#23 Cincinnati Bearcats travel to face #19 Arkansas Razorbacks in a season opening battle between AP ranked teams. The reigning AAC champs produced a 13-1 season with the only blemish being a 27-6 loss against Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
The Razorbacks, meanwhile, will look to build upon their 9-4 record, which included wins over Texas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, LSU, and Penn State. They also managed to scare Alabama fans, as Arkansas only trailed 34-28 with 11:24 left in the 4th quarter.
Can Cincinnati avenge last season’s loss to the SEC in the semifinal? Their odds to do so are found below, as well as picks and predictions.
Cincinnati vs. Arkansas Odds
The spread currently sits at -6.5 Arkansas, and they are hovering around -230 odds for the moneyline. Given that Cincinnati had to replace far more vital starters, it’s sensible that Arkansas is favored here, especially when factoring in home field advantage. The over under is set at 52 total points. Arkansas games hit the over for this total in 7/13 games last season, while Cincinnati games accomplished this feat for 7/14 games.
Cincinnati vs. Arkansas Prediction & Pick
Taking Arkansas to cover the spread is the best bet. Dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson thrived against the SEC because of his accuracy, pocket awareness, and ability to scramble. He threw for 2,676 yards on a 67.3 completion percentage while only tossing 4 interceptions. On the ground, Jefferson racked up 664 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The Razorbacks lost Treylon Burks to the draft, but Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood (6’3”) and Toledo transfer Matt Landers (6’5”) replenish some of the lost size at wide receiver. Raheim Sanders (6’2”, 225 lbs) also projects to be a dangerous RB who can catch passes out of the backfield. This Arkansas offense will be explosive considering KJ Jefferson now has the experience of a full season.
The Razorbacks struggled with their pass rush last season, and the two sack leaders Tre’ Williams and Hayden Henry are now gone. It’s been a lingering issue for years now, but a portion of the problem can be traced to the fact that Arkansas loves to routinely trot out 5 or 6 DBs. A leap from Zach Williams and Eric Gregory would help alleviate this, but fans shouldn’t expect monster sack numbers from the team. Arkansas’ run defense should be solid though due to a linebacker duo of Bumper Pool (125 total tackles) and Alabama transfer Drew Sanders. Overall, the secondary will be the core of this defense, but the linebackers are worth monitoring.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, must replace a number of crucial starters, so their first game will contain plenty of bumps and miscommunications. The electric 2021 offense featured QB Desmond Ridder, who produced 3,334 passing yards with a 30:8 touchdown to interception ratio. Cincinnati’s main weapons – RB Jerome Ford and WR Alec Pierce – combined for 2,423 yards from scrimmage and 28 total touchdowns. All three players departed for the NFL, which leaves the offense in an undesirable position.
The starting quarterback spot is still undetermined, as Evan Prater and Eastern Michigan transfer Ben Bryant are currently battling each other for the position. Regardless of who wins, the offense will be in a state of confusion. The weapons surrounding them lack the explosiveness of last season, so look for Arkansas’ defense to generate 3 and outs.
Cincinnati’s defense only returns four starters, and the secondary was especially hit by the draft. Their two lockdown cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant are gone, and safety Bryan Cook isn’t there to roam the field anymore. Cincinnati is also without their top three sack leaders from last season. The defense may grow into a solid unit, but there will be growing pains.
Cincinnati vs. Arkansas Key Matchups
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Cincinnati vs Arkansas below.
Can Cincinnati Pressure KJ Jefferson
Can the Cincinnati front seven set the edge and contain KJ Jefferson’s rushing ability? The Bearcats must force Jefferson to beat them through the air without his safety blanket, Treylon Burks. If Cincinnati cannot neutralize Jefferson’s dual threat ability, he will convert key second and third downs with his legs. The inexperienced defense cannot afford multiple long drives, so making the offense one dimensional is the key for them.
Can the Arkansas Secondary Take Advantage of New Personnel
Arkansas’ pass rush is paramount here, as Cincinnati is dealing with new offensive personnel. If they can pressure the quarterback and necessitate his throwing on the run, then it’s unlikely Cincinnati will be able to move the ball down the field efficiently. Their new quarterback won’t have chemistry with receivers, so off-script plays will be difficult to orchestrate. Unfortunately for Arkansas, Cincinnati returns every starter along the offensive line – three of which were All-AAC first team last season. The Bearcats also don’t have the luxury of Jerome Ford, so the offensive line must ruthlessly open lanes and aid their running back. Attacking Arkansas and punishing them for playing 5 or 6 DBs is essential for Cincinnati’s success.
It’s unknown whether Cincinnati’s quarterback can throw these receivers open, so Tyler Scott, Tre Tucker, and Josh Whyle have to create separation against these sticky Arkansas defensive backs. Otherwise, it could be a high interception day for Arkansas’ defense.
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