No. 19 Arkansas hosts No. 23 Cincinnati in first-ever meeting

No. 19 Arkansas hosts No. 23 Cincinnati in first-ever meeting

After becoming the first Group of Five program to reach the College Football Playoff, No. 23 Cincinnati suffered a string of offseason losses.

However, the Bearcats are undaunted by Power Five competition. They will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on No. 19 Arkansas in both teams’ season opener on Saturday.

Gone is four-year starting quarterback Desmond Ridder, who won 44 career games at Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to two straight undefeated regular seasons and American Athletic Conference titles.

Coach Luke Fickell has not revealed whether senior Ben Bryant or sophomore Evan Prater will start at center against rival Arkansas, but ESPN reported Saturday morning that Bryant would be the starter.

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said he wouldn’t be surprised if Cincinnati played both quarterbacks Saturday.

“They’re both good players,” Pittman said. “(Prater), obviously, might be a little more athletic than the other guy. But they can both run and they can both throw. We’re going to prepare for both and be ready either way.”

Other key departures for Cincinnati included cornerback Sauce Gardner, who went fourth overall to the New York Jets in the NFL draft, and leading rusher Jerome Ford. The backfield figures to remain strong, as Charles McClelland, Myles Montgomery and LSU transfer Corey Kiner could all see upside.

“We haven’t had a true quarterback battle in probably a while,” Fickell told reporters at the start of fall camp. “But I think more than anything, there’s a lot of other points. I think the quarterback, we’re going to be in good shape. . . . The hardest thing to not just replace, but figure out who’s going to be is the This is one of those spots where I think we really have to put some pressure on some of these guys to see what they can do and see what they can handle.”

The Razorbacks have plans for a big season of their own. Last year’s 9-4 record (4-4 SEC) was a definite improvement in Pittman’s second season. They even held visiting Alabama to a one-touchdown game, a 42-35 loss.

KJ Jefferson will start at quarterback after leading the team in both passing and rushing last season. He completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,676 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions while adding 664 rushing yards and six scores on the ground.

“In years past, Arkansas was always a sleeper and we’re still dirt under a rug,” Jefferson told ESPN in early August. “This program is on the rise and we will continue to build and get back to the top where Arkansas belongs.”

Cincinnati has beaten teams like Notre Dame, Indiana and a ranked Army team the past two years, but each of its last two seasons ended with losses to SEC opponents. The 2020 Bearcats lost to Georgia on a last-second field goal in the Peace Bowl and last year fell 27-6 to No. 1 seed Alabama in the CFP semifinals in the Cotton Bowl.

This will be the first meeting between Cincinnati and Arkansas.

–Within field level

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