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Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder will return to school for his senior season, he told Yahoo Sports on Friday, setting the stage for the Bearcats to again position themselves in the College Football Playoff conversation.
Ridder will be the winningest quarterback in college football in 2021, as he’s 30-5 as a starter after leading Cincinnati to an American Athletic Conference title, undefeated regular season and bid in the Peach Bowl this season.
“One of my main goals when I came to Cincinnati was to leave this place better than when I got here,” Ridder said. “This was obviously a tough decision, but I really have a chance to do that.”
Ridder’s decision has a two-fold impact, as he gets a chance to help Cincinnati compete in the highest levels of the sport and he can also help his own NFL draft stock and emerge as one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL draft.
The Bearcats expect to return 15 starters — eight on offense and seven on defense — and should be near the top 10 in the preseason. Ridder promises to be one of the faces of the sport next season, as Cincinnati has marquee games at Indiana on Sept. 18 and at Notre Dame on Oct. 2.
Considering the College Football Playoff committee’s lack of respect for Cincinnati this season — dropping them from No. 7 down to No. 9 without losing — there’s still skepticism that the committee would allow them in the CFP with another undefeated regular season.
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said there’s “no doubt” Ridder’s return should merit Cincinnati for consideration for the preseason top 10. Cincinnati started last season No. 20 in the Associated Press preseason poll, and next year’s early rankings could provide a barometer for how seriously the CFP committee takes the Bearcats.
“He becomes the face of a program that’s continuing to climb,” Fickell told Yahoo Sports. “Obviously, I don’t want to say we should be better. But we could be on paper. We’ve got the nucleus to have a chance to be really good.”
Ridder, who is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, finished the 2020 season with 19 touchdown passes, 12 rushing touchdowns and established himself as one of the country’s most dangerous and versatile quarterbacks. He threw for 2,296 yards, completed 66.2% of his passes and threw six interceptions. He rushed for 592 yards, averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
Ridder will enter next year as a fifth-year senior and four-year starter, but acknowledged that there are areas he can improve. He said the feedback he received from the NFL projected him somewhere between a fourth- and sixth-round pick. He said he plans to work with quarterback trainer Jordan Palmer in the offseason to refine his game and also wants to pack 10 more pounds of muscle on his frame working with Cincinnati strength coach Brady Collins.
“I want to work on my body weight, accuracy, deep ball, leadership and my off-field development,” Ridder said. “Being in the film room and with the coaches, being a professional but in a college setting will help me become a better pro at the NFL level if I take steps forward now.”
While it’s early to project the quarterback class of the 2022 draft, the top names are expected to be UNC’s Sam Howell, Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels, USC’s Kedon Slovis, Georgia’s JT Daniels and Iowa State’s Brock Purdy. Ridder can join them with improvement, as one NFL scout told Yahoo Sports that Ridder could end up in the first two rounds with a “big jump” in play.
“He made a smart decision, as he’s got a lot of ability but he’s not a finished product,” the NFL scout said. “He’s very athletic with a lot of tools, but he needs to improve his accuracy, his anticipation and develop his body to be NFL ready. He doesn’t have an NFL body right now.”
What Ridder will have next season is the biggest spotlight of any player in the Group of Five, and he’ll enter the season as one of the sport’s household names. Against Georgia in the Peach Bowl, Ridder completed 24-of-37 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, capping a six-game finishing kick that Fickell said should put him with the elite players in the sport.
“I do think going into the season that he should be in the Heisman conversation,” Fickell said. “With his numbers and his last six games, how could you not put this guy in the conversation?”
What Fickell sounded most excited about was the kinetic impact of Ridder’s return on the rest of the program, as he predicted it’ll motivate the other players and staff to be at their best.
“As he makes a choice to come back after what he’s done, we have to find a way to raise our levels and peoples’ levels around us. He’s going to be driven to take it to the next level, and it’ll be motivating for all of us.”
Ridder has seen the program’s consistent elevation during his career. He initially committed to coach Tommy Tuberville, who was sworn into the United States Senate this week, and remained committed when Fickell took over. Ridder redshirted the 2017 season, and Collins nicknamed him the “Calvin Klein model” for his 170-pound frame.
Cincinnati went 4-8 that 2017 season, and since Ridder took over the Bearcats have improved drastically – 11-2, 11-3 and the undefeated regular season this year that ended 9-1. Fickell said he’s flattered that Ridder has enjoyed the journey enough to come back for one more ride.
Ridder is second on the school’s all-time passing list with 6,905 passing yards. He’s unlikely to get first, but he’s excited to see where the school’s No. 1 passer – his QB coach, Gino Guidugli (11,453) – can lead him this season.
“I’m thankful for [the coaches] for building me into the man I am today, and the player I am today,” Ridder said. “We’re excited and we’ve come a long way, taken a step every year with positive growth. There’s still something at the end to reach out and grab for, and we haven’t reached that yet. That’s going to keep us going.”
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