So the Bearcats head into Big East play at a disappointing 2-3. They in fact are 0-3 in their games against meaningful competition blowing a 14-0 lead at Fresno State to start the year, getting beat all over the field by NC State, and beating themselves with bad turnovers against the Oklahoma Sooners. Yet is is strange to think I am feeling very good about the chances for UC to win a third straight conference title as they head into Big East play.
Many of us fans probably underestimated the adjustment period the offense would have to make. Against Fresno State, Indiana State and NC State the Bearcats looked confused in getting to the line. Players seemed to not be sure where to line up, lineman did not know who to block and Collaros seemed so concerned with getting us into what we were doing that he never seemed to read where and when teams would send pressure from. Basically it looked like the Bearcats were trying to implement a completely knew offensive system (and they were).
Against NC State as bad as they looked at times they seemed to start to get better...they would look more confident getting into their sets, though ultimately make a mistake that would kill drives. Still they moved the ball and were getting into their offense much more quickly. It was the Oklahoma game where we finally got to see a football team that looked comfortable. They got into their sets quickly, they ran it effectively, threw it effectively and played with the kind of tempo we have come to expect. Were it not for a 4 turnovers that could have been the signature non-conference win Bearcat fans have been waiting for.
As it stands the Bearcats came back this Saturday night and did what they should have done...manhandled a vastly inferior Miami Redhawks football team. So though the start to the season leaves something to be desired it seems the talent is finally showing through for UC. The young defense has shown flashes that it can be really good at times. I am sure there will be struggles, but I like the direction the defense is heading in. And the offense is in position to do what we thought they should do coming into the season...be one of the premier offenses in the country.
Before I talk some Louisville and get into the conference season I have a few thoughts on the Miami rivalry. A few years ago Brian Kelly suggested that UC would need to investigate whether or not it was in UC's interest to continue playing Miami as the series is presently constructed. At times there was some outrage over this particularly from Miami fans and I think BK largely said it to get UC fans to start thinking of UC as a Big Time program. If nothing else BK was always a salesman. Still there is plenty of truth in what he said.
Tim Adams covered this more in depth than I will in a really good article over at Bearcatlair.com, but here are my basic thoughts on the Miami series. As it is presently constructed the game just does not make a whole lot of sense for the Bearcats. The Bearcats have won the last 5 games by an average of more than 4 touchdowns, but whatever, that kind of thing happens... hell Miami ran off a few in a row not too long before that. I jokingly said it is not much of a rivalry when you are pulling your starters up 45-3 in the second quarter, but what struck me even more than that was the general apathy for the game from the Miami fan base. At Nippert stadium could you fine more than 30 people wearing Redhawk colors, because it was a struggle for me?
If it is to be a meaningful rivalry by any standard then it seems to me there would be more interest from a University with plenty of alumni in the greater Cincinnati area. The fact of the matter is UC loses money to drive up and play Miami in Oxford every other year. Last year there were around 10,000 Bearcat fans who made the trip North, so I can understand Miami wanting to get a home game every other year. Those 10,000 Bearcat fans give a nice boost to Miami attendence (a constant struggle for them) and bring in a significant amount of additional revenue to the school. UC does not need a game with Miami at Nippert to bring the additional revenue to the school. UC is going to get a near sellout at this point regardless of who comes into Nippert. The benefit to playing the game is obvious to Miami, but not so much to Cincinnati.
Now I want to make it clear. I want to continue to play the game. Hell, I would love to beat them every year. The issue becomes what kind of arrangement would make it beneficial for UC to continue playing it. There was a time when every game between the two schools was played in Cincinnati. I could see that working out, but at that point there is really no reason for Miami to want to play it. I think the logical solutions are either 1. giving UC some sort of a 2 for 1 deal where two games are played at Nippert for every one at Miami, or 2. Negotiating a deal with Miami for splitting much of the ticket revenue when the game is in Oxford.
UC has 5 non-conference games to fill every year and in my ideal world Miami will be one of those games, but there has to be some value for UC in doing it. I'm fine with making the trip up to Nippert North every other year as long as UC is getting a fair shake out of the deal and as it is now Bearcat fans are basically subsidizing the Miami athletic department for that one game every two years up in Oxford and getting little in return (other than a guarentee win).
Judging by the lack of Miami supporters I have seen at Nippert the past couple of times UC and Miami met it does not seem to me that the rivalry is anything like it once was. There is aparthy towards the game among the fans of our one time rivals. For historical purposes I would love to play the game and I am sure UC and Miami could strike a deal that is more than fair to what both schools bring to the game, but the deal as currently structured is not a good deal for UC. It is a deal that Miami gets a lot more out of than UC and one that needs to be addressed in the coming years.
Preparing for Louisville:
As one rivalry/trophy game ends another approaches. For the second time this season the Bearcats have a short week to prepare for a football game on the road. Friday night the Bearcats go back to Louisville where they managed to win two years ago, but in general has been a place the Bearcats have struggled. This is a revamped Louisville team that after two years of highly unorganized, bad football are slowly working their way back towards relevance in the Big East. They remind me of Syracuse last season in that I still think at season's end they will be towards the bottom of the conference, but they are not going to be a pushover and will continue to progress throughout the season.
What has impressed me the most about Louisville this season is their ability to withstand adversity. There were a couple of times in the Kenutcky game to start the year that Kentucky could have put Louisville away and yet Louisville fought on making it a good game throughout. Their fight was also evident in their loss to a pretty good Oregon State team. My general point is that this is a game where if UC comes out sloppy or makes mistakes they could easily get beat, but if they play to their top ability they should win by two+ touchdowns.
Louisville's strengths are their running game and their ability to rush the passer. I believe the UC defense should match up well in limiting Louisville's ability to run the football and will force the Cardinals to beat them through the air. Louisville's running back Bilal Powell is 8th nationally with 689 yards rushing and he is getting those yards at a rate of 7.6 per pop. If the Cardinals are able to consistently move the ball on the ground it could be a long day for the Bearcat defense. Louisville's ability to rush the passer is what really worries me most about this game. When the Bearcats looked bad early in the season it was because Fresno State and NC State were absolutely abusing the Bearcat offensive line and wreaking havoc in the backfield. It is an even bigger concern than usual because we do not know yet if Alex Hoffman will play friday night at Louisville. Though the Bearcats have seemingly righted the ship starting with the Oklahoma game it would be nice to see them do it aganst a team as prolific rushing the passer as Louisville.
In the end I believe the ability of the Bearcat offense to break off big plays both running the football and through the air will be the difference. Louisville will be a much stiffer test than Miami last week, but I think by the time the game is done the Bearcats will have a 37 to 20 win.
This is a big three game stretch for the Bearcats in that it gives them a chance to get on a roll in conference play. Louisville, South Florida and Syracuse could very well end up finishing in the last three spots in the Big East this year (though I believe the league seems more wide open than I initially believed). Winning these three games will be critical if UC has asperations on a third straight Big East title. Louisville might be the key game in that stretch seeing that it is a rivalry game and on the road (where the other two games are at home against two teams the Bearcats have owned of late). Winning the next three would put the Bearcats at 3-0 heading into a bye week which would set up the stretch run towards a Big East title. I think the Bearcats are poised to really break through the next three weeks and reestablish themselves as the team to beat in the Big East.