I'll always believe in the Bearcats, even when I'm not confident in their shot at a victory. There's a difference there. I'm a realist, so I'm not blind to reality. The Bearcats, on the road, lining up against a filthy-rich program laden with five-star talent is not a place a realist would predict success. I've watched a lot of sports, and a lot of the Bearcats—enough to know where a logical path to victory can be found.
However, I'm also an optimist, a loyalist, and a romantic. I believe the world itself is not as bad as doomsayers like to say it is. Because of this, I'm always believing the Bearcats are one break from glory, even when they leave me battered and bruised.
Following the basketball team's heart-melting defeat against Nevada in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, I wrote this:
The Bearcats are a ship I'll happily go down with, because I know it's coming back up at some point. This is going to burn for a while, but that's how it works. Ride or die.
There's room to debate whether or not this is a healthy way to follow sports, and I'll admit this kind of reckless optimism often comes across as foolish naivety. And yes, it's probably burned me more often than it's rewarded my devotion.
When the Bearcats fell down 10-0 in a gust of frustrating turnovers and missed opportunities, it started to trigger that ever-familiar feeling for lots of Bearcats fans like me: "I should've seen this coming. Maybe another day."
Suddenly though, that sinking ship I mentioned in March made a surprise appearance back up at the surface.
Sophomore breakout Mike Warren began slicing up the gut of a startled UCLA front seven. Freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder kept the defense honest before slinging a gorgeous pass down the middle of Spieker Field, and Warren later punched it across the Bruin goal line for a score.
The Bearcats seemed to awake, sucking in Pasadena air, coughing up what felt like three years' worth of failure.
It was then it felt like UC's chances were better than slim. Truthfully, it wasn't until reading Twitter after the game that I remembered the Bearcats had ever been trailing by double digits. They seemed to control the rest of the game soundly, and aside from a few heart-pounding minutes at the end, I never felt anxious, much less dreadful.
The 'Cats escaped with their biggest victory since grounding the Miami Hurricanes at Nippert three years ago, a game in which I felt like UC was slaying Goliath. It's not that The U was even that good in 2015, but I spent the whole night waiting for the house of cards to fall, the rug to be pulled out from underneath me, or the dream to end. On Saturday, the Bearcats were 14.5-point underdogs, and that feeling never came.
Per Vegas odds, it was their biggest upset in nearly two decades.
When was the last time I had faith in Bearcat football to win a big game without giving me permanent heart damage? I honestly can't remember.
Chip Kelly's last win as a head coach came in LA. His opponent that day was the Los Angeles Rams. On Saturday, the Cincinnati Bearcats proved to be a bigger obstacle in the City of Angels.
"Maybe another day" became "No more. Today." Mike Warren II crossed the goal line for the third time, on fourth down, to drive the nail into the heart of Kelly's Bruins.
The white-clad Bearcat sideline tore onto the field, shockingly headed back to Clifton undefeated.
Not a bad day for a guy with a foolish brand of optimism.
- Desmond Ridder makes the team work. I suspect fans will continue to fuss over how I predict the coaching staff will handle the quarterback job. This is not the last we've seen of Hayden Moore. I'd listen to an argument that Hayden Moore is a better quarterback than Desmond Ridder at this point. One is a fifth-year senior with the luxury of 28 games under his belt and the other is a kid who just stepped on the field wearing red and black for the first time. Yes, Hayden might technically be better than Ridder today, but I'm not sure that matters anymore. Whatever Ridder has is working. There were a few rough throws and a few poorly-executed read options. But there was also a full evening of something resembling the kind of fluid offense the Bearcats haven't had since at least 2015. It was just one game, but the freshman really seemed to click in the context of what head coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock are trying to do. Plus, ya know, 13-of-24 passing and 63 rushing yards is pretty damn good for a kid taking his first crack at it—in the Rose Bowl, no less.
- Michael Warren was a force. Going into the game, the talk from the Cincinnati side was "UCLA's linebackers aren't great. The Bearcats will have to run all over them if they want to win." This sounds great, but not always do paper theories work in practice, especially this one. All it would take was two quick scores by the Bruins and suddenly the 'Cats would be playing catch-up and those 49 combined QB and RB rush attempts would've never made sense. Instead, Warren sliced and diced his way to 35 carries, 142 yards, and three touchdowns—all easily career bests. Also, he lead the team in receiving with a trio of catches for 29 yards. Also, he brought all this to a close with a bum ankle. Seems good.
- The defense lived up to its billing. Like I said, it's not always that things that look good on paper look good in practice. The Bearcats are supposed to live and die by their athletic defense, anchored by the experienced and formidable front seven. Everything the fans and experts have spent the last month saying could happen did happen. James Wiggins reeled in an interception to go with a six pack of tackles, Marquise Copeland clogged running lanes with a team-high seven stops, and Cortez Broughton nailed down 3.5 sacks, which would've tied him for the Bearcats' season high last year. I cried over my keyboard a year ago when Cincinnati couldn't seem to get any pressure on opposing QBs. Through one game, Broughton put up better sack numbers than he did in 12 games last year. I'm cautiously optimistic here. I'd like to see this team in one more outing before I'm ready to believe this defense isn't a mirage. But wow. That was something.
- Luke Fickell came to win. How much have we as a fan base whined about watching coaches either too scared to go for the throat or too stupid to do so at the right time? On Saturday, not only was Fickell bold and risky, but he was calculated. He liked his offense's chances to convert a fourth down deep in UCLA territory. It paid off. When the next series reached fourth down, he elected to try for the field goal, seeking to go up five points and put the game in the hands of his stellar defense. When the Bruins sent too many men onto the field, the situation changed, the risk lessened, Fickell reassessed, and determined it made sense to gamble again. Once more, it paid off. Warren fell stumbling into the Rose Bowl end zone, the Bearcats went up nine, and it was all over.
Not gonna worry about these. "Maybe another day."