Cincinnati improved from No. 5 to No. 4 in Tuesday’s College Football Playoff Rankings and the Bearcats will put its unbeaten record to the test on Friday as the team travels to take on East Carolina.
The Bearcats are the first non-Power 5 team since 2014 to crack the Top 4 in the history of the CFP, and head coach Luke Fickell said on ESPN’s CFP Show following the rankings announcement he thinks its "awesome."
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder points skyward as he celebrates a touchdown by running back Jerome Ford during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against SMU, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
"I think it’s great for our entire team, our program, our community and our campus," Fickell said about Cincinnati’s No. 4 ranking. "We know, and we keep trying to stress to our guys, that we have a ways to go, and we have two really big games coming up here. All and all, the excitement about it and the recognition is well-deserved for a group of guys that have really fought and battled all year."
Heading into the game against the Pirates, Fickell and the Bearcats lead the series 3-1 with ECU taking the win in 2017 and Cincinnati claiming victories in 2018-2020. But Fickell knows East Carolina will try to extend its American Athletic Conference winning streak to five in a row, as the Pirates’ longest run of single-season success in its AAC history, and produce the program’s first-ever 4-0 AAC home record when it hosts No. 4 Cincinnati.
"They’re a really good football team. They are really balanced in what they do, running and throwing," he said. "If you look back a couple of years ago, they threw for a boatload of yards. Then last year I thought we did a pretty decent job, but they actually ran the ball well. As you really see them evolve now, you pop it on and you see they’re running the football."
Cincinnati wide receiver Michael Young Jr. (8) celebrates with tight end Leonard Taylor (11) after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Tulsa Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean) ((AP Photo/Jeff Dean))
The team will have to keep an eye on ECU running back Keaton Mitchell, who leads the AAC with 1,077 yards rushing and in all-purpose yards with 1,335 yards.
" … And then all of a sudden you look down there and [Holton Ahlers] has 400 yards throwing in a game as well," Fickell said. "So I think that’s what you’re seeing. The balance is why they are where they are."
Fickell said the Pirates have done a great job on defense, as well.
FILE - Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell speaks with quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) prior to an NCAA college football game against Miami (Ohio) in Cincinnati, in this Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, file photo. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean, File)
"That’s what it takes. It’s not like a one-sided team that’s going to go out there and have 600 yards of offense, but they don’t have the balance on the other side," he said. "But it’s the same way where they’re not going to throw for 400 but can’t run the football. The better teams have balance in what they are doing at the end of the year, and that’s what they’ve done."
The Cincinnati Bearcats will travel to Greenville, North Carolina, to take on the ECU Pirates (7-4, 5-2 in the AAC) with hopes to complete a perfect 12-0 regular season on Friday with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m.