The good news for Baylor fans is that the Bears couldn’t lose last week. They took on the fighting byes of off week state, and as far as we know, came out of it unscathed! But, that means we do have to play some football this weekend, and Baylor will face-off against Big 12 newcomer, Cincinnati. The Bearcats are fresh off of a 30-10 loss at Iowa State, giving them a 4 game losing streak after starting the year 2-0 with a ton of hope. Since that 2-0 start, they’ve lost to Miami (not the good one), and three conference games to BYU, Oklahoma, and above mentioned Iowa State Cyclones. With Baylor’s latest game being a huge dud against Texas Tech, and Cincy looking to end their skid, this game feels like a must win for both squads. It will be the first time these teams have ever faced off against each other.
Cincinnati in 2023
The Bearcats and the Bears have identical overall records this year, coming in at 2-4, though Baylor does edge them in conference wins at 1-2 to Cincy’s 0-3. After crushing Eastern Kentucky 66-13 in their season opener, the Bearcats went on the road to face off against a P5 non-con opponent in Pitt, winning 27-21. They were flying high, and the thoughts did begin to seep in that maybe they could compete for something in the Big 12 during their first season with the big boys.
Alas, that was not to be, at least not yet. They dropped a game against Miami (OH) 31-24 at home, and the skid began. Though, losing to a strong Oklahoma team is nothing to scoff at, as they dropped game 4 to the Sooners 20-6. Honestly, holding OU to only 20 points this season is something to hang your hat on, but scoring only 6 definitely didn’t give a lot of faith in their offensive capabilities.
The Bearcats then went on the road to Provo and played BYU tight, losing by one possession, 35-27. Again, tough environment, not easy to snag a win there. Then last week Cincy faced off against the fighting Matt Campbell’s, and well, gave up 30 points to a team that not many in the Big 12 would consider to be prolific scorers. Still, Iowa State has some players and has performed above most everyone’s expectations this season.
Sitting at 0-3 in conference is never fun, and when you play at the P5 level there’s plenty of moral victories to be found, but they don’t matter, wins do, and Cincy hasn’t found one yet against their new conference mates.
Cincinnati players to watch
First and foremost on this list will be QB Emory Jones. Jones has had a very solid first half of the season, racking up 1,322 passing touchdowns and 11 TDs while completing 61% of his passes. The kid is no slouch. He’s also the Bearcats’ second leading rusher, with 352 yards and 3 TDs on 84 carries. He’s a dynamic player that they rely on heavily to get the ball moving. In fact, he has only 3 fewer carries than the team’s leading rusher. Who’s that you might ask? RB Corey Kiner leads the team with 87 carries for 434 yards and 2 TDs. That’s 5 yards a carry for those counting at home. Against a Baylor defense that has struggled against the run this season, seeing a 5YPC back coming up isn’t the best news in the world. That said, Kiner is truly a RB, as he only has 10 catches on the year for 52 yards, so don’t expect to see him making plays in the passing game. For someone who will be doing that, look out for WR Xzavier Henderson. Henderson has 30 catches on the year, totaling 414 yards and a TD. He’s not alone in the receiving core though, as their number 2, WR Braden Smith, has snagged 22 balls for 307 yards and 3 TDs. Also be on the lookout in the red zone for TE Chamon Metayer. He only has 12 catches for 159 yards on the year, but he’s tied with Smith for the receiving TD lead with 3.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bearcats have a good defensive line led by DL Dontay Corleone. The Bearcats will get after the QB, and have 14 sacks on the year already. Corleone, DE Eric Phillips, and LB Daniel Grzesiak, have combined to have 7.5 sacks between them. The Baylor O-Line will need to work hard to contain this trio.
The Bears will also need to ensure they know where S Bryon Threats is at all times. He’s 4th on the team in tackles, has a sack, 2 INTs, and 3 passes defensed this year. CB Justin Harris is another name to watch, as he has a pick and 5 passes defensed on the year.
Overall, the Bearcats will try to win with their defense, as it is the stronger unit, and they are particularly strong at stopping their opponent’s run game, only giving up 104 yards per game on the ground. A whopping EIGHTY YARDS less per game than Baylor gives up. If you want to score, you will have to move the ball through the air.
This may be an absolute rock fight, depending on how Baylor’s defense plays. If the Bears let Emory Jones get out of the pocket and run around, or they let Kiner get the Bearcat run game going, it may be another long Saturday for Bears fans. Add in that this one is on the road, and I don’t know how much hope I have outside being a Baylor homer. ESPN’s analytics currently give Cincinnati a huge edge at 72.8% to win. Bill Connelly’s SP+ is a bit more kind to the Bears, giving Cincinnati only a 62% win probability. But, you’re looking for some sunshine and rainbows, our friend statsowar on twitter (shout out to CFB Graphs) actually gives Baylor the edge, with the Bears having a 50.6% win probability according to his metrics.
As much as I prefer seeing the Bears with a good win probability, I don’t believe that this team, in its current state with all the chatter, is going to be firing on all cylinders. The bye week may have helped. Maybe the guys are fresh, maybe they’ve figured something out, but until I see it, I can’t predict a win.
My prediction: Baylor 13, Cincinnati 24.