Bowl season gets underway this week, and a matchup between the Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats figures to be one of the more interesting battles set for the opening weekend. Kickoff for the Fenway Bowl is slated for 11 a.m. ET at Fenway Park on Saturday in Boston.
Playing in the historic Boston Red Sox ballpark is a cool concept — and an example of why we love the college football bowl season — especially since this year’s meeting will be a first. The 2020 version of the Fenway Bowl was canceled due to the pandemic, while the 2021 matchup wasn’t played either because Virginia was dealing with COVID-19 issues.
If that’s not enough to make this game interesting, then consider the head coach storyline. Scott Satterfield, who went 25-24 in four years at Louisville, is now on the opposite side after being named Cincinnati’s new head football coach on Dec. 5. Satterfield won’t actually coach in this bowl game after replacing Luke Fickell, but his presence adds an interesting element to this game.
Deion Branch will serve as the interim head coach for Louisville before Jeff Brohm takes over the team in the offseason. Kerry Coombs, who served as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator in 2020 and 2021 before returning to Cincinnati in February, will have the honor of calling the shots for the Bearcats in this week’s bowl game.
Given all that has changed about both programs over the last few weeks, it almost feels foolish to bring up regular-season performances. But the Bearcats went 9-3 and won three of their last four games, while the Cardinals finished 7-5 after a 26-13 loss to Kentucky in the regular-season finale.
This game is considered a toss-up at Caesars Sportsbook, which lists Louisville as a 1-point favorite over Cincinnati with an over/under of 41.5.
Let’s take a closer look at the odds and trends:
Louisville Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
Time/TV: 11 a.m. ET Saturday, ESPN
Point spread (from Caesars Sportsbook): Louisville -1
Money line: Louisville -115/Cincinnati -105
Analysis: While much has changed since the regular season concluded, bettors made more money on the Cardinals than the Bearcats this year. Cincinnati went 3-8-1 against the spread, while Louisville posted a 7-5 ATS clip. The Bearcats are 5-6-1 to the over, and the Cardinals are 8-4 to the under.
But you almost have to throw out the regular-season results when handicapping this game. Not only are both teams directed by different coaches, but key players have opted out. Louisville will be without star quarterback Malik Cunningham, as well as running back Tiyon Evans, receiver Tyler Hudson and cornerback Kei’Trel Clark.
Without its starting quarterback and other key playmakers, Louisville might have a tough time moving the ball against a stout Cincinnati defense. The Bearcats, who took a step back after making the College Football Playoff last year, were still pretty strong on that side of the ball this fall. They surrendered 20.3 points per game, a mark that ranked 23rd in the nation.
Given there is so much unknown regarding this matchup, the safer bet is to count on Cincinnati’s defense to get the job done on Saturday.
Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Louisville 17