Louisville Cardinals (7-5 Overall, 4-4 ACC) vs Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3 Overall, 6-2 AAC)
Kickoff Time: 11:00 AM EST
Location: Fenway Park - Boston, MA
TV: ESPN: Chris Cotter, Mark Herzlich, Kelsey Riggs
Radio: Bowl Season Radio (Sirius XM): Travis Jones (play-by-play), John Denton (analyst), David Beaudin (reporter)
Odds (provided by DraftKings): According to DraftKings, Louisville are a 1.5-point favorite with the over/under set at 39.5 points.*
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
While it hasn’t been the run to the College Football Playoff the Bearcats put together in 2021, it’s still been another strong year for Cincinnati. They’ve won nine games so far, but the loss to Tulane kept them out of the AAC championship game. The biggest loss, arguably, was the departure of head coach Luke Fickell for the open job at Wisconsin.
In the interim, Cincinnati native and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs will be the head coach for the bowl game. In one of the most unfortunately timed coaching changes of recent memory, Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield will be the head coach of the Bearcats moving forward.
“I count it as one of the great honors and privileges of my life to be able to stand in front of those kids every day,” Coombs told the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this week. “You don’t know how many more (chances) you get right? But right now, I’ve got’em! I’m going to take full advantage of it. I love those kids. It’s a highlight for me right now, it really is!”
Redshirt sophomore Evan Prater has the starting quarterback job after a season-ending injury to Ben Bryant earlier in the year. A former Ohio Mr. Football, Prater completed 22 passes on 43 attempts in UC’s previous two contests with no touchdowns, five sacks, and an interception. If Prater wants to show he’s the future of the program, Saturday would be a great time to start. Alternatively, they haven’t lost a game this season when they have a 100-yard rusher, so perhaps eyes will be focused on senior running backs Charles McClelland and Ryan Montgomery.
Defensively for the Bearcats, it’s all about unanimous All-American linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. Pace totaled 120 tackles with 19.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. As a team, UC ranked fifth nationally in yards allowed per play with 4.52. Pace won a boatload of other annual awards at the close of the season and has jumped into a few mock drafts after transferring in from Miami (OH)
In the wake of the extremely awkward departure of Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield for the same job at Cincinnati, Deion Branch will take the interim role for his alma mater in the bowl game. Branch, a former Super Bowl MVP with the New England Patriots, was hired by Satterfield earlier this year to be the program’s Director of Player Development.
“Given the situation with the coaches, this is an unusual predicament to be in. But first and foremost, our guys have embraced the moment taken full advantage of the opportunities. I’m expecting a great game [Saturday]. Not a good one – a great one,” Branch said at the Fenway Bowl Presser on Saturday.
Jeff Brohm was introduced as the program’s next permanent head coach was last week.
The coaching change is a big part of why the rosters for this game look so different from the regular season, especially on the Louisville side. Quarterback Malik Cunningham and running back Tiyon Evans, two huge pieces of the offense, are skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, and running back Trevion Cooley is in the transfer portal. That’s three of the Cardinals’ four leading rushers - and their starting quarterback. Fortunately for them, they still have Jawhar Jordan, who leads the team with 133 yards for 700 yards.
Defensively, it’s not quite the same story. Third Team All-ACC Cornerback Kei’Trel Clark has declared for the NFL Draft. Lots of contributors in the portal, but the biggest is probably linebacker Dorian Jones. Jones was an important piece of the defensive depth over the course of the last couple of seasons. Jones has 40 tackles this season. On the positive side, All-ACC picks Yasir Abdullah and defensive end Yaya Diaby are set to go against their former coach’s new team.
It will likely be a bigger question of whether or not the Louisville offense can produce more than their opponents as opposed to whether or not the Cardinal defense will present a challenge.