I've known this for a while, but I think the gravity of it set in last season: I have a spiritual connection with a football stadium. Nippert is my happy place. When the Bearcats are winning and the lights are on, it's a religious experience. When the rain is coming down and the Bearcats are losing, it's still a pretty special place to be.
August stretches on for miles each year. I have an aching desire to be back in Clifton, jacked up for another year of Bearcat football.
There is, of course, no such thing as a bad football game in Nippert, but I do admit that some are better than others. Here's your definitive ranking of the season's best home games:
1. Ohio – Saturday, Sept. 22 (TBD)
The home schedule this season isn’t the best in recent history, leaving the door open for the visiting MAC preseason favorite to clinch Home Game of the Year status. These two have faced off 50 times, but haven’t met since 1981. (In their first meeting in 1896, Cincinnati won 52-0.)
The season opener is on the road, the Victory Bell is at Paul Brown Stadium, and the Nippert opener is against an FCS team. This marks the first night we’re likely to see some bounce in Clifton, and UC is probably gonna need it. The Bobcats will be pretty good this year. This game is gonna be intense.
2. Navy – Saturday, Nov. 3 (TBD)
The Bearcats fought valiantly in Annapolis last season, but ultimately couldn’t hang with a Navy team that later fell apart after a 5-0 start. This year, the Midshipmen are picked to finish third in the tougher West Division, and even received a few first place votes. This is a team that can be wildly frustrating to play, but Cincinnati has enough defensive talent to make things interesting and protect home field. Also—and I know I’m reaching for straws here—November 3rd might be peak time for Football Weather.
3. ECU – Friday, Nov. 23 (TBD)
The only thing worse than the Saturday-after-Thanksgiving home game is the Friday-after-Thanksgiving home game. I’m a sicko diehard fan and it was still hard to drag myself away from the family to get down to Clifton last November. Finishing the season at home in back-to-back years is pretty unfair, but it’s the type of thing you get served to you when you’ve won eight total games in two seasons.
By now you’re probably wondering why this game is at #3 even though I’m whining like a baby here. The answer is that this actually has the potential to be Cincinnati’s biggest win in three years. ECU is picked to finish dead last in the AAC, the game is at home, and it’s the final week of the season. There’s a decent chance the ‘Cats go into this game at 5-6, meaning a win sends them bowling for the first time since 2015. That’s worth my attention.
(If the team comes into this game with fewer than five wins, go ahead and move this to the very bottom of the list.)
4. Tulane – Saturday, Oct. 6 (TBD)
Tulane is not the type of team that gets you pumped for football, but Homecoming is still Homecoming. There will be a ton of football alumni back in town to see the game, and UC will be favored to win. Good vibes all around.
5. Alabama A&M – Saturday, Sept. 15 (8PM)
I don’t care for FCS games, but it’s the home opener and the Bearcats will almost certainly win. Those two factors count for something.
You may remember the last time the Bearcats played the Bulldogs. It was September 5th, 2015—the first game back at Nippert after renovations. The rains came down, the fans stayed, and the Bearcats pounded 'Bama A&M to the tune of a 52-10 final. Things started to take a nosedive immediately after that, meaning that game was probably the last time we all watched Bearcat football without a dark cloud of dread hanging over our heads. Can the 2018 edition bring us full circle and bookend UC’s modern dark age? We’ll see…
6. USF – Saturday, Nov. 10 (TBD)
This probably should be higher, considering USF will contend for the conference championship this season. However, I just can’t shake the thought that this game is going to wind up being one in which the Bearcats lose by three touchdowns in a rainy, 40-degree Nippert Stadium. Playing USF since 2014 has been torture. Call this pessimistic, but I’m getting a head start on the misery this year.