Thursday, September 25, 2008

How the Big East Will Play Out

This has not exactly been a picture perfect season for the Big East Conference. Louisville started the year getting killed by Kentucky, Rutgers and Syracuse cannot beat anyone, Pitt lost at home to a MAC team, Cincinnati lost by 26 to Oklahoma, and perennially Big East power West Virginia has already lost twice. Still Louisville seemed to turn the corner last week in taking care of Kansas State, Cincinnati got great play from quarterback Tony Pike against Miami Ohio, Pitt took care of unbeaten Iowa, Connecticut remains unbeaten and South Florida has already taken care of Kansas and Central Florida. In reality the Big East has been no more down than the ACC or the Pac Ten. Still the question that looms as Big East conference play begins Friday night is: What do we expect from the conference the rest of the way?

I look back at my preseason projections and realize…wow was I wrong about two teams. West Virginia has not played anywhere close to the level they played the last two seasons and Rutgers has fallen completely off of the map. At the same time, much of the Big East has gone as one could have expected: Pitt looks improved from last year, but certainly not at the crazy level that made “experts” pick them to win the Big East and make a BCS bowl. UConn has been the steady team they were all last year…winning their close games. South Florida and Syracuse have picked up right where they left off (one team is happier than the other about that). And the Bearcats have given us no reason to think they cannot be better than last season. So as Louisville and Connecticut get set to open Big East play Friday night I want to take the time to revisit the Big East, ranking them largely based on what they have shown so far this season and dissecting their best and worst case scenarios.

  1. Cincinnati

Best Case Scenario- Tony Pike continues to be the answer at quarterback and runs up the score the next three weeks against Akron, Marshall and Rutgers. The defensive line gains valuable experience and begins to get consistent pressure on the quarterback giving the back of the defense more opportunities to make plays. The Bearcat corners begin forcing turnovers in bunches, making them one of the better defenses in the country. The Bearcats then start their defining three game stretch of the season with another dominating performance at Connecticut. That sets up a Thursday night, nationally televised game against a top ten South Florida Bulls team. The Bearcats look like the better team all game and win by two touchdowns. They take care of business the rest of the way, running through the conference to a 12-1 regular season.

Worst Case Scenario- Tony Pike continues to look good until conference play begins and the pressure heats up. He struggles against the defenses of Uconn, South Florida and West Virginia. The defensive line continues to be a weak spot for the Bearcat defense and as a result the secondary gets exposed underneath game in and game out. The Bearcats have enough talent on both sides of the football to win games, but they finish 4-3 in the conference (9-4 overall) and head back to Birmingham for a second straight season.

My Forecast- I think Tony Pike continues to play well and use the great talent he has all around him. I think the defensive line gets better throughout the year (though never gets the consistent pass rush that Hoke and Craig were able to get). The Bearcats run the table at Nippert, including big wins over USF and Pitt, but lose a road game either at WVU or at Louisville. The Bearcats make their first ever BCS bowl at 11-2 (6-1 in the Big East).

  1. South Florida

Best Case Scenario- South Florida avoids the inconsistency that killed them last season and has shown its face at times in games against Kansas, UCF, and Florida Internationally this season. Matt Grothe wins the conference player of the year and George Selvie wins the defensive player of the year. South Florida sweeps their home schedule. They go into Cincinnati for that huge Thursday night game and beat the Bearcats moving the Bulls to the brink of the top 5. The Bulls eventually lose one, but win the conference and make their first ever BCS bowl game.

Worst Case Scenario- South Florida slips up before conference play and loses a road game at North Carolina State. Road games at Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia prove to be a tough hill to climb. The Bulls lose two of those and a home game to Uconn or Pitt to finish 8-4 (4-3) in the Big East.

My Forecast- I think South Florida and Cincinnati are pretty equal in terms of how good they are. However, I think the Bearcats are more dynamic offensively and ultimately more consistent. Grothe keeps the Bulls rolling up until they face Louisville. I think the Louisville game will be a fight with the Bulls ultimately coming out on top. Their reward will be a game 5 days later against a Cincinnati Bearcat team coming off a bye week, at Nippert on national television. I think the Bulls lose that game, beat Rutgers and then lose one more to either Uconn or WVU to finish the season 10-2 (5-2 in the Big East).

  1. Louisville

Best Case Scenario- The Cardinals really have turned the corner since that debacle against Kentucky. Hunter Cantwell shows the promise everyone saw in him when he stepped in for an injured Brian Brohm, while victor Anderson becomes the talk of the Big East as running back. The defense, which seems much improved, continues to play well and limits some really good offenses. Louisville takes advantage of a great schedule which brings Uconn, South Florida, Cincinnati and West Virginia to Papa Johns to go 5-2 in the Big East and tie for a conference championship.

Worst Case Scenario- Kansas State was not very good and the Kentucky game was a better gauge for this Louisville team. The Cardinals revert to their awful play of last season and get swept at home in Big East play. Louisville fans call for Kragthrope’s head and start wishing for the days of Bobby Petrino. After a last place finish in the SEC west at Arkansas Petrino tells everyone that he is not interested in taking the Louisville job, but quietly begins talking to boosters. The boosters convince Jurich to take the Big East commissioner job then hire a new AD who gives Petrino his second chance in Louisville for a ton of money.

My Forecast- Louisville does begin to turn the corner, but still remains a relatively inconsistent team. They beat Uconn in a tough game Friday night to keep the momentum going. They are competitive in all their games, but ultimately lose 3 in the conference to finish 4-3.

4. Connecticut

Best Case Scenario- The Huskies continue to win close game after close game and show that last year’s co-championship was not a fluke. Big East fans on every message board are forced to eat crow. The Huskies take care of business in their next three including wins @ Louisville and @ North Carolina. They lose a tough game at South Florida and one home game to either Cincinnati, Pitt or West Virginia to finish 10-2 and 5-2 in the conference for another share of the conference title. They end up sharing the conference title with one of the teams they beat and represent the Big East in a BCS Bowl.

Worst Case Scenario- The breaks just do not go their way this season. Louisville goes out and wins by two scores starting a streak where the Huskies lose 4 of their next 5 games and 6 of their last 8 to finish 6-6. Uconn does not get invited to a bowl game…every message board non-husky fan is vindicated.

My forecast- Behind good coaching and a strong defense Uconn continues to be a solid big east team. They do, however, come back to earth. I think the Huskies lose 4 the rest of the way, one of those could be to North Carolina. I think they finish 8-4 and either 4-3 or 3-4 in the Big East.

5. Pittsburgh

Best Case Scenario- Pittsburgh’s boring style of play works. Their running game is incredibly successful and helps the Panthers dominate the clock in Big East play. Pitt sweeps their home slate and loses two on the road (and also beats Notre Dame) to finish 9-3 and 5-2 in the Big East. Panther fans still think that Pitt underachieved as Pitt finishes behind Cincinnati or South Florida and does get to play in a BCS game. Dave Wannstedt gets another year and the stupid preseason polls pick Pitt to finish in the top 5.

Worst Case Scenario- Pitt is still a reflection of the 5-7 team from a season ago. They get swept in their conference road games, lose at Notre Dame and lose one to Rutgers or Syracuse. At 6-6 the Panthers once again do not get invited to a bowl game. The 7 football fans in Pittsburgh who do not just care about the Steelers make 7000 different fire Wannstedt websites and spend the next 20 days posting messages on them from different people every ten minutes. It is still 50/50 on whether Wannstedt keeps his job, but either way ESPN picks them to win the Big East the following season.

My Forecast- Pitt is better this year, but still not good enough to compete for a Big East title. They go 4-3 or 3-4 in the league, they beat Notre Dame and they get to go bowling for the first time in the Wannstedt era.

6. West Virginia

Best Case Scenario- The Mountaineers have been merely adjusting to a different style of play and it has taken some time for them to get it together. As Big East play starts all of a sudden it clicks…they get it. West Virginia’s offense becomes the unstoppable force they have been in the past. They run through the Big East taking advantage of a great schedule, go unbeaten, and inflict another beating on a BCS conference champion in a BCS Bowl (this time from the Big Ten or Pac 10).

Worst Case Scenario- West Virginia decides they should not have hired Bill Stewart. The offense continues to struggle and the defense, well, other than last year they were never that good. West Virginia has their first losing season in Big East play. Fans have a large impromptu carwash to buyout Bill Stewart’s contract. They do not raise nearly enough money.

My Forecast- I do not have the slightest idea. West Virginia is the biggest wildcard in the conference. You would think they have far too much talent to just fade into oblivion, but they certainly have not given us any reason to have any confidence in them this year. This is the team that scares me the most as a Bearcat fan… but really my fears could be foolish. I guess we will find out.

7. Rutgers

Best Case Scenario- Mike Teel is benched for someone, anyone. That someone actually puts the ball in the end-zone instead of wasting their talented receivers. Rutgers wins a few games, goes 3-4 in the conference, misses out on a bowl but shows some talent for next year.

Worst Case Scenario- November 9 becomes the official battle for last place in the Big East conference. Syracuse comes into Piscataway and intercepts Mike Teel 5 times. The Orangemen get out of town with a win avoiding another last place season. Greg Schiano’s name does not come up in the off-season for any new head coaching jobs.

My Forecast- Rutgers beats Syracuse and one other team to get two Big East wins.

8. Syracuse

Best Case Scenario- Syracuse beats Rutgers to get to one win in the conference.

Worst Case Scenario- Syracuse goes winless in the Big East.

My Forecast- Syracuse goes winless in the Big East…someone else is coaching the Orange next season.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Miami Fans Break Down the Cincinnati Bearcats

It could be a long time before the Miami Redhawks beat the Cincinnati Bearcats again. The Bearcats have now taken three straight from their one time bitter rivals, looking pretty dominant during the last two meeting. I was interested in seeing how the Miami fans were taking the game so I scoured the internet for fan interest. Lucky for me I found a little know Miami Redhawks fan site called where Miami fans had discussed the action before and after the game. I thought I would their thoughts with a wider Bearcat audience.

Right Before Kickoff:

Muredhawk27: Alright everyone, kickoff is in a few minutes. Any predictions?
Poppinmycollar: Well, last year was bad for us, but UC does not have Mauk anymore. We will not let that happen again. Plus Michigan and Vandy are both better than UC. I think we can win.
Muredhawk27: I think you’re right. We need to shove it Brian Kelly’s face. We have a 13 game lead in this series and Kelly thinks they are better than us. What a crappy program.
Poppinmycollar: Good point. Yea, we missed a great chance last year to make Kelly regret those words. You know we will be pumped up this year.
Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: We are every bit as good as the Bearcats. We out-recruit them every year. We have just as talented of players. It all comes down to coaching.
Firemonty: Monty sucks, but this will still be a better game. The Bearcats gave up freaking 52 points last week and are playing a QB who has never played a down. You know they will struggle.

Right After Kickoff:

Poppinmycollar: Great start. We kick it short to avoid a runback and give them great field position, just great.
Firemonty: Awful move. Our coach should be fired. He is no Randy Walker, he is no Terry Hoeppner. We are Miami, we always have great coaches. Why wouldn’t you just kick to whoever UC’s crappy return guy is?
Reasonableredhawk: Well their “crappy” return guy set an all purpose yards record against Oklahoma last week. That may have something to do with it.
Poppingmycollar: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.
Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: Three and out, held UC to three. See their offense is really going to struggle this week. We gave Michigan all they can handle and if Michigan cannot move the ball on Miami, no way Cincinnati can.

After Bearcats go up 10-0:

Reasonableredhawk: Well that was too easy.
Poppinmycollar: We gave up one big play. UC is not going to be able to sustain drives against us. We just have to take that away.
Firemonty: Just terrible defensive play calling. Someone should fire Monty already.

Redhawks drive deep into Bearcat territory down 10-0:

Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: I told you they could not stop our offense. We are about to get 6. This is all of a sudden a game.
Reasonableredhawk: Do not speak too soon we still have to convert.

Bearcats hold Redhawks to three:

Firemonty: Of course, the play calling gets awful when we get in the red zone. Be aggressive, spread the Bearcats out.
Bearcats score another touchdown to go up 17-3:
Reasonableredhawk: I think the Bearcats are probably just a lot better than us. We cannot stop them. That was a great catch by Marty Gilyard.
Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: We have just as much talent. We just stalled in the red zone earlier and their guy made a nice play.
Firemonty: They are not better, we are just getting outcoached.

Redhawks score after two awful pass interference penalties:

Reasonableredhawk: Well we got two big breaks there.
Firemonty: UC was all over those receivers
Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: The Cincinnati corners simply cannot keep up with our receivers. Big touchdown by the offense.

Bearcats go into half time up 24 to 13

Poppinmycollar: Well, we get the ball to start the second half. The offense has looked really good let’s see what we can do.
Reasonableredhawk: Yea we are still in the game. We got a few breaks with the Bearcats committing some really bad penalties and having some tough calls against them. I was glad to see the offense take advantage. We still have not been able to stop the Bearcats, they have not punted yet.
Firemonty: We get the ball to start the second half. It will be nice if Montgomery does not screw it up.

Miami cuts the lead to 24-20

Poppinmycollar: Yes!
Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: I told you we were as talented as them.
Reasonableredhawk: Ok we cannot give up anything big on the kickoff.
Firemonty: ONSIDE KICK!
Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: Now that was a gutsy move!
Reasonableredhawk: Great decision, our defense has not been able to stop that Bearcat offense all game. Pike has looked like Peyton Manning out there. Let’s get some points.

Mickens returns the interception for a touchdown

Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: Who was he throwing to?
Poppinmycollar: If we lose this game because of that play I am going to flip out.
Firemonty: I am sure it was Shane Montgomery’s fault. We have just as good of players.

UC scores another TD to go up 38-20

Reasonableredhawk: Well this game is getting out of hand quickly.

Game ends with 45-20 UC win

Poppinmycollar: Remember when we used to beat the Bearcats?
Thinksbigbenisstillaredhawk: This is embarrassing. Two straight seasons of just getting killed by the Bearcats, three straight losses.
Poppinmycollar: I think this may be how it is going to be for a while. Wow.
Firemonty: It will be like this until we fire Monty. Jeez, we were every bit as talented as the Bearcats, but they just have better coaching.
Reasonableredhawk: Were you watching the same game? We did not have the athletes to keep up with their depth at wide receiver. Their offensive line moved our defense all game long. They were faster across the board, both on defense and on offense. We did a good job not letting them get pressure on our quarterback, but other than that they were simply a better team. We needed some breaks to make it this close.
Poppinmycollar: Brian Kelly pissed a lot of us off two years ago, but he has backed it up both times he has played us. We simply are not in Cincinnati’s league anymore.
Reasonableredhawk: Nothing to be ashamed of. We can still compete for MAC titles, but the athletic ability of the Bearcats is just above our level.
Firemonty: No man… we can win. We are Miami… Just fire Monty.

My Thoughts:

Last season when Brian Kelly declared that UC playing Miami home and home may not be what a program of Cincinnati’s stature should do there was a large outcry from the Miami population. I went up for the game and talked to a number of students who had little faith in the Bearcat football program and still believed that Miami was every bit as good of a program as Cincinnati. I think the last two seasons have shown that the programs are going in entirely different directions. For the most part the Bearcats are in an entirely different league than the Redhawks. I have even noticed some Miami fans starting to acknowledge the clear separation.

I believed from day 1 that Kelly’s comments had little to do with trying to insult Miami or belittle the rivalry and far more to do with getting Bearcat fans and local media to start viewing the Cincinnati program as the BCS program that it is. Cincinnati has an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl each and every year. We are clearly the number 2 program in a very talent rich state (and yes I say number 2 because at this point the Buckeyes are more established). Kelly’s comments were there to get people talking and get people thinking about what the Bearcat program can become.
UC’s dominance over Miami the last two seasons reinforces how far the Bearcats have come since joining the Big East. Gone are the days when Miami and UC would battle it out year after year. That simply is not going to happen anymore. I hope UC and Miami continue to play. If we continue to play year in and year out there will be seasons where Miami is up or UC is down where the Bearcats could lose, but they will be few and far between. If this series continues the Bearcats are going to eventually catch Miami in the overall series and the rivalry will start to lose some significance, but I cannot foresee beating Miami as ever getting old.

As the Battle for the Victory Bell continues I see it playing out more as a tune-up game than anything else (and what a fun tune-up game it will be for that matter). UC simply has bigger and better things ahead. The dominance the Bearcats have shown over Miami the past two seasons illustrates the direction the Bearcat program is heading. We are no longer a small time college football program. We are UC. We are a program that can play in BCS bowls and eventually play for BCS championships. We are a program that will have the opportunity to recruit the best athletes and schedule the best teams. We are going to start selling out Nippert and going to eventually have to expand. Bearcat fans who have been there from the start there is no need to lament attendance, or media coverage, or not being ranked…we will get there. What the Miami game best illustrated for me is the progress we have made already towards being a big time BCS program. In the future I expect that progress to continue. Bearcat football is moving forward at a rapid pace and that is something we can all celebrate.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Boise State Back In the Top 25

Bearcatmark’s week 4 top 25:

  1. OklahomaTheir last non-conference loss at home was to… TCU, you can bet the Sooners will be ready for this game. The loss of DeMarcus Granger should not do much to derail the Oklahoma Sooners.

  1. USC- As I look at USC’s schedule I am trying to decide who can challenge them at all this year…it’s a tough question. The Pac Ten is down, Notre Dame is not that good; USC should be able to run the table. I think they certainly have the clearest path to the National Title.

  1. Georgia- Good win at Arizona State. Last season the Pac Ten tried to make its case for being as good as the SEC… this season it’s not even close.

  1. Florida- Once again the Gators proved to have Tennessee’s number. Florida started quickly and never gave Tennessee a chance to even be in the game. That is the sign of a very good team.

  1. MissouriCan anyone stop this offense?

  1. Texas Tech- Or this one?

  1. LSU- It is hard not to love Les Miles. The defending national champions got an enormous win on the road against a very game Auburn team. The Tigers get Alabama and Georgia at home this year though they still must travel to “the swamp” in three weeks. As far as the SEC goes they passed the first major test, in typical late game, Les Miles fashion.

  1. The Badgers had a bye this week and now get @Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, @Iowa and Illinois the next five weeks. I cannot imagine them getting through that stretch of games unscathed, but you may notice they get Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois in Camp Randall. That is a huge advantage for the Badgers in the Big Ten race. I think the Badgers are very good and a top ten team. I do not think they are a BCS championship caliber team, but that schedule certainly sets up nicely.

  1. Alabama- The Tide continue to roll on. They looked incredibly impressive this week and already made a good Clemson team look stupid. Georgia is going to have their hands full come Saturday.

  1. Texas- The top ten continues to be dominated by the Big 12 and SEC (4 teams from each conference are there). It is really interesting reading all the articles on how the Big East, ACC and Pac Ten are down this year. In truth all three conferences have not done near as well as they would like, but I think the bigger story is just how good the top half of the Big 12 and the SEC are this year. Both of those conferences are going to be fun to watch.

  1. Auburn- I cannot fault them much for losing a competitive game against a big time LSU team. Even in defeat Auburn showed they are a borderline top ten team this season.

  1. Penn State- The Nittany Lions continue to look dominant. Much like with Wisconsin their next five games will tell the story of the their season, but unlike Wisconsin they have to hit the road against some really good teams. Over the next 5 games Penn State plays Illinois, @ Purdue, @ Wisconsin, Michigan and @ Ohio State. I cannot see them making it through that stretch unbeaten.

  1. South Florida- Though they are the highest ranked Big East team, the Bulls were sloppy this week against a bad Florida International team. They will need a better effort to beat NC State next week.

  1. “one of the” Ohio State Universities (the one in Columbus for those of you keeping score at home) – If the Buckeyes could get steady quarterback play I would feel a lot better about them. The top of the Big 10 looks fairly solid this season, I think the Buckeyes will lose one or two more before it is all said and done.

  1. BYU- Maybe they should be higher, I don’t know. Talk about a team that is living up to the hype. The Cougars are not beating teams they are putting Nebraska of the 1990s beating on teams. Since limping by Washington they have won 59-0 against UCLA and 44-0 over Wyoming. For BYU to get a BCS bid they will have to earn it, because in truth the Mountain west has been every bit as good as the Pac Ten, Big East and ACC this season (in fact the Mountain West stands 5-0 against the Pac Ten). Utah, TCU, UNLV, and Air Force are all tough squads. BYU is going to have plenty of chances to keep on climbing.

  1. Kansas- Recovered from their loss to South Florida nicely against Sam Houston State, but then again they recovered against Sam Houston State. I am really anxious to see Kansas in the Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas Tech stretch that looms in a couple of weeks. The Jayhawks made a living by beating teams they were clearly better than last season…they were very consistent. We will get a better idea of what their level actually is this season.

  1. Illinois- Second major test of the year is this Saturday night in Happy Valley. The defense had no hope of stopping Missouri, but that probably has more to do with how good Missouri is than anything else.

  1. Wake Forest- Lee Corso picked Florida State to win an ACC game for the 5 millionth straight time this weekend… that method has certainly failed him the last few years, but I am sure he got a lot of mileage off of it throughout the 90s. Wake Forest did not let the Seminoles do anything on Saturday. I think that along with Clemson they are the favorites to win the ACC. Wake Forest has to be one of the most well coached teams in America.

  1. Boise State- The Broncos make their triumphant return to the top 25 this week after a big win at Oregon. Boise State controlled the game from start to finish though allowed a late Oregon rally to make the game closer. Ian Johnson is still a Bronco (I swear he has been at Boise State longer than Kevin Frey was at Xavier) and this year's Bronco’s may actually be a better passing team than two years ago when they beat Oklahoma.

  1. Clemson- They were the pre-season ACC favorite for a reason… the talent is there. Now the consistency, that is another question entirely.

  1. Cincinnati- 20-24! Tony Pike was sensational in his debut for the Bearcats in the least flashy of ways. Tony was just plain efficient, when a receiver was open he general hit him and hit him in stride. When on the field, the Bearcat offense was a machine against Miami. If they can get that kind of production from Tony Pike week in and week out there is no reason the Bearcats cannot win the Big East.

  1. East Carolina- Tough loss to North Carolina State, but that’s a rivalry game on the road. They stay in the top 25 on the strength of victories over WVU and VT.

  1. Fresno State- The second WAC team in the top 25, their win over Rutgers is not looking like that much these days, but they also gave Wisconsin all they could handle.

  1. Utah- They have three pretty good wins against UNLV, Michigan and Air Force. That is enough to keep them in the top 25 for the time being.

  1. Vanderbilt- A win over South Carolina and a road win against Ole Miss is good enough to get Vanderbilt in my top 25 for now. I was going to wait a week until they had played Auburn but when comparing them to the long list of toss-up teams I have for the 25th spot I just think their wins stand out more.

The extras (Almost there but not quite…in no order)

Virginia Tech- In my first draft I had them in the top 25, but as I compared them to others I just did not think they quite held up. The win on the road against the Tarheels was very good, but I want to see a little more from this very young team before I move them forward. It is hard to know much about Virginia Tech because they lack experience.

Uconn- I think they are too one dimensional to be a real threat in the Big East. They smacked around Virginia one week and then let Baylor give them all they could handle the next. The defense is generally good, the running game is good, and they seem to always win the close ones, but I want to see them against better competition.

Ball State- They look like the class of the MAC. That offense is really good.

Michigan State- Nice with for Dantonio against the fighting Irish this weekend.

Kentucky- 3-0 with a defense that looks much better. They’ll have plenty of chances to move up.

Louisville- The Louisville team we saw against Kansas State was a completely different team from the team we saw against Kentucky. It was like night and day. Everyone knows Louisville has the talent. Their game against Uconn this week could be a big one in the Big East.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

USC and Oklahoma a Step Above the Rest

Bearcatmark’s week 3 top 25:

1. Oklahoma- It is a tough debate: Oklahoma or USC. In the end I think Oklahoma has more playmakers on offense and a more proven quarterback (who is a sophomore…wow). Their no huddle is fast and furious. They made a very good Bearcat defense look silly at times and then just pounded on the Washington Huskies. As of right now they are my number 1.

2. USC- If Oklahoma is 1, than USC is 1b. They made Ohio State look atrocious. The depth, speed and skill of the defense may be unmatched in college football. USC has consistently brought in tons of talent under Pete Carroll. After two weeks USC and Oklahoma have separated themselves from the rest of the league.

3. Georgia- I thought they looked underwhelming against South Carolina. Their defense is solid and Moreno looked like a load, but their offense just did not put pressure on the Gamecock defense. They do not seem to have many playmakers at wide receiver which could loom as a problem if they have to score with a team like Florida. Georgia has a lot going for them, but they have not shown to be of Trojan/Sooner quality yet.

4. Florida- I want to see their defensive questions answered against a good team before I move them any higher, but this offense is the best the SEC has to offer.

5. Missouri- They may have the best offense in the country. The Maclin and Daniels combination has been brilliant so far this season. The defense has shown to be vulnerable, particularly against Illinois. I know Illinois has some playmakers on offense, but teams have been able to slow them down far more than Missouri was able to. I think that Missouri is more likely to go down than up.

6. Texas Tech- Another high-powered, Big 12 offense that gets great quarterback play. They are still untested this season.

7. LSU- They jump Auburn this week, but still have not been tested.

8. Auburn- Their offense is starting to worry me. Defensively they are going to do great things, but the new offense still has not shown the ability to put up points. The 3-2 win over Mississippi State did little to establish themselves as a true player in the SEC this season. They are going to need the offense to get it together if they want to live up to expectations.

9. Wisconsin- Fresno State on the road is a very good win. Yea it was a very close game, but the Badgers have impressed me so far this season.

10. East Carolina- They have the best combination of wins in the country so far this season and that is enough to get them in my top 10. Do I believe they are necessarily one of the ten best teams? No. Do I think they have earned a spot until someone else can claim it or they falter? Absolutely.

11. Alabama- The win over Clemson was another great looking win. It keeps Alabama up pretty high.

12. South Florida- They looked excellent at times against Kansas, but looked a bit off at times as well. Still that was a good win. They are now 3-0 and look like a favorite to win the Big East. I still think Kansas exposed the secondary a little bit and that could be an issue for the Bulls down the road. In the end the Kansas win was one of the better wins to date.

13. Texas

14. Ohio State- I did not drop the Buckeyes for losing to USC…that was predictable. I dropped them because they were unimpressive in doing so. They were also unimpressive against the Ohio Bobcats. The Buckeyes have a ton of talent on both sides of the football, but will need to get steady QB play to live up to that potential. As of now, this is still an experienced team that won 11 games last season and 12 the season before. I will give them a chance to right the ship before I drop them further.

15. Oregon- They showed great poise in battling back to beat Purdue on the road. Along with USC they saved the Pac Ten from just an awful day as California, Arizona, UCLA, and Arizona State all lost.

16. Penn State- They continued to look great with a dominating performance against Syracuse (Syracuse is really, really bad).

17. BYU- Other than USC this was probably the performance of the week. UCLA may not be that good, but BYU played about the perfect game. They are solidly in my top 25 as of this week.

18. Kansas- Hard to fault them too much for a tough road loss to an experienced South Florida team that has some big wins over the last few years.

19. Illinois- Not a great performance this week, but the talent is still there.

20. Wake Forest- Giving the ACC a reason to keep fighting.

21. Fresno State- I cannot fault them for a home loss to a top ten Badger team. Fresno has looked good so far this season and I think this spot is about right for now.

22. West Virginia- They looked awful against East Carolina. I have to believe the offense gets it together, but another loss like that and they start falling fast.

23. Clemson- They are probably pretty good, but that beat-down Alabama gave them still looms large.

24. Cincinnati- This was a tough one for me. I hate penalizing a team for losses they were expected to have. I had UC 11 prior to their trip to Oklahoma. They hung with the Sooners for 3 and half quarters made a few bad plays and let the game get out of hand. The fact is Oklahoma is really good. Still, UC lost Dustin Grutza for the season, which has created more questions for the offense. They still have more talent across the board than last years team that finished number 17, but the unknowns are too much for them to be ranked any higher at this point (Heck I have had some discussions with people who think it is crazy I still rank them, but until more teams earn a spot above them I think their accomplishments from last season and potential this season warrant a ranking…Much the same as I do with Ohio State, Clemson, West Virginia and Illinois)

25. North Carolina- Here is a team that I doubt will stay ranked. Hell, maybe Rutgers was just bad and UNC and Fresno State’s performances against them do not mean much. I still think UNC is not there yet. Still the Tarheels went into Piscataway and came out with a dominating win. For now that gives them the final spot in my top 25 above teams like Virginia Tech, Maryland and Tennessee.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Big East Is Wide Open, Can the Bearcats Win It?

It is hard not to be a little pessimistic after the shellacking the Bearcats received at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners. After all the Bearcats lost the game 52-26 and it took a late touchdown to make it that close. The defense was caught off-guard by the speed and intensity of the Oklahoma Sooners scoring machine. They looked completely overmatched almost the entire game. The offense had its moments, but in the end still made costly mistakes when they could have gotten points. And to top it all off, Dustin Grutza was knocked out with a broken ankle. I doubt Dustin will ever take another snap as the University of Cincinnati Football Quarterback.

So what did we learn at Oklahoma? Interestingly enough there were parts of that game that encouraged me. In fact, if the Bearcats made a few less errors, or a few more plays it is an entirely different ball game. A few plays in particular stick out in my mind:

1. The interception Grutza threw on first and goal. It was inexcusable. UC was going to get points, they were likely going to get a touchdown…do not force the ball into coverage on first down. Throw the ball away.

2. The personal foul on Dominick Goodman late in the half. UC completed a 42 yard pass putting them in field goal range (it was also a touchdown with a better pass but lets not get too picky). Goodman fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Sooners. He committed a personal foul for hitting the Sooners player late. The fumble was reversed, but the personal foul took UC out of field goal range. From where the Bearcats would have been without the personal foul, they could have really put the pressure on Oklahoma and possibly tied it up before half time. Just an all around bad play when UC was trying to close the gap before the half.

3. The 43 yard pass to Ryan Broyles on third and 9 after the Marty Gilyard runback. This was a devastating play and the point at which the game turned. The worst part of this play was the Bearcats hit Bradford for one of the few times that game and had double coverage on Broyles. I was sure watching it live that UC would get the interception or at the very least knock it down and make OU punt to them with all the momentum in a one possession game. Instead Broyles makes a spectacular play (and the UC defenders make a poor play) and Oklahoma scores a TD a few plays later. That TD basically set up the next play which put the game out of reach.

4. The fake punt. I do not blame Coach Kelly in the least for this. The defense could not go right back on the field. They just were too gassed and were getting gashed all game long. And if I asked the immortal Herm Edwards, “Why do you play?” He would calmly respond, “You play to win the game.” Honestly, it was open, it’s just for everything that Kevin Huber is to the Bearcats he is not one of the 35 quarterbacks on the roster. The pass was short, it was deflected and the game was effectively over. You change those four plays above and we are looking at a completely different game…and you know what, this Oklahoma team might be the best team in the country.

So where does that leave the Bearcats? What do they need to do to become Big East Champions? The conference is wide open. West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Rutgers all appear very vulnerable. South Florida has looked great for stretches and very beatable during stretches. UC gets Pitt, South Florida and Rutgers at the Nip. These are games they could win, maybe even should win. Over the next three weeks, before Big East play begins, there are a few questions I think we need to answer. If they are answered positively I think UC can be one of the favorites to win the Big East.

  1. Can Tony Pike be an effective quarterback in Brian Kelly’s offense? Will Kelly try anyone else?

Of all the questions, I think this is the biggest. The Bearcats have a ton of weapons. I was very impressed with the offensive line against the Sooners. I thought for the most part they opened up holes and gave Grutza some time to throw the ball. The times they got beat seemed to be when we let the play clock run down to the end and they could time the blitz. We already knew Goodman and Barnett were big time receivers, but Marty Gilyard has been unreal this season. He is explosive and can make plays in space. He is as good as any Bearcat I have seen since Ladarius Vann at turning a 3 yard pass into a 30 yard pass. I have been somewhat encouraged by the running game. All in all I think that this offense needs a quarterback. Pike has all the physical tools. He is tall, has a big arm, and has reasonably good mobility; however, we have yet to seem him in game action with the first team. If Pike can deliver good passes on time and make good decisions the offense should continue to be explosive and put pressure on opposing teams. If not Kelly will have to find an answer from somebody else and it is sounding like Demetrius Jones is next in line.

  1. Are UC’s defensive ends good enough to consistently get pressure on the quarterback?

Against Oklahoma they got almost no pressure. A friend of mine kept pointing out to me that not only were they not getting pressure, but that they were not getting close. His contention was that even against a great offensive line they should be able to get some push, or not get driven back. This is a big area of concern for the Bearcats. Last season the Hoke/Craig/Nelms combination wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks. This defensive line is untested and against the stiffest of competitions failed miserably.

Of course, OU was the stiffest of competition. That line was monstrous. I still believe Barwin could be a heck of an end. He was just too inexperienced going against too good of a defensive line. The good news is our defensive ends will get to go against one on one blocking because teams will have to double team Byrd. Byrd was a monster against Oklahoma. I felt like as a defensive tackle he was in on an unreal number of plays while facing constant double teams. Byrd had 9 tackles, 4 of them solo, but he just seemed to be the only guy who was constantly disrupting what Oklahoma wanted to do. UC’s defensive ends are going to have to disrupt opposing offenses if the Bearcats are going to win the Big East.

  1. Can we stop the pass over the middle?

I thought for the most part UC was ok on the edge against Oklahoma. Mickens got beat on a nice double move from Iglesias and UC allowed that awful jump ball completion to Broyles, but in general I thought the corners were ok. The issue was UC got beat big down the middle. I though Manalac was out of position on pass plays all game long. Part of the problem was Oklahoma’s offense put a ton of pressure on UC and UC was hardly ever set. They would be confused and out of position on multiple occasions as the ball was being snapped. Still, I thought Manalac in particular did not get depth against the passing game and the safeties did not show much in terms of being in position to make plays. The hope has to be that Smith’s instincts will translate well to the free safety position, because the Bearcats need to get better down the middle.

  1. Will someone please make a PAT, much less a field goal?

I do not think I need to delve into this one too much, but UC’s kicking game must improve. The rest of UC’s special teams should be very good. They get great punting from Huber, Rodgers has been driving the ball deep, the coverage has been alright, and Gilyard has looked spectacular in the return game. These all play to the Bearcat’s advantage. They just need someone to make a PAT.


Bearcat fans need to remember that we played Oklahoma in Norman two weeks ago, not Oregon State at the Nip. Oregon State finished third in the Pac Ten and was a borderline top 25 team last season, this Oklahoma team may be the best in the country… they may even be the best team in the last few years. They have the best offensive line in college football, playmakers all over the field, and a Heisman contender at QB. They are going to destroy a bunch of teams during the course of the year.

At the same time they showed some of UC’s areas for concern and created another (with the injury to Grutza). The Bearcats have three games they should win before Big East play begins. I want to see these four areas move from areas of concerns to strengths. If that happens, the Bearcats will be in position to win the Big East and have a top ten type of season. Remember there are a ton of players back from a Bearcat team that finished number 17 in the country and won 10 games. The Big East looks ripe for the taking. With steady quarterback play, a pass rush, consistent pass defense over the middle and an average kicking game the Bearcats can win the Big East. The next three weeks will give us an idea of where we are heading the rest of the way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ben Mauk’s Wake

I am borderline obsessed with David Simon’s “The Wire” which concluded this past year. One of my favorite all time scenes in “The Wire” involved a Policeman’s wake for Officer Ray Cole. A policeman’s wake was basically all the fellow officers celebrating the accomplishments of their comrade prior to his funeral. In “The Wire” they would take the body of the officer and place it in the middle of the pool table at the bar and all have drinks to celebrate his life. If you want to see what I am talking about Ray Cole’s wake is available courtesy of youtube.

Today Ben Mauk was denied a sixth year of eligibility for the fifth time. I am inclined to officially give up hope (as if I hadn’t a long time ago) for another season of watching Ben play. Ben is inclined to continue to fight and by all means I hope he shoves it in the NCAA’s face, but I am content to move on with my Bearcats. Still I think with the death of Ben Mauk’s career with Cincinnati it is now time to celebrate what he offered. In “The Wire” they always play “The Body of a Young American” by The Pogues as Sergeant Jay Landsman articulates all the accomplishments and failings of said officer. In that spirit here is my celebration of Ben Mauk.

The Cadillac stood by the house
And the yanks they were within
And the tinker boys they hissed advice
'Hot-wire her with a pin'

To the last 6 months where Ben just sat idly. If the NCAA cared at all about their athletes they would have wrapped this up months ago. Ben clearly believed he had a case and they clearly should have given him a chance to find out the answer long before now, when the season is already 1 week in. The NCAA needs to start hearing these cases earlier so that the player can know after his or her 5th year of eligibility and can move on with his or her life.

We turned and shook as we had a look
In the room where the dead men lay
So big Jim Dwyer made his last trip
To the shores where his father's laid

To Ben’s last effort with the NCAA, which recently failed. He forced the NCAA to at least listen to him in person by being stubborn and standing up for himself. He should be commended for his efforts, for the strength of his resolve and the fight he had in him. It was the same fight that caused him to play hard on the football field every week despite the pins going up his arm, the multiple surgeries and the soreness he experienced week in and week out. Ben Mauk was a fighter, so who should be surprised that he is fighting the NCAA to the end. Ben still continues to fight. It is what makes him so great.

Fifteen minutes later
We had our first taste of whiskey
There was uncles giving lectures
On ancient Irish history
The men all started telling jokes
And the women they got frisky
At five o'clock in the evening
Every bastard there was piskey

To all the drinking I’ll be doing this weekend toasting to Ben Mauk and all he did for UC last year (and lucky for me I’ll be with Bearcat fans in Norman, Oklahoma…GO BEARCATS!!!) Ben led the Bearcats to their first 10 win season since the 1960’s. They finished number 17 in the country, they won their Bowl game, and they sold out Nippert. The University is on its way up and Ben Mauk played an important part in that.

Fare thee well going away
There's nothing left to say
Farewell to New York City boys
To Boston and PA
He took them out
With a well-aimed clout
He was often heard to say
I'm a free born man of the USA

To Ben’s continued fight with the NCAA. Ben is “a free born man of the USA,” and he should continue the fight as long as he sees fit. There is no way he will play for the Bearcats this season. He will not be hitting the road with the Cats. It is farewell to Oklahoma, UConn and West Virginia, but his fight lives on and maybe he can make the NCAA defend its actions in court.

He fought the champ in Pittsburgh
And he slashed him to the ground
He took on Tiny Tartanella
And it only went one round

To the fast start of 2007. Behind the play of Ben Mauk the Bearcats jumped on teams like they never have before. I remember we used to watch the Cats struggle against lesser opponents, but against Oregon State, Marshall and SD State Ben Mauk and the Cats gave them little chance to even think they could be in the game. When the Bearcats were considerably better than their opponents they knew how to assert themselves.

He never had no time for reds
For drink or dice or whores
And he never threw a fight
Unless the fight was right
So they sent him to the war

Ben was a gamer, always ready for war as the scar on his throwing arm will always prove. If he had to throw a lighter ball all week so as to not kill his arm, he would do it. If he needed to run and take a hit to get a first down, he was ready to go. When the Bearcats fell behind 17 to 7 in Piscataway last season, Mauk led them to 21 third quarter points to take the game away. His heart could not be denied.

Fare the well gone away
There's nothing left to say
With a slainte Joe and Erin go
My love's in Amerikay
The calling of the rosary
Spanish wind from far away
I'm a free born man of the USA

Though his time in a UC uniform is over Mauk will always be a Bearcat. He will join the ranks of Antwan Peak, Tinker Keck, Robert Tate, David Small, Brad Jackson, LaDarius Vann, Brent Celek, Haruki Nakurmura and all the other Bearcats that have helped bring this program to where it is today and will be a part of the great things to come.

This morning on the harbor
When I said goodbye to you
I remember how I swore
That I'd come back to you one day
And as the sunset came to meet
The evening on the hill
I told you I'd always love
I always did and I always will

As Bearcat fans we will always remember and love Ben Mauk for all these things: for his warrior mentality, for his ability to consistently evade the rush, for his persistence, his fight, for his leadership and for the wins he helped the Bearcats achieve. Ben, you will be missed.

Fare thee well gone away
There's nothing left to say
'cept to say adieu
To your eyes as blue
As the water in the bay
And to big Jim Dwyer
The man of wire
Who was often heard to say
I'm a free born man of the USA

I’m a free born man of the USA and like Ben Mauk I chose to be a Bearcat.