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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Bearcats have a point to make in Fayetteville

by Wally Hall | August 31, 2022 at 2:59 a.m.

When you have the toughest schedule in college football, there are no automatic wins.

All 12 of the Arkansas Razorbacks' games are potentially trap games.

Especially this Saturday's opponent, Cincinnati.

Yes, Luke Fickell and the Bearcats are not the same team as last season, when they went 13-1 and the only loss was to Alabama, 27-6, in a game that was not as close as the score. But that can be said about a lot of the Crimson Tide games.

What put the Bearcats on the map, and in the College Football Playoffs, was when they went to South Bend and beat Notre Dame 24-13.

Fickell was eventually named national coach of the year.

However, last year's team saw a school-record nine players taken in the NFL Draft, six from the defense and star quarterback Desmond Ridder, who passed for 3,334 yards (he also ran for 355) with 30 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in his final season.

The loss of those players is why Arkansas is favored.

Which doesn't mean anything to Razorback Coach Sam Pittman or his team.

One of two things Pittman knows, and most likely has preached, is the Bearcats are well-coached.

Second, Cincinnati wants to beat an SEC team. The Bearcats want to make a statement that last season was not a fluke.

Beating Arkansas just means more.

The 49-year-old Fickell was born in Columbus, Ohio, played football at Ohio State and spent 15 seasons coaching on the Buckeyes staff before taking the job at Cincinnati.

In 2011, he was named interim head coach of the Buckeyes when Jim Tressel resigned before being suspended.

Ohio State was 6-7 and he was retained by Urban Meyer as co-defensive coordinator.

His first season at Cincinnati was like most coaches' first season, not very good.

He went 4-8 but hit the recruiting trail like he was Nick Saban -- but without the same results.

Still, in the past four seasons the Bearcats are 50-7 overall.

The tale of the tape for Fickell has been player development.

His past four recruiting classes have been ranked, starting with 2019, No. 66, No. 41, No. 45 and No. 42.

Yet, the Bearcats have been 22-2 the past two seasons and have had 13 players taken in the NFL Draft.

All of their attention this month has been focused on getting into Fayetteville and escaping with a win over a team from the most-feared conference in America.

They are going to lay it on the line as if this was for the national championship.

They want to make a statement that they have been overlooked and under-estimated too long.

The three-time winners of the American Athletic Conference is slated to join the Big 12 no later than July of 2024. But the slippery slope of the college football world and the expansion of the SEC and Big Ten is not over, so the Bearcats need a quality win.

They need to beat the defending Outback Bowl champions, a team that came within two points of a 10-win season, like they need air.

So Fickell may not announce his starting quarterback until game time.

Although it appears the job is between Ben Bryant and Evan Prater.

Bryant spent three seasons backing up Ridder before transferring to Eastern Michigan and opting to use his covid season back in Cincinnati.

Prater is a hometown hero and in high school was an Ohio Mr. Football.

If two years has taught us anything, Pittman and the Razorbacks will be ready for both of them.

Cincinnati is going to come out and try and hit the Razorbacks in the mouth with a knockout punch, but the Hogs will be ready.

Pittman knows what this game means to Fickell and the Bearcats, and it means just as much to him.

Print Headline: Bearcats have a point to make in Fayetteville


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