During a visit to Dayton this week, Cincinnati Bearcats coach Luke Fickell talks about the successes and challenges so far.

Ohio State football: 10 things to know about the Cincinnati Bearcats

Both schools are in Ohio. 

Both won double-digit games last season and have high hopes for 2019. 

Most of the players and coaches on each team like to eat Graeter’s ice cream (probably). 

>>RELATED: 5 Things to Know about OSU’s win over Florida AtlanticGame recapNotebokPhotos

What else do they have in common, and what sets them apart? 

We take a closer look with the teams set to square of Saturday at a noon at Ohio Stadium: 

1. The Bearcats were 11-2 last season. 

Luke Fickell’s first season as head coach of the Bearcats went a little worse than expected as they stumbled to a 4-8 mark in 2017, but UC bounced back in a big way last season with an 11-2 campaign that concluded with a win over Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl. 

They ranked 50th in the nation in S&P+ from Football Outsiders. 

2. Cincinnati is projected to be the sixth-best team Ohio State plays in the regular season. 

The Football Outsiders S&P+ preseason projections for 2019 (based on returning production, recruiting rankings and recent results) have the Bearcats 44th in the country. Among teams on Ohio State’s schedule, that trails Michigan (9), Wisconsin (14), Penn State (16), Michigan State (23) and Nebraska (39). 

3. They hung their hat on defense last season. 

With Wayne graduate Marcus Freeman as coordinator, the Bearcats were the No. 36 defense in the country last season according to Football Outsiders. They were better against the run (sixth) than the pass (27th) but strong in both areas and more inclined to stop teams on a play-by-play basis (sixth in success rate) than prevent them from the occasional big play (59th in PPP+). 

They have seven starters returning on defense, but star safety James Wiggins is out with a knee injury and four of the front seven had to be replaced.

The UC defense held UCLA to 216 total yards in a 24-14 win last week. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed just 8 of 26 passes, and 75 of his 156 passing yards came on one play in the second quarter. The Bearcats also forced three turnovers. 

4. The offense was more pedestrian. 

UC ranked 74th in Football Outsiders offensive S&P+ last season, including 60th in rushing and 92nd in passing. 

The methodical attack leaned heavily on star running back Michael Warren II, who is back along with quarterback Desmond Ridder. 

Ridder and Warren are among seven starters back on offense. The quarterback threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns with an interception against the Bruins while Warren ground out 92 yards on 26 carries. 

Tight end Josiah Deguara was Ridder’s top target last week, catching four passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. 

5. The Bearcats have numerous players from Ohio, including three former Buckeyes and 16 players from local high schools. 

Fickell has made a priority of recruiting the Queen City and surrounding area, and his roster already includes 72 Ohio natives, 26 from the Cincinnati area. 

Garyn Prater, a receiver who went to Wyoming High School, is among both groups. He and Blue Smith, a receiver who was a standout at Wayne High School, are both transfers from Ohio State, as is Joe Schroer, a linebacker from Cincinnati Elder. 

>>RELATED: Smith granted immediate eligibility 

Other Bearcats from the Cox Media Group Ohio coverage area are Tavion Thomas (Dunbar), Leonard Taylor (Springfield), Cole Smith (Middletown), Ryan Montgomery (Franklin), 

Justin Harris (Wayne), Tyler Inloes (Lebanon), Michael Kopaygorodsky (Mason), Will Adams (Mason), Jake Tewart (Lebanon), Malik Vann (Fairfield), Darius Harper (Springfield), Cody Lamb (Miamisburg), Jonathan Allen (Dunbar), Jack Campbell (Bellbrook) and Bryant Johnson II (Butler). 

6. Ohio State has 11 players from the Cincinnati area. 

The current Queen City Buckeyes are quarterback Danny Vanatsky (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, safety Amir Riep (Colerain), running back Xavier Johnson (Summit Country Day), linebackers Justin Hilliard (St. Xavier) and Trayvon Wilburn (Mouth Healthy), offensive lineman Thayer Munford (Massillon), tight ends Jake Hausmann (Moeller) and Brock Davin (St. Xavier) and defensive lineman Jerron Cage (Winton Woods). 

From nearby are Mason defensive lineman Zaid Hamdan and Loveland safety Ryan Batsch.  
7. Cincinnati started playing college football five years before Ohio State. 

The Bearcats and Miami University (Ohio State’s Week 4 opponent) played the first college football game in Ohio on Dec. 8, 1888, a scoreless tie in Oxford. 

Prior to that, UC played a handful of games against local teams, the first in 1885 against a team from Mount Auburn. 

The only active NCAA FBS programs older than Cincinnati are Rutgers, Michigan, Navy and Minnesota. 

The Cincinnati-Miami series is No. 5 on the list of most-played in college football and is the oldest Division I rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains. 

8. Fickell is a former standout player and coach from Ohio State. 

Cincinnati’s head coach was a four-year starter at nose tackle for the Buckeyes from 1993-96, capping his career with a win in the Rose Bowl. 

The Columbus native is also one of the great heavyweight wrestlers in Ohio high school history, winning three state championships at DeSales High School. 

He was on the coaching staff at Ohio State from 2002-16, helping his alma mater to a pair of national championships and earning high marks as a recruiter and linebackers coach. 

>>RELATED: Ryan Day’s thoughts turn right to Cincinnati 

Joining Freeman on the UC coaching staff is former Ohio State assistant Jon Tenuta, who coached Buckeye defensive backs from 1996-2000. 

In that span, five of Ohio State’s six starting cornerbacks were drafted, including Shawn Springs, Ahmed Plummer, Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements in the first round. Three of the safeties Tenuta coached (Rob Kelly, Damon Moore and Gary Berry) were also drafted. 

Mike Mickens, a star cornerback at UC who prepped at Wayne, is also among Fickell’s assistants. 

9. Fickell has a long way to go to be the best former Ohio State player to coach at Cincinnati (and there is no shame in that). 

That would be Sid Gillman. 

Not only is the Minnesota native second in school history in wins (50) and third in winning percentage (78.9), he is known as the father of the modern passing game for taking spread offense principles he learned at Ohio State under Francis Schmidt and expanding on them as the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers in the late ‘60s. 

Gillman is a member of the college and pro football halls of fame. 

10. Ohio State leads the all-time series 14-2. 

The Buckeyes won the first meeting 38-0 in 1893 in Columbus then beat the Bearcats the following two years in Cincinnati before dropping back-to-back games in 1896 and ‘97 by a combined score of 32-6. 

Ohio State shut out the Bearcats 29-0 in 1900 and has won 11 in a row in the series, including five games played since 1999. 

The last matchup was a 50-28 Ohio State win at Ohio Stadium in 2014. 

Ohio State has not lost to an in-state opponent since Oberlin (7-6) in 1921.  

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