Cincinnati strolls into its first bye week of the season with a cloud of disappointment hanging over this program. The coaches and players might be optimistic with a 3-1 start but a good portion of the fanbase sure doesn’t feel that way. It started with a loss to Illinois. Check that. The systematic dismantlement at the hands of Illinois.
The Bearcats barely looked competitive in a game they were heavily favored to win. Despite coming out of the gates and beating down Purdue in week 1, it looked like a completely different team in week 2 against the Fighting Illini. The defense was porous, the offense never found a rhythm, and the coaching staff looked like they were in over their heads. After a win against FCS Northwestern State 66-9, UC took the 45 minute bus ride up to Oxford to face the Miami Redhawks in the Battle for the Victory Bell.
It went “Okay“.
Cincinnati walked off the field with a win but many of the questions that were asked in the loss to Illinois weren’t answered against a far, far weaker Redhawk team. So I can see why those fans are getting a bit nervous at the one-third mark of the season and why some of their 12-0 or 11-1 predictions for a final record have now been pared down to 9-3 or 8-4 finishes.
But despite the poor performances against Illinois and Miami, I’m still optimistic about the outcome of the 2013 season. No, a 12-0 finishes isn’t within the realm of possibility anymore but nothing’s to say the Bearcats can’t wind up with an 11-1 or 10-2 record when it’s all said and done. And there are signs that this team is getting better.
A defense that surrendered 45 points to the Fighting Illini has allowed just 9 points over the last two games. While the competition on the other side of the ball has been questionable at best, the way they’ve penetrated the offensive line, plugged up running lanes, gotten in the quarterback’s face, and in general flown all over the field has been impressive. On offense, a 14 point performance against Miami isn’t anything to brag about but Cincinnati continues to push the pace of the game and move the ball downfield. They lead the AAC in offensive plays, are 3rd in the conference in total offense at almost 480 yards per game, and 2nd in rushing offense. So it’s not like the UC offense is inept. They’re moving the ball against opposing defenses and that will translate to more points on the regular basis soon enough.
Finally, and most importantly, I think this coaching staff finally “gets” this team. Remember, Tuberville and co. are only 4 games in at their new UC gigs and while they’ve had months to learn about their players they can’t really fully understand their strengths and weaknesses until the bullets start flying. I think the coaching staff has grown mightily in the last month. For example, Eddie Gran no longer has a propensity to use Ralph David Abernathy on inside running plays. The majority of those reps have gone to bruising back Hosey Williams. Sure Gran sends RDA up the middle every now and again to keep the defense honest but for the most part he has a better understanding of how to use both runningbacks and is giving Williams 70-80% of the snaps where Cincinnati intends to run between the tackles. It’s an encouraging sign going forward and reflective of an improving team all the way around.
AAC Games – 2013 Record: 23 – 5 (82.1%) – Ugh, why’d you have to go and win, Memphis?
South Florida v. Miami: These are two Sunshine State teams who couldn’t be playing more opposite football right now. The Hurricanes are 3-0 and look to have one of their better teams in recent years. They are equally strong on offense as they are on defense, it seems. The Bulls, however, are en route to perhaps their most forgettable football season since joining upgrading to the FBS in the early 2000′s. Despite the bye week to prepare, USF just can’t match up with the Canes. Miami 34, South Florida 9
Central Florida v. South Carolina: The UCF Knights haven’t been afraid of anyone this year and are most recently coming off a win at Penn State. In Happy Valley, no less. Meanwhile South Carolina looks to be on paper a top SEC team, despite the loss to Georgia in week 2. This could be a really, really good game but I’m giving this one to the Gamecocks. South Carolina 31, Central Florida 27.
SMU v. TCU: It’s still early but if given the choice I think both of these teams would prefer to hit the reset button on their seasons. Neither have played particularly poorly but definitely not to the level both teams expect. This is a rivalry that’s fought in the offices, schools, and streets of Dallas in a similar manner UC-Xavier is in Cincinnati. This is going to be a gritty game but I’m going with the Horned Frogs. TCU 28, SMU 18
UConn v. Buffalo: Despite blowing the opportunity for one of the program’s biggest wins, the Huskies have to feel good about themselves heading into their final non-conference game against Buffalo. Connecticut is 0-3 team but an improving 0-3 team. If they were going to continue to build momentum, it would be against a Bulls team that gave up 70 points to Baylor and had to play 5 overtimes to beat FCS Stony Brook last week. UConn 35, Buffalo 17*
*UConn’s going to totally lose this game because all signs point to them winning. It’s the UConn way.
Houston v. UTSA: The Cougars are 3-0 against a fairly soft schedule. But, as Cincinnati fans learned last week, a win is a win no matter how it comes or who it’s against. UH is a solid, upper half of the AAC team that should take care of business against Texas-San Antonio. Houston 42, UTSA 14
Temple v. Idaho: You just know the football gods are trolling us bigtime by offering us this garbage game. Neither team has won a game this year or figured out how to move the football. Oh, and this will be played in the lifeless Kibbie Dome in Moscow-freaking-Idaho. Might as well be Moscow, Russia. If you have to watch this one, be sure to be heavily inebriated. First to 10 wins! Temple 13, Idaho 6