Saturday’s overtime loss to Tulsa was the official wrap on Gunner Kiel’s career in Cincinnati. Of course, he didn’t play on Saturday. Nor did he play in the previous game––a blowout loss to Memphis that was the final home game of his career.
Kiel’s career as a Bearcat started loudly and ended very, very quietly. I didn’t want him to walk off towards the horizon without at least one round of applause from me, so I stopped to briefly reflect on his career and compare him to some UC greats.
Gunner Kiel’s career in Cincinnati started with a bang. First, the April 2013 announcement that he was a Bearcat. Then the September 2014 debut against Toledo in which he threw for six touchdowns and no interceptions. He tied the program record in his collegiate debut, and it felt like the start of something major.
We were half right. That 2014 season was good — the best of Tuberville’s tenure. The Bearcats went 9–3 in the regular season, losing at Miami FL, eventual-champion Ohio State, and at home against a good Memphis team. The ‘Cats won a share of the conference title but lost the bowl game after Kiel left early with an injury. Not a bad year. Gunner tied the school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 31. “If he can put up numbers like that in his first season,” we thought, “Imagine the next two.”
That was where trouble started. In the 2015 conference debut against Temple, things were disastrous. Three interceptions dug a huge hole before a fourth one at the buzzer put the stopper on a miraculous comeback. The following week, the injuries came. After playing in all 13 games the previous season, Kiel appeared in just 10 in 2015. He left early in three of those games, twice because of injury. He got knocked out against rival Miami on a dirty hit and was taken to the hospital the next week against in Memphis on an even dirtier hit that wasn’t penalized. Something changed after those.
Kiel returned a month later against UConn and threw for a pair of touchdowns on 26-for-35 passing. That game began a streak (UConn, UCF, Houston, Tulsa) of stellar outings: 13 touchdowns and three interceptions on 98-for-143 passing (69%).
He was pulled out of a disastrous loss at South Florida on November 20, but returned in the season finale the following week, playing well in a victory over East Carolina. However, he missed the bowl game in Hawaii for “personal reasons,” and didn’t even travel with the team. This felt like a significant milestone in his career. He took some time away from the team, eventually deciding to return. Things never seemed to be the same.
Kiel was injured for spring ball in 2016, but engaged in what seemed like a lively QB battle in camp in August. I, along with many others, campaigned for him to start.
He was named third string.
In his senior season, he didn’t see his first action until October, at the very tail end of a meltdown loss at Nippert to South Florida. He got sent back to the bench for three more weeks before getting his first start of the season on October 22 against East Carolina. Kiel threw for four touchdowns without an interception, and the Bearcats won their first conference game in their fourth try––and their only conference game of the year.
He started the following week at Temple, throwing for two touchdowns without an interception in a loss. He completed just one pass on six attempts in the second half. The last start of his career came the following week at home against BYU.
19-for-32. No touchdowns. One interception. Bearcats lose 20–3.
I would’ve said this if Gunner walked away following 2015’s uneventful win at East Carolina, and I’ll say it again now: Gunner Kiel is one of my favorite Bearcats. Ever. He put up pretty fantastic numbers and brought me great joy as a fan, all in the face of adversity.
He needed to get out of Notre Dame, and there were a lot of schools that would’ve taken him, but he chose Cincinnati. That was awesome. He had the weight of his #1 QB ranking on his shoulders in 2014, and had no collegiate experience, but he set a UC single-game record in his first game and a UC single-season record in his first season. That was awesome. I was at The Horseshoe in Columbus to see him tear up the eventual national champions to the tune of four touchdowns and zero interceptions. That was awesome. He started 2015 with a bad game and then two wicked injuries, but came back and put together a phenomenal run that included one of the best outings in NCAA history. That was awesome. He could’ve walked away from the team or the game itself in the midst of personal struggles after the 2015 season, but he came back to UC. That was awesome. In 2016, he was shoved to the end of the depth chart, but remained incredibly upbeat and optimistic on the sidelines. That was awesome. He finally got his first start of the season, and he brought home the only conference win. That was awesome. He didn’t see the field on Senior Day, but he still did this. That was awesome.
One time I went to pick up student tickets and he was there helping out, laughing about how he couldn’t get the printer to work. That was awesome. We graduated together last December. That was awesome.
Gunner Kiel was (and always will be) a Bearcat. It wasn’t perfect, but it was still awesome. #GunShow forever.
Gunner Kiel’s career in Cincinnati ended with a whimper. It was a a 3rd-down pass intercepted by Brandon Scott on the final play of a 24–3 loss to Central Florida, a game Kiel didn’t start but entered in mop-up fashion, a game that ended up being Part Three of a five-part losing streak to close the season. I tried to find a replay, but it’s gone. This is all that’s left of it:
It’s a shame it ended like that. You know what else is a shame? His career numbers.
Coming in, we knew Gunner would have three years of eligibility after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Being the top-ranked QB out of high school, we figured he could leave some marks on the UC record books. It would be hard to transcend history in just three years, but we figured we’d see something solid.
In hindsight, Gunner Kiel’s career was statistically Tony Pike 2.0, if I may. Pike is considered by most to be a Top 3 quarterback in program history. Part of this is because he played on some incredible teams that won some incredible games. Another part of this is because he has great career numbers. The UC record book will back me up on this. Despite appearing in just 27 games over three seasons, Pike is all over the Career Records section of the Bearcats Football media guide.
You know who will be right there with him in the 2017 edition? Gunner Kiel.
In researching this, I found it a bit eery how similar the career numbers are between Kiel and Pike. Both racked up touchdowns while minimizing turnovers. Both were accurate passers. Both had relatively short tenures in which they accrued record numbers.
One key difference, however.
Tony Pike’s line ran out after the 2010 Sugar Bowl when his eligibility was up. Gunner Kiel’s statistically remarkable UC career ended with nearly a full season of eligibility tossed aside. I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been. From a purely statistical standpoint, I would argue that Gunner would’ve finished with the best career of any Bearcat quarterback had he been the starter in 2016.
We’ll never know. All we have are scraps of 28 appearances strung together by demotions and injuries. I wish we had more.
Career Stat Comparison
For this, I thought it made sense to compare Kiel to Tony Pike (his statistical doppleganger) and Gino Guidugli (the guy who owns most UC passing records). Together, I think they make the three best quarterbacks in modern UC history, or at least the three best pocket passers. (I’m looking out for you, Zach Collaros.)
Gino Guidugli — 47
Tony Pike — 27
Gunner Kiel — 28
Career Touchdown Passes:
Gino Guidugli — 78 (1st in UC history)
Tony Pike — 49 (3rd in UC history)
Gunner Kiel — 56 (2nd in UC history)
Career TD Passes Per Game:
Gino Guidugli — 1.66 per game
Tony Pike — 1.81 per game
Gunner Kiel — 2 per game
Gino Guidugli — 48 (most in UC history)
Tony Pike — 20
Gunner Kiel — 26 (11th most in UC history)
Career Interceptions Per Game:
Gino Guidugli — 1.02 per game
Tony Pike—0.74 per game
Gunner Kiel — 0.93 per game
Career Passing Yards:
Gino Guidugli — 11,453 (1st in UC history)
Tony Pike — 5,018 (5th in UC history)
Gunner Kiel — 6,835 (2nd in UC history)
Career Passing Yards Per Game:
Gino Guidugli — 243.7 per game
Tony Pike — 185.9 per game
Gunner Kiel — 244.1 per game
Career TD-INT Margin:
Gino Guidugli — +30 (tied, 1st in UC history)
Tony Pike — +29 (2nd in UC history)
Gunner Kiel — +30 (tied, 1st in UC history)
Career Completion Percentage:
Gino Guidugli — 56.6% (8th in UC history)
Tony Pike — 61.7% (2nd in UC history)
Gunner Kiel — 60.6% (4th in UC history)
Career Passing Efficiency Rating:
Gino Guidugli — 128.8
Tony Pike — 141.4
Gunner Kiel — 145.5