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RedHawks to battle for southwest Ohio Supremacy in 126th Victory Bell

Head Coach Chuck Martin asked his young quarterback Aveon Smith if he was sore after last week’s game against Robert Morris. 

Smith said he wasn’t. 

“Well you’re gonna be sore next Sunday!” Martin told the young quarterback.

On Saturday, college football’s longest standing non-conference rivalry will be rekindled, as Miami clashes with Cincinnati for southwestern Ohio Supremacy. After 125 meetings, the series is tied 59-59-7, so this is a big one.

Although the RedHawks are considered the home team, the contest is held at Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals.

With the first game dating back to 1888, the two teams have the oldest current non-conference college football rivalry. The all-time series is tied at 59-59-7; however, the Bearcats have all the momentum, as they are riding a 15-game winning streak.

The two southwest Ohio universities experienced similar starts to the season, as both lost on the road to Associated Press (AP) top-20 ranked Southeastern Conference teams and then bounced back in the following week at home by handling Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) programs. 

Despite coming into the year off a College Football Playoff appearance, UC began the season ranked 23rd. AP poll voters saw the losses of guys to the NFL, such as quarterback Desmond Ridder and cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, as too big for the Bearcats to reclaim a top-10 spot. Last season, Ridder hung four touchdown passes on the ‘Hawks in a 49-14 win.

Voters' views on UC were quickly backed up when ‘Cats lost by a touchdown to now No. 10 Arkansas, stripping them of a top-25 position. Last weekend, Cincy blitzed Kennesaw State University 63-10.

In the RedHawks’ first week, their preseason All-Mid American Conference (MAC) first-team quarterback, Brett Gabbert, suffered an injury in a loss at now No. 9 Kentucky. There is currently no timetable for Gabbert’s return. Redshirt first-year Aveon Smith got the call and helped deliver a 21-point bounce-back victory over Robert Morris University with three passing touchdowns. 

With Smith being under center for at least a few weeks, Miami Head Coach Chuck Martin wants to see more of him on the field and understands how big of a test Cincy is. 

“There’s still more things that we gotta learn about him,” Martin said on Monday. “There’s gonna be more stuff coming down the road that’s gonna be more challenging.” 

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The Bearcats are a 21-point favorite in the matchup. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Cincy has a 94.2% chance of winning. 

However, the RedHawks have shown that they can hold some ground against preseason AP-ranked opponents when they can limit their mistakes. The ‘Hawks were only down by a field goal to Kentucky at halftime. 

When game planning against UC, Martin should recognize some familiar faces. Bearcats quarterback Ben Bryant, who transferred back from Eastern Michigan, beat the RedHawks in MAC play last season. The senior went 21/31 for 206 yards and one touchdown.

On the other side of the ball, former Miami linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. is continuing to tackle everyone who steps onto the field. Currently, the 2021 Pro Football Focus MAC Defensive Player of the Year is tied for third-most tackles by any player who has only played two games (23).

Pace transferred to UC in the offseason, but the Bearcats never thought he was good enough until recently. Martin said he understands why the senior linebacker went to the school, so he does not hold anything against him. However, Martin does not want him tackling his players.

“I still like Ivan,” Martin said. “I just don’t want to play against him.”

The match kicks off this Saturday at 12:00 p.m. EST on ESPNU.