A quick look at No. 17 Cincinnati (8-1, 5-0), which plays USF (4-5, 2-3) Saturday at 7 at Raymond James Stadium:
1. These guys will be geeked up
The Bearcats arrive in Tampa with tons of incentive. At worst, they’ll be playing for a share of the East Division title. However, if Temple (6-3, 3-2) loses at home to Tulane earlier in the day, Cincinnati can win the division outright by defeating the Bulls.
2. Not a statistical champion
Purely from a numbers perspective, the Bearcats don’t overwhelm anybody. They entered last weekend’s game against Connecticut 34th in the Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings, rank seventh in the American Athletic Conference in yards per play (6.0) and are dead last in penalty yards per contest (79.6).
But they play defense and force a lot of turnovers, a pretty sure-fire formula. Cincy leads the league in turnover margin (plus-8), has an AAC-best 13 interceptions and allows only 135.8 rushing yards a game.
3. Refocused for stretch run
After a couple of shaky victories against Tulsa (24-13) and East Carolina (46-43), the Bearcats appeared considerably sharper Saturday, albeit against one of the worst teams (UConn) in Division I-A.
The Bearcats, who led 38-0 at halftime en route to a 48-3 romp, amassed 307 yards on the ground, scoring on seven of their first eight possessions. None of their first five touchdown drives lasted longer than 2:48.
4. Tailbacks in tandem
Cincinnati will attack the AAC’s ninth-ranked run defense (194.0 ypg) with a pair of sturdy downhill backs who sometimes resemble clones of each other.
Junior Michael Warren (5-foot-11, 222 pounds), last season’s bell cow, now is spelled periodically by 6-foot, 230-pound classmate Gerrid Doaks. Together, they have run for 1,075 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“It’s not so much they run away from you, they run through you,” Bulls coach Charlie Strong said. “So we’re gonna have to be really good tacklers.”
5. They’ll try to make Jordan McCloud beat them
You can bet your Quinton Flowers jersey the Bearcats will take a cue from Temple, which successfully harassed Bulls quarterback Jordan McCloud (nine sacks) with mostly a four-man rush.
Cincy will show an even front when hybrid linebacker Michael Pitts (team-best 4.5 sacks) lines up on the edge. Strong said the Bearcats also will blitz middle linebacker Bryan Wright (61 tackles, 2.5 sacks, four QB hurries).
If they successfully can generate pressure up front, defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman (you know, the guy who shut down UCF) can employ a variety of different coverage schemes to confuse McCloud. Watch for sophomore safety Ja’Von Hicks, who has four of Cincy’s 13 picks.