No. 5 Cincinnati will be aiming to beef up its College Football Playoff résumé with another signature victory as the Bearcats play host to SMU in a battle of two of the AAC's more talented teams. The Bearcats beat South Florida 45-28, but allowed three scores after the game was decided in the second half. The garbage-time performance was enough for voters to knock them in the AP Top 25. Still, Cincinnati is 10-0 and has not played a team closer than a touchdown all season.
SMU started the season strong with a dominant win over TCU, but the Mustangs have been shaky lately in their 8-2 campaign. After losing 44-37 to Houston on Oct. 30, the Mustangs promptly lost to a struggling Memphis squad a week later. Demolishing UCF 55-28 a week ago helped get SMU back on track, but Cincinnati is the best team the Mustangs have played all season.
Cincinnati holds a 4-1 advantage in the all-time series with all matchups coming since the duo entered the AAC in 2013. Luke Fickell's Bearcats decimated SMU 42-13 a year ago in Dallas behind 179 yards rushing and three touchdowns from quarterback Desmond Ridder.
Cincinnati vs. SMU: Need to know
Quarterback battle: This matchup features two of the AAC's best quarterbacks. Stylistically, the passers could not be any more different. SMU's Tanner Mordecai ranks No. 2 in the nation with 37 passing touchdowns and has thrown for 3,264 yards while completing 69.9% of his passes. Cincy quarterback Desmond Ridder provides dual-threat ability after completing 66% of his passes for 2,425 yards and 22 touchdowns while running for 279 yards and five touchdowns. Both have gotten the job done, but Mordecai faces his toughest test yet from Cincinnati's secondary.
Fading late: SMU is in the midst of its most successful run since the Pony Express days of the 1980s, going 25-8 over Sonny Dykes' last three season. But for all of the success on the Hilltop, SMU has struggled when the calendar flips to November. The Mustangs have a 4-5 record in November under Dykes, compared to 21-3 in all other games. The struggles have continued in 2021, too, as SMU lost 28-25 against 5-5 Memphis before recovering in a 55-28 win over UCF. The Mustangs have to figure out their November woes to beat Cincinnati.
Heavyweight position matchup: Cincinnati has the best cornerback duo in college football, and it's not especially close. Cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner has not allowed a touchdown in his career, while Coby Bryant leads the team with 11 pass breakups and three interceptions. However, SMU is the best receiving corps Cincinnati has played since ... SMU last year! The Bearcats held the Ponies to just 13 points and every member of the talented receiving corps under 65 yards. SMU has four receivers with at least 450 receiving yards.
Playoff dreams: Cincinnati ranks No. 5 -- the highest-ranking Group of Five team in the history of the College Football Playoff. After No. 8 Oklahoma's loss on Saturday, the Bearcats have a clear path to the postseason thanks to a two-score victory over No. 9 Notre Dame on the road, one of the best wins in college football this season. Cincinnati has won 20 of its last 21 AAC games, dating back to a loss to conference champion Memphis in 2019.
How to watch Cincinnati vs. SMU live
Date: Saturday, Nov. 20 | Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Nippert Stadium -- Cincinnati, Ohio
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Cincinnati vs. SMU prediction, picks
Cincinnati has had the conference matchup against SMU circled on the schedule since the beginning of the season. The Mustangs spent time ranked in the AP Top 25 before a narrow loss to Houston and provide a rare opportunity for a signature victory. Cincinnati proved that it matches up masterfully with the Mustangs in the battle in Dallas last year. Expect UC to use the nationally-televised matchup as a proving ground, especially against a team that ends seasons poorly. Prediction: Cincinnati (-12)
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