals, covering as 31.5-point favorites. Indiana came into the 2021 season with hopes and expectations after finishing last year 6-2 and ranking as high as seventh in the AP Poll. Last year, QB Michael Penix Jr. suffered a season-ending knee injury in Indiana’s regular-season finale and has looked shaky to start this season. Penix has completed 11-of-16 passes for 68 yards with a 2 TD to 0 INT ratio but has only run the ball four times for minus-13 yards. Also, pretty much all of his starts came against Idaho as Indiana got dismantled by Iowa.
- Opening Line: Cincinnati -3.5
- Current Line: Cincinnati -4 (consensus)
- Over/Under (O/U): 49.5
- Location: Memorial Stadium
- Start Time: Saturday, September 18, 2021. noon EST
- Last meeting: No recent meetings
Both Fickell and Indiana head coach Tom Allen took over their respective programs in 2017. Since then, Cincinnati is 15-4 straight-up (SU) and 12-7 against the spread (ATS) against non-conference competition with a plus-4.1 ATS margin. While Indiana is 10-2 SU and 7-5 ATS with the same ATS margin. However, the Hoosiers are just 3-7-1 ATS with a minus-5.5 spread differential as a home underdog, but the Bearcats are just 3-5 ATS as a road favorite over that span.
*Betting splits pulled from Pregame.com’s Game Center*
Cincinnati is both a “sharp” and public play, as 87% of the cash and 84% of the bets placed are on the Bearcats at the time of publishing. This one-sided pro-Cincinnati action has steamed the number up from the Bearcats laying -3.5 points on the opener to the current price. As for the total, the public is split down the middle, but nearly three-fourths of the money is on the Under. Oddsmakers have reacted by moving the total down from the 51 opening number down to 49.5 currently.
Both programs are trending up, but Indiana’s 2020 seemed a bit flukey. On paper, Indiana’s victories last season over a ranked Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin all look great. However, Penn State and Michigan had down years, and Wisconsin’s offense was terrible by the season’s end. Also, Indiana was pegged for regression heading into the season. The Hoosiers were 6-2 last season despite being outgained 5.5-5.1 in yards per play and being plus-eight in turnover differential. Since turnovers are considered random in football, it’s unlikely Indiana will have the same turnover luck that helped it win so many games in 2020. Football Outsiders projected Indiana to finish 27th in total efficiency and 7-5 this season and rank the Hoosiers 88th in their returning talent index.
On the other hand, Cincinnati is the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference. Football Outsiders projected Cincinnati to finish 20th in total efficiency with a 9.3-2.7 record. The Bearcats rank 17th in their returning talent index. And don’t be so fast to poo-poo Cincinnati’s strength of schedule. Sure, the Bearcats have clobbered to non-Power 5 schools. But, Cincinnati is ranked 10th in ESPN’s SP+ rankings, which accounts for strength of schedule, while Indiana is ranked 46th.
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