Saturday’s bowl slate is a loaded one, featuring six games spanning the entire day. The most crowded day of bowl season kicks off in Boston, MA for the first-ever Fenway Bowl.
The Fenway Bowl features an intriguing matchup pitting old Big East rivals Louisville and Cincinnati together. But the storylines go beyond the renewal of an old rivalry. Here are four things to watch for as the Cardinals and Bearcats compete for a bowl trophy, and much more, Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN:
The Keg of Nails returns
Rivalry trophies are one element of college football which makes this sport so compelling. Whether it’s Duke and North Carolina running to the corner of the field to spray paint the Victory Bell or Wisconsin and Minnesota making chopping motions with Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the sheer existence of a rivalry trophy adds magic to any matchup.
Some rivalry trophies were tossed aside during the early 2010s realignment cycle. One trophy that suffered this fate and collected dust over the last decade was the Keg of Nails. Louisville and Cincinnati battled for this keg on an annual basis when sharing a Big East rivalry, up until their final meeting as American Athletic Conference members in 2013. Cincinnati leads the all-time series, 30-22-1, but the Keg of Nails currently belongs to the Cardinals.
For the first time in nine years, the Bearcats can reclaim the hardware, in addition to their first bowl trophy since 2019. Louisville, which also won its most recent bowl in 2019, hopes to retain the Keg of Nails for the foreseeable future in a renewed rivalry between two former Big East juggernauts.
Ghost of Satterfield past vs. ghost of Satterfield future
On Sunday, Dec. 4, the bowl matchups were announced, pitting Cincinnati and Louisville against each other in the Fenway Bowl. One week prior, the Bearcats learned they would be operating with interim head coach Kerry Coombs in their bowl game due to the unexpected departure of Luke Fickell to Wisconsin.
One day after learning its bowl matchup, Cincinnati ensured its opponent would also be without a head coach. The Bearcats hired Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield, who produced a 25-24 record in four seasons with the Cardinals. And one interesting aspect about the Fenway Bowl — both teams share a sideline.
Although it would be entertaining to the viewer, Satterfield will not be moving from one end of the sideline to the other throughout the game. Instead, the future Bearcat head coach opted to remove himself from the game and let the interims call their shots. Coombs, who will be retained as a special teams coach on the 2023 Cincinnati staff, will operate in interim duties for the Bearcats, while former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch fulfills the role for the Cardinals. Thus, Satterfield will simply watch the game as an ordinary viewer as his past and future programs duke it out in a historic baseball stadium.
Where are the skill position players?
In its penultimate game of the regular season, Cincinnati lost quarterback Ben Bryant for the year due to a foot injury. That forced sophomore Evan Prater to start the regular season finale against Tulane — a game which the Bearcats’ conference title hopes were dependent on. In his first collegiate start, Prater fared 10-of-26 with 102 passing yards and an interception. But one element the backup brought to the table was a dynamic run game, as evidenced by his 83 rushing yards. Prater will make his second collegiate start in Boston for the Fenway Bowl.
Cincinnati isn’t the only team in this matchup lacking its starter. Dual threat specialist Malik Cunningham, who dealt with a nagging shoulder injury late in the season, decided to opt out for the remainder of 2022 and declare for the upcoming NFL Draft. That leaves Brock Domann as the new No. 1 on the depth chart, and his presence will change the complexion of Louisville’s offense. Unlike the Cincinnati quarterback situation, the Cardinals’ backup is more of a pocket passer than its starter. Domann has demonstrated mobility before in a 71-yard rushing performance in his first start of the season — a win over Virginia — but Louisville will mainly rely on the junior to spark the aerial attack. He completed 53.7 percent of his 123 attempts this season, delivering three touchdown passes and five interceptions.
The shorthanded-ness of these offenses extends beyond the quarterback position, however. As expected in transitory head coaching situations, both squads will be missing several players due to opt-outs and the transfer portal. Cincinnati is without its top four wide receivers — Tyler Scott, Tre Tucker, Jadon Thompson, and Nick Mardner — as well as tight end Josh Whyle, who has the most touchdowns by a tight end in Bearcat history. That leaves Will Pauling (11 receptions for 112 yards on the year) as the most productive wide receiver on the depleted roster, so expect Cincinnati to rely heavily on its run game.
Louisville is without three formidable running backs in Tiyon Evans, Trevion Cooley, and Jalen Mitchell, but fortunately for the Cardinals, they’ll utilize the services of Jawhar Jordan, who led all running backs in yardage after a pair of 100-yard showings to close the season. Tyler Hudson, who doubled up every other receiver in the receptions and yardage department, will also be missing from Louisville’s offensive lineup. That leaves Ahmari Higgins-Bruce and tight end Marshon Ford as the only active Cardinals for Saturday with at least 20 catches and 200 receiving yards on the season.
Finally the first Fenway Bowl
Unfamiliar with the Fenway Bowl? Well, it’s a new bowl game — kind of. This bowl was first slated to debut in the 2020 season, but in a year riddled by the COVID-19 pandemic, this game was one of many to face the axe. A one-off Montgomery Bowl transpired in its place in Alabama that season, where Memphis defeated Florida Atlantic.
In 2021, the inaugural Fenway Bowl was added back to the rotation, featuring an ACC vs. AAC matchup with Virginia squaring off against SMU. Three days prior to the matchup, the game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Virginia football team.
Now, it’s take three. The first Fenway Bowl is finally happening. The bowl which holds the designation as the farthest east and the second farthest north (behind Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) joins the recent trend of holding bowl games in baseball stadiums, which was first popularized by the Pinstripe Bowl.
The famous Green Monster will be part of the backdrop, and the team names are embroidered on the traditional baseball scoreboard in the outfield. Now, we just have to determine whether the Bearcats or Cardinals swing for the fences to become the first-ever winner of this event.