Cincinnati Football: Better Than Alright (Finally)

 [photo by Emily Witt | OhVarsity!]

[photo by Emily Witt | OhVarsity!]

When applying for colleges, there were a few things I cared about: academic programs, scholarships, and overall student life. College football was the last thing on my radar.

I spent the fall quarter of my senior year engrossed in everything college—memorizing websites, scheduling tours, writing essay after essay, and trying to make four years of high school look enticing to college admissions offices.

Applications were due December 1. By November 30, I had three applications submitted: the University of Alabama, Western Kentucky University, and the University of Cincinnati.

One of these things is not like the other!

Alabama? What? Why?

The SEC powerhouse was, oddly enough, very popular among the young women of my all-girls high school in Northern Kentucky. I caught on to the hype and decided to do some research myself. I was highly intrigued by their Public Relations program, healthy distance from Cincinnati, beautiful campus, and vibrant school culture. It had everything I could have possibly wanted in a college experience.

Alabama would go onto win their third national championship in four years. I made my dad stay up to watch it. I remember him critiquing the game and then promptly falling asleep.

But the Bearcats? They would spend the 2012 football season under Butch Jones, dominating the Big East as the league’s football champions. As you know, Butch Jones would leave for Tennessee, the bowl game would be coached by an interim, and UC’s second coach to leave them right before a bowl game was to be followed by:

Tommy Tuberville.

On December 8, 2012, Tuberville was announced as the new head football coach at the University of Cincinnati, a week after final applications were due.

 

 

The day before my official college visit to Bama, I received my acceptance letter in the mail from the University of Cincinnati.

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Paying little thought the offer from UC, I would spend the weekend surrounded by big-time SEC football culture. The team had just come off a National Championship win, riding on the backs of AJ McCarron and their fearless leader, Nick Saban. We watched their victory parade, sang “Sweet Home Alabama” with nearly everyone in the city of Tuscaloosa, and even took a private tour of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

I was hooked.

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I fully believed this was college football. Massive stadiums, victory parades, singing easy-to-memorize songs loudly and off-key with thousands of your closest friends.

Isn’t that what college sports is all about?

 

 

Ultimately, I decided not to enroll at Bama. I would go onto accept an offer at Western Kentucky, then turn it down in a rather dramatic fashion before finally, on April 10, 2013, accepting my offer at the University of Cincinnati.

The tone of UC athletics was, in a word, sour. I wasn't in Alabama anymore.

People weren’t exactly singing kumbaya as the football team took the field for the first time under Tuberville’s reign. I remember being in the student section for my first football game, not knowing what to expect but still full of excitement for my idea of "college football,” and hearing the following phrases:

“THIS GUY is supposed to replace Jones? What a washup.”
“Well he was supposed to replace Brian Kelly. Screw that guy.”
“I can’t believe we’re out of the Big East.”
“What on earth is Babcock doing?”
“The American? We’re not even in a power conference anymore. Remember when we used to play Louisville?”
“God, good luck getting a bowl invite this year.”

The Bearcats would go onto win that home opener vs. Purdue, 42-7. The negative attitude about the game, head coach, new conference, and hatred for the new head coach of the Tennessee Vols would outlast the W.

This is what I learned about UC football that day:

“We're good. Right? Oh no, we used to be good, when we were in that other conference... that kicked us out. But now we’re in a new conference. Oh, we don’t want to be? That’s our new coach. But we hate Brian Kelly. No, we hate Butch Jones. Oh, we hate them both? Well, do we hate the new coach? Tuberville? He’s alright, I guess. Better at Auburn. But we won, see? Well, we could have won even more if this coach wouldn’t have left! Which time? Oh it doesn’t matter, just watch the game.”

The motto for that year of UC football would be:

“It’s alright. I guess.”

The Bearcats would go onto finish the 2013 season 9-4 with a Belk Bowl loss. Cincinnati football during my college career went like this:

2013, freshman year: 9-4. Bowl loss.

2014, sophomore year: 9-4. Bowl loss.

2015, junior year: 7-6. Bowl loss.

2016, senior year: 4-8. No bowl invite.

On December 4, 2016—following the conclusion of my final football season as a student—Tuberville left Cincinnati. Six days later, UC would announce the hiring of Luke Fickell.

After four years as a student, my perception of UC football was foggy, at best. From my first game in the student section to my last Homecoming, all I really believed about the Bearcats was that the program wasn’t what it used to be, and I had little to zero evidence that it would ever come back.

Everyone hated Brian Kelly. Everyone hated Butch Jones. And after a while, everyone hated Tommy Tuberville, too.

But unlike Tuberville, the welcoming of Fickell was different. Maybe because people wanted it to be different, or maybe because people had actually witnessed a rock-bottom program. Maybe because people weren’t thinking about the Big East anymore. Or maybe it was simply because people wanted —yearned for—a change.

No one wanted Brian Kelly to leave. No one wanted Butch Jones to leave. Tuberville left a lot to be desired.

Fickell provides that. He isn’t promising record-breaking seasons or a national championship right off the bat. He is promising growth. A bowl game invite. And yes, a new tone beyond, “well, it’s alright.”

For the first time, I’m excited to buy into Bearcat football. We're moving away from the negative attitude that echoed through Nippert my freshman year and towards the heart of the Luke Fickell era. Things aren’t perfect, but they aren’t stagnant either. That is what Fickell is promising, and that is what I believe. He cares, he wants to be here, and he knows what this program can be.

Things are starting to feel better than just alright.

See you next Saturday.

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Emily Witt

& & & • @uofcincy alumna • enfp