Cincinnati Vs. Louisville Fenway Bowl Odds, Picks, Predictions (12/17/22)
With all of the opt-outs these days, sometimes bowls outside of the College Football Playoff are lacking in intrigue. That could not be farther from the case when it comes to the inaugural Fenway bowl, finally being played after two years of COVID-related cancellations. The two teams will have some tension between them, as Cincy recently hired Louisville’s head coach, Scott Satterfield, and he will be making his debut for the Bearcats against his old team at Fenway. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this intriguing, brand-new bowl game.
Cincinnati Vs. Louisville Odds
Vegas sees this matchup as incredibly close; Louisville is favored by 1 point, and the moneyline is nearly even as well. The scoring total is set at 40, so a very defensive matchup is expected.
Cincinnati Vs. Louisville Prediction & Pick
We’ve already discussed a major new connection between these two schools, but they also have some history; they were conference foes in the AAC for a year, and before that in the old Big East. Combine that, and of course the coaching drama, with a pair of fan bases from major cities located just about an hour and a half apart, and you’re going to have a pretty intense matchup. Which is a good thing, because otherwise, there could potentially be a motivation issue with a Cincinnati team that’s played well, but has come nowhere close to the lofty heights they reached last season as the first Group of 5 team to make the College Football Playoff. The undefeated campaign was done on opening day this time out, but from that point on they recovered nicely to go 9-2 the rest of the way, jumping in and out of the top-25 all along.
Louisville, on the other hand, made a small step up from their results a season ago, as they’re over .500 and looking to rise even further. Of course, much of this was due to the job done by Satterfield, who will now be on the opposite sideline, but his players will likely be fired up to show their old coach that his new job is no sort of upgrade. They’ve had an interesting season, with definitive highlights such as a blowout win over then-#10 Wake Forest, and it could have easily been not just interesting, but really strong; the Cardinals lost two high-scoring, one-possession games early on before their defense levelled out a bit, and who’s to say what might have happened next if they started the year 4-1 instead of 2-3? We’ll never know now, but they’ll be looking to avoid another tough loss and end the season on a high note.
Bowls are always a tough call, and as you can tell from the extremely narrow spread, this one is absolutely no exception. Both teams will be missing their starting quarterback, and obviously both will have a new head coach (Satterfield for Cincy, former Super Bowl MVP and Patriots legend Deion Branch for Louisville). Moreover, Cincy’s defense is the only seriously elite unit between the two teams, and many of the opt-outs between the two teams are on the offensive side, including Louisville’s thousand-yard receiver Tyler Hudson. I’m definitely a fan of the under, even with the pretty low number. The spread is a bit harder to call, but I’m going to have to give the nod to Louisville. They have the extra incentive with the coaching situation, and their quarterback has actually played significant minutes and even won a bit this season.
Louisville Rushing Offense vs. Cincinnati Run Defense
This season, the Cardinals have generally had the most success with a run-heavy attack; this has particularly been the case when QB Brock Domann has been on the field, as he will be against Cincy. Louisville has run the ball almost 40 times per game this season, at nearly 5 yards per rush. The bad news for them is that their second through fourth leading rushers, including QB Malik Cunningham and a pair of running backs, will not be available. Top rusher Jawhar Jordan is expected to play, however, so he’s all but guaranteed to be a major focal point in this one. The good news is that the Louisville offensive line, which remains essentially intact, was a top-40 run blocking unit this year under the leadership of center Bryan Hudson, so to an extent it shouldn’t matter that some of the team’s ball carriers will be out.
Cincinnati boasted a top-10 run defense this year, as per PFF. Opponents confusingly ran the ball 42 times per game against the Bearcats, but not too effectively as they picked up just 3.4 yards per carry. This group is also mostly going to be made up of the same players as during the regular season, as the only fairly significant loss will be d-lineman Noah Potter who didn’t have the best season anyhow. Another d-lineman, Dontay Corleone, has been arguably Cincinnati’s best run-stopper; he’s picked up no penalties all year, maintained an average depth of tackle of less than two yards, missed under 5% of tackles, all en route to an insane PFF run-stopping grade of 94.8. Linebacker Ivan Pace also has a grade over 90, but on about twice as many snaps; he’d be by far the best run defender on a lot of teams in the country. Other than the two stars, it’s mostly solid but unspectacular players up and down the lineup. In a game missing a lot of experienced players, a high-talent duo like this could really make the difference if they’re at their best.
Evan Prater vs. Louisville Defense
Normally I’ll talk about a pass rush, or a secondary against a quarterback, but there isn’t a lot of film out yet on Prater running the offense, and he has contributed a bit as a rusher already, so I’d like to take a broad view of how Louisville’s defense might relate to him. Both teams are without their QB1, but all eyes should be on Prater more than Domann; Cincy usually throws the ball a good bit more than Louisville does, and Prater surely has fewer snaps under his belt. So let’s talk about his supporting cast, starting with pass-catchers. Just as it was with the Louisville rushing offense, there’s good news and bad news here, and it’s pretty much the same thing; three of the team’s top four players by receiving yards are out, but the remaining player is leading receiver Tyler Scott, who picked up nearly 900 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’s going to be an enormous factor in this one, likely the focal point of the whole Bearcats offense. Cincinnati’s offensive line was profoundly average in pass blocking, 69th in the country in PFF’s rankings, anchored by an excellent interior line, so pocket awareness will be key for Prater in his first extended action for Cincy.
He’ll be up against a tough opponent, namely in terms of the pass rush; Louisville’s is 9th in the country, according to PFF, and they will look to make Prater’s life extremely tough. More than anyone else, this has been due to the efforts of edge rusher Yasir Abdullah, who boasts a PFF pass rush grade over 90, a win rate of almost 20%, and a very solid 8 sacks. The d-line duo of Jared Dawson and Ashton Gillotte also played well together this year, and will be key against that strong Cincy interior o-line. This group is largely intact, and so is the secondary, but the latter were not as strong of a unit this season. In PFF’s rankings, they sit just inside the top 100, Top corner Quincy Riley has been clearly the best, and he’s the only Cardinal with over two interceptions, but he’s been pretty much alone in playing good pass coverage for Louisville this season. This is a very unbalanced pass defense; if the rush shows up, they could snuff out Prater and co. If not, even Cincy’s makeshift receiving corps could slice and dice the very mediocre secondary.