Before Saturday’s UC football road game against Rutgers, I’ll admit that I had a pretty pessimistic outlook for the end of the season. This team was coming off a pretty underwhelming 28-25 win against SMU. Yes, it wasn’t as close as the finals score would indicate, but still not very impressive given the quality of the opponent. Throw in the fact that the Bearcats have struggled on the road this season, and it’s easy to see why I thought this game would be a toss-up (the “experts” in Vegas did too, making Rutgers a 1-point favorite). My only hope on Saturday morning was that UC could eek out a road win at Jersey Shore State U.
Before Saturday, it was rational to think that UC would be lucky to take 1-of-3 against Rutgers, Houston, and Louisville to close the regular season. Losing all three would bury the Bearcats at 5th or worse in the final AAC standings, which would mean banishment to the BBVA Compass Bowl, or worse, (GASP!) the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. We needed just one win to bring the Pinstripe Bowl into play, but I felt uneasy about the prospect of getting that done.
It was the most fun I’ve ever had watching a blowout (edging out the 2009 edition of the same matchup). The fancy stuff was fun. The surprise onside kick, wideouts throwing passes, the punter taking off running for a first down – all awesome. The nuts and bolts, however, were just as impressive. Brendan Kay torched the Jersey Shore State secondary for a career day of 405 yards, 4 scores, and no turnovers. The pass protection was wonderful. The run game was used at the all the right times, but never forced until the game was out of reach. The defense was creating turnovers and putting Gary Nova on his back all day. And super Sophomore Mekale McKay – all he does is catch touchdowns. The ‘Cats looked good. REAL good.
It was, in a word, a bludgeoning. If The Situation and DJ Pauly D were cool enough to actually like football, they would be embarrassed. What a perfect send-off for Rutgers as they head to the Big Ten next season.
Around 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, I found myself wondering why UC couldn’t win its last two games, finish 10-2, and head back to a BCS bowl? After all, lowly Temple was fixing to pull off the upset of the season against league-leading UCF and vault the ‘Cats into a tie for first place. After flipping over to FS-Ohio to watch Kenyon Martin’s UC Hall Of Fame induction speech, I was glued to the rest of the Temple-UCF game.
Well, Temple soured my mood a little bit with a pretty pathetic collapse (here it is, in case you were too engrossed in Cronin and Co.’s beatdown of App State to flip over), but the bottom line is that this team is really starting to click under Tommy Tuberville and the rest of the new coaching staff. The gameplan was both flawless and flawlessly executed. If the Bearcats can play like this against Houston and Louisville, it’s totally reasonable to believe that UC can win those games. All that’s left to do is pray to the football gods that the UCF Knights will stumble in one of their final three against Rutgers, USF, and SMU.
Okay, let’s look at the prospects for this year’s bowl game:
- BCS Bowl: The AAC champion will most likely land in the Sugar Bowl this year. The Fiesta Bowl has the last pick this year, so it will likely be stuck with Fresno State or Northern Illinois. Second to last pick is the Sugar, and the AAC Champ will likely slip to that pick to play SEC #2. Here’s the scenario for UC to make the Sugar Bowl: UC must win out and have UCF stumble at least once. This would create a two-way tie between UC and UCF at 7-1 in AAC play (UC winning out, by default, would give Louisville a second loss and eliminate them from the race). Since UC and UCF don’t play head-to-head, the tiebreaker would be BCS ranking. UCF losing would hopefully bump them out of the human polls, and the Bearcats winning out would likely vault them into those polls. Finish with a higher ranking than UCF, and voila, you’re in the Sugar Bowl.
Now, let’s look at other Bowls. The Bearcats don’t control their own destiny, so if UCF wins out, the Knights head to the BCS, and the Bearcats would land elsewhere.
- Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, FL): The Russell Athletic Bowl will take AAC #2. If the Bearcats win out, but UCF also wins out, they would be AAC #2 in the standings, as they would finish ahead of a 2-AAC loss Louisville. This would make the Russell a potential landing spot.
- Belk Bowl (Charlotte, NC): The Belk Bowl wll take AAC #3, but as this doesn’t mean it has to be the third place team in the standings. Since the Bearcats were just in the Belk Bowl last season, this is unlikely, but you never know. If UC beats Houston and loses to Louisville, it would finish alone in 3rd place, but could still be passed up by the Belk to avoid a repeat trip. I attended the Belk Bowl last year, and had a great time. The game was AWESOME, and Charlotte is a great city.
- Pinstripe Bowl (New York, NY): The Pinstripe Bowl will take AAC #4. This is the most likely spot for the Bearcats to land in the event that they do not win out. As I mentioned above, the Belk would likely pass over UC even if it finished 3rd. So a 3rd or 4th place finish would likely mean a trip to The Big Apple for New Years’ Eve. How awesome would that be? Pretty awesome.
- BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham, AL): Nobody wants to go to this bowl, and thankfully, UC probably won’t at this point. The Bearcats were last seen here in 2007 with a cortizone shot-fueled Ben Mauk torching Southern Miss (the game was then called the Papa John’s Bowl). In 2007, we were all happy to simply be in a bowl game. Six years later, after five 10-win seasons and four conference titles, we’ve come to expect better. The only way the Bearcats could slip this low now is if UC loses both of it’s remaining games against Houston and Louisville. This would then put the Bearcats at 8-4, 5-3 in AAC play. UC would finish in 4th place, but potentially only a game ahead of Rutgers. At that point, the Pinstripe might consider passing over UC for Rutgers, since RU is less than an hour’s drive from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
In closing, Randy Marsh says, “Good luck in the Big Ten, Rutgers!”