RedHawks seek first win over Bearcats since 2005

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, center, is tackled on the run by Miami of Ohio defensive back Sterling Weatherford, center left, in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, center, is tackled on the run by Miami of Ohio defensive back Sterling Weatherford, center left, in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Eighth-ranked Cincinnati has won 14 straight games in series

OXFORD -- Players and coaches on most football teams at this time of year are anxious to stop practicing against teammates and start blocking and tackling players wearing different uniforms.

Miami’s RedHawks could be forgiven for being even a bit more amped up going into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. seasonopener against non-conference arch-rival Cincinnati. COVD-19 protocols limited Miami to just three games last season, none since a 38-7 Mid-American Conference win at Akron on Nov. 28. Miami’s last two games were cancelled, so an increased level of intensity in practice this season might have been expected.

Instead, the RedHawks remained focused on preparing for the Bearcats, who are the defending American Athletic Conference champions and are ranked eighth in the Associated Press preseason poll. Miami has been intense during practice this August, but not too intense.

“The intensity hasn’t been cut back,” junior defensive end Kam Butler said Monday morning during the first of Miami’s weekly media sessions. “We’re all real excited. We’re excited to play a game. We’re excited to play a full season.”

Chuck Martin, who is anticipating his eighth season as Miami’s coach, never expected to have too many problems with over-anxious players during fall practice.

“I think that will be more important on Saturday,” he said. “We didn’t get to play a lot of games last season. I’m sure they will be anxious and have a lot of energy. We have to make sure they’re not running around like chickens with their heads cut off. We have to make sure they play with focus.”

Considering the recent history of the oldest college football rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains, focus could be even more of an issue for Miami on Saturday at Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats, whose only loss in a 2020′s 10-game schedule was by three points to then-No. 9 Georgia in the Peach Bowl, have won 14 consecutive games in the series. The winning team in the series takes or retains possession of the Victory Bell, which hasn’t stayed on Miami’s Oxford campus since a 44-16 win in 2005.

A Bearcats win on Saturday would, at 59-59-7, even the series record for the first time since the teams were 10-10 in 1916. The pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 game, the first time the game wasn’t played since 1945. Miami and Cincinnati also didn’t play in 1943 or 1944 because of World War II.

“The Victory Bell hasn’t been ours in, I think, 15 years,” said Butler, a Covington (Ky.) Catholic High School product. “We want to get it back. We want to make our fans proud, our alumni proud – we want to be proud.”

“This is a big game,” said sixth-year senior tight end Andrew Homer, a Cincinnati St. Xavier graduate who chose to accept the NCAA’s offer of an extra year of eligibility for seniors who didn’t have much of a 2020 season. “Being from Cincinnati, I know all about this game.”

If anybody would be anxious about the season-opener, it would be the 6-foot-6, 246-pound Homer, who missed the 2020 “season” after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during 2020 spring practice and then aggravated the injury during fall practice.

“This is different,” said Homer, who turned 24 on Aug. 14 and is majoring in sports leadership and management. “I never thought I’d be here for six years.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Miami at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 1450