Running Of The Bulls
A quick check of my preseason predictions indicate I expected to be 5-5 today. I was wrong. Everyone was wrong. Luke Fickell and the Bearcats made confetti of our expectations in the best way.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are 9-1 after beating a good USF team (that I expected to lose to) by 12 points and still failed to beat the spread. This season has been a rocket ship that my brain still hasn’t caught up with.
UC coughed up a 72-yard touchdown early in the game and trailed South Florida’s potent offense at halftime, yet how many people were truly worried? After all, we’ve been spoiled by a freshman quarterback and a sophomore running back, both of whom we expected to start the season #2 on the depth chart.
On Saturday it was the defense putting in yet another workmanlike outing. Some busted plays allowed USF to put up a pair of touchdowns and a field goal in the first half, but UC’s dominating second period was set up by the defense allowing just seven points after the break—none in the fourth quarter.
A week after losing linebacker (and leader) Perry Young to a season-ending ACL tear, sophomore Jarell White stepped up in Young’s absence to lead the team with 10 total tackles, including several of the night’s biggest defensive stops. Kimoni Fitz, Malik Clements, and Michael Pitts provided support.
Rashad Medaris had another big outing, running up 92 yards to pair with Khalil Lewis’ 37 yards and a touchdown. The game’s biggest reception might’ve been from none other than Josiah Deguara, who not only converted a late-game third down to extend UC’s final drive, but even managed to stay in bounds to keep the clock moving. He’s the epitome of a sleeper MVP. He’s rarely making the flashy plays, but it feels like he’s had a crucial one just about every week.
Desmond Ridder finished the night with 20 total touchdowns and Mike Warren scored four times to finish with 18—good for best in a single season in 131 years of UC football. Warren isn’t a senior NFL prospect (yet). He’s a teenager. He turns 20 years old Monday.
It feels like it won’t be long before America knows his name. On a slippery third quarter play, he had the press box gasping. My phone started to buzz with texts from non-UC fans. The kid is electric, on and off the field. After the game, he was asked if he was aware he'd set a UC touchdown record. Without a hint of a smile: “Oh, I wasn’t aware... I was just ballin’. It’s all I know how to do.”
For All The Marbles
In the press conference after Saturday’s game, Luke Fickell was presented the topic of overlooking opponents. USF brought its own challenge, but top-15 UCF looms, so it was a reasonable thing to discuss. Fickell brushed it off, jokingly saying that someone had referred to this season as the “redemption tour.” He said his team couldn't overlook these games after the way these same opponents beat them a season ago.
It was a funny and—I believe—truthful answer. I don’t think Fickell is the type to let his team lose focus, and that second half should be enough proof they weren’t yet worried about UCF.
Here’s another truthful answer: I’ve been looking ahead to the UCF game all season. As the wins began to pile up and the expectations began to shift, this matchup has only loomed larger. Finally, UC got past the Bulls at 9-1 and the infamous UCF game this Saturday was appointed a College GameDay appearance.
I don’t know how far back you’d have to look to find a bigger matchup the Bearcats played in. Here’s a stab at it: The Bearcats haven’t been ranked for a game against a ranked opponent this late in the season since the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Florida. While Saturday’s game is “merely” for AAC East supremacy and not a potential #2 BCS finish, it’s still a mammoth of a game.
All eyes will be on Orlando as the Bearcats look to snatch the conference from UCF, who stole it from Houston by going undefeated last season. The Knights haven’t lost since the week Fickell was hired at Cincinnati, so I suppose there’s a kind of football poetry to the whole thing.
And here’s the other thing: The Bearcats think they can win this. I dare say they think they will win this. If nothing else, Saturday’s win was huge for confidence with this young team. These guys believe in each other and the fans are sensing it. Saturday will be a challenge, but the Bearcats have the ammo. Who’d have thought even just three months ago we’d be feeling confident about a November road game at undefeated, top-15 UCF? Not me.
Fickell and his team have to be salivating. It’s the kind of opportunity for a program-defining win that doesn’t come around often.
Saturday felt like a classic night at Nippert. It’s a shame a classic night includes attendance under 30k (29,310 announced), but it’s true. While the first half crowd was healthy for a frigid night, the second half crowd was much thinner but spunky enough to make the place feel intimidating. I’m glad I wasn’t a poor USF defender, frantically trying to stop Mike Warren in low-20s temperatures while a dozen drunk guys in the north end zone screamed and whaled on the metal facing of the Bearcats Lair. The next home game is the day after Thanksgiving, which is likely to draw a crowd on the smaller side. Saturday was probably the last hoorah for most fans. A sold-out Nippert would’ve been great, but the 29k in attendance were warriors like the guys on the field.
I tweeted about it, but here’s the distillation of the tiebreaker situation that could decide whether or not UC plays in the AAC Championship Game: Win out and hope you finish ahead of UCF in the College Football Playoff rankings. The second part shouldn’t be an issue, but it does put some drama on Tuesday night’s CFP rankings reveal. I’d like to see the Bearcats in the rankings, if not flirting with #20, in order to feel comfortable that an 11-1 UC team has enough momentum to pass an 11-1 UCF team that’s been ranked all year. The fact that this team even has a path in mid-November is something nobody in their right mind expected in August.
This Saturday’s game is going to be the death of me for the reasons I listed above. I’ll try to share GIFs all night (or force Matt to do it), but there’s a non-zero chance I spend the entire day—from GameDay through the final whistle—hooked up to an oxygen mask with a defibrillator handy. It’ll be nerve-racking, but this is what it’s all about. I love the Bearcats and I love college football. The first will always be true. Hopefully the second one still is after Saturday.