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CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 06: Desmond Ridder #9 of the Cincinnati Bearcats runs for a touchdown against Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Nippert Stadium on November 06, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by ANDY LYONS / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

The biggest game of the 2021 American Athletic Conference regular season arrives on Saturday when a very potent SMU squad visits Cincinnati. We make our top SMU-Cincinnati picks against the spread and Over/Under.

No Group of 5 school has come close to reaching the College Football Playoff. Cincinnati (10-0), fifth in the latest rankings, probably will get a spot in the national semifinals if it wins out through the AAC Championship Game. Thus, while conference officials won’t admit it publicly, they'll likely be rooting for UC against an SMU team more than capable of the upset on Saturday.

It’s actually still possible for the Mustangs (8-2) to face Houston in the AAC title game. They'll need to win this game and the finale, and Cincinnati will need to also lose its final game of the regular season. UC leads the all-time series 4-1. The underdog covered the spread in four of those games.

Here are my picks and predictions for the college football Week 12 matchup between SMU and Cincinnati (odds via DraftKings Sportsbook; pick confidence is based on a 1-to-5-star scale).

SMU vs. Cincinnati Game Info

Date/Time: Saturday, November 20, 3:30 p.m. ETTV: ESPNLocation: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OHWeather: Cloudy, high of 50 degrees, little chance of rain

SMU vs. Cincinnati Odds Analysis

No movement on this spread yet with the Bearcats opening as 12-point favorites and a total of 65. Early action on the spread is about 60 percent on SMU. This is by far the shortest that Cincinnati has been a favorite in a conference game this season – its previous low number was -21.5 vs. Central Florida on Oct. 16. It’s also the biggest spread SMU has faced as an underdog.

Both teams are 5-5 on the Over-Under this season.

SMU vs. Cincinnati Betting Picks

SMU +12 (-110) ???Under 65.5 (-115) ???

SEE ALSO: Top College Football Week 12 Opening Lines and Picks

SMU vs. Cincinnati Betting Predictions

SMU +12 (-110)

I will be honest in that I’d like to see Cincinnati reach the playoff because I’m tired of seeing the same schools there every year. The CFP needs to be like the NCAA Tournament and give one underdog a shot. I do expect UC to win this game but it wouldn’t shock me at all if SMU did.

Both head coaches could be headed to Power 5 schools soon with big raises. TCU badly wants SMU’s Sonny Dykes, and Cincy’s Luke Fickell has been mentioned at both USC and LSU. In a way, getting to the playoff probably helps Cincinnati keep Fickell because then he couldn’t just walk away, could he? Remember, UC is headed to the Big 12 in a few years, so maybe the Dykes vs. Fickell rivalry will be renewed there.

Can we learn anything from last season? Cincinnati was ranked No. 9 when it visited No. 16 SMU in late October. The Bearcats rolled 42-13. Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder threw for 126 yards and a TD, and he rushed eight times for 179 yards and three scores. He had a 91-yard TD run with under five minutes left to essentially clinch the win. 

The Bearcats have not been playing at their highest level over their last four games. They won by “only” 17 points at a pretty bad South Florida team last Friday. Ridder finished 31-for-39 for 304 yards and two touchdowns – breaking the career school record for TD throws. He also rushed for a season-high 65 yards and another score. It was UC’s 36th straight win against an unranked opponent.

SMU snapped a two-game slide (both on the road) with a 55-28 rout of UCF in Week 11. QB Tanner Mordecai threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns and RB Tre Siggers ran for three scores.

The Bearcats are 0-4 ATS in their past four games, and the Mustangs are 5-2 ATS after totaling at least 450 yards in their previous game. Back SMU with a big number on Saturday.

Under 65.5 (-115)

The Mustangs are second in the AAC in total offense with 494.5 yards per game. They're also second in scoring offense (38.6) points per game, passing offense (318.0 YPG), and first downs (25.1 per game), but there is no question that Cincinnati has the best defense SMU has seen this season, with just 16.8 PPG allowed. The Bearcats have not given up points on the opponents’ opening drive since November 2020. UC has forced 24 turnovers on the year, including 16 interceptions. 

Mordecai, an Oklahoma transfer, will throw the occasional pick with 10 on the season. He had one in both SMU losses, and he took a total of eight sacks in those setbacks against Houston and Memphis. Cincinnati has 23 QB sacks on the year. 

UC ranks first nationally in pass efficiency defense (95.20), first in opponent completion percentage (52.4 percent), second in interceptions (16), third in yards per pass attempt (5.6), second in TDs allowed (6), third in red zone defense (61.3 percent), and fifth in passing yards allowed (164.4).

Another potential reason to lean to the Under: Mustangs junior WR Danny Gray suffered an ankle injury in Saturday's win over UCF and did not return to the game. It's too early to tell if Gray will play on Saturday, and that would be a major loss as he has caught 49 passes for 803 yards and nine scores.

SEE ALSO: Early College Football Week 12 Parlay Picks

SMU-Cincinnati picks made on 11/16/2021 at 10:40 a.m. ET.