The 2021 Cincinnati Bearcats have some lofty expectations. Last season, they were on the outside looking in regarding the CFP discussion. Most of their issues stemmed from chunks of inactivity due to COVID-19 outbreaks, but they still dominated their opposition.
If they run the table again with wins over Indiana and Notre Dame to go with another AAC title, it will be difficult for the CFP committee to ignore them (considering those two wins could be ranked and might be more than a “Power Five” champion *cough* Clemson *cough*).
2021 Cincinnati Bearcats: Five Names You Should Know
To compile a list of 2021 Cincinnati Bearcats, one must consider a national audience. To UC or even casual AAC fans, these names may not be lesser-known. This list is for the national audience who scoffed all year about the Bearcats beating up on bad Group of Five teams. Desmond Ridder would be a fine addition to this list, but he is beginning to garner national attention.
To start, we have the guy who was playing second fiddle to Gerrid Doaks. Ford will be a redshirt Junior in 2021 and is more than ready to take over the full-time running back duties. In his first season with the Bearcats, Ford tallied 483 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. There were times he was dominant that I had to double-check that it was him and not the current Miami Dolphins running back.
The Peach Bowl was the Jerome Ford show with Doaks out. He opened the second half with a 79-yard touchdown run to extend the UC lead to 21-10. His explosion was rewarded with only two more carries over the remaining 29:11 in the game. Ford will come out swinging for the 2021 Cincinnati Bearcats. Don’t forget the fact that he spent two seasons at Alabama learning behind the likes of Najee Harris. His patience is about to pay off.
He’s going to challenge for my favorite G5 running back with Buffalo’s Kevin Marks.
If you don’t know who Josh Whyle is at this point, I’m sorry you don’t enjoy football. Whyle made spectacular plays left and right and was Ridder’s favorite target in crunch time. With 353 yards and six touchdowns, Whyle led the Bearcats in receiving. While it’s impressive that a tight end leads the way, those are not eye-popping numbers. His best day was a five-catch, 81-yard, one-score day against UCF.
As of now, Whyle is looking to be a day two pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, should he declare. His pass-catching abilities will make anyone salivate, but he’ll have to improve in the blocking department. However, if Josh Whyle manages to fall to the third round, you can rest assured that the tight end class will be ridiculously deep.
The strength of the 2021 Cincinnati Bearcats will be its defense. Again. Leading the way will be the senior edge rusher, Myjai Sanders. In ten games in 2020, Sanders posted team-leading marks in sacks (7.0) and tackles for loss (10.5). The 6’5″, 258 lbs monster terrorized opposing quarterbacks on every occasion but burst onto the scene by logging at least a half-sack and full tackle for loss in each of the first five games.
Sanders is not coasting into 2021 or resting on his past success. He’s gearing up to be a first-round pick by progressing his pass-rushing abilities and bulking up. He has great length and speed when coming around the edge. It’s not outlandish to expect double-digit sacks from Sanders. With another disruptive year (and a likely Senior Bowl invite), Sanders could hear his name called on day one.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. This season will be his third year as a starter and he has only gotten better. As a freshman in 11 games, Gardner intercepted three passes and defended six others. Included in those three interceptions are two touchdowns. He epitomizes “bursting onto the scene.” In only nine games in 2020, offenses got smart and did not target him as frequently. Despite that, he intercepted another three passes and defended six more.
Gardner is a frustrating corner to face. He has serious length and speed to keep up with opposing number-one receivers. Not making any excuses but if Sauce had played in the Peach Bowl, you can believe that we would have another G5 team claiming a National Title. As it stands, Gardner has a chance to be one of, if not the first corner off the board. He’s a boundary corner and often faces off against the best. Last year, he allowed a 29.3 PFF passer rating when targeted. Needless to say, Gardner is going to make himself some money next year.
The final name on this list is a bit of a projection. With established guys like Alec Pierce and Michael Young, therein lies a void left by Jayson Jackson‘s transfer. Jackson was the second-leading receiver for the Bearcats, so the 2021 Cincinnati Bearcats will need a young receiver to step up. While this position could be given to the honorably mentioned Blue Smith, the true sophomore of Jadon Thompson gets the nod.
Thompson was the third-highest-rated recruit for the 2020 class among a slew of four-stars. While he only had six catches for 58 yards in 2020, he only appeared in five games. His strength is his ability to catch contested passes and secure the ball away from his body. 247Sports sees him as a Power Five starter, so UC will likely start to utilize his athleticism this fall. A tandem of Pierce, Thompson, Young, and Whyle will be a headache for defenses focusing on containing the elusive Ridder.
Get Used to Seeing Cincinnati
Luke Fickell has just started to hit his stride as a coach. Year after year, he coaches up an elite defense that can shut down the explosive offenses in the AAC. With Ridder garnering legit NFL hype, the CFP is the ceiling and expectation for the 2021 Cincinnati Bearcats. Even when they are going to town on lesser opponents and the back-ups are in, pay attention to the next man up. When Ridder is out, four-star redshirt freshman Cincinnati native Evan Prater will get his reps. And he’s good.
If you only pay attention to the national powers, I would highly recommend “adopting” a Group of Five team. Cincinnati is a perfect candidate for such an adoption. Considering they have a better chance at the title than 95% of the Power Five, it’ll all be worth it.