Evaluating the Newly-Released Big East 2012 Football Schedule from a Cincinnati Perspective


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It’s never too early to take a look at what the Bearcats will have to do to hoist their 4th Big East trophy in the last five years over their heads. This is especially so since the conference just released their 2012 schedule. Looking back at the 2011 schedule it was pretty unfavorable to Cats despite winning another conference championship. Since Big East teams only play 7 conference games their schedules flip-flop being heavy on home and away games every year. Last season UC played 4 away games at Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, and Pitt. That Bearcat team was full of vets and was able to handle those hostile road environments which was indicative of a 3 – 1 record. Unfortunately UC’s schedule on the homefront wasn’t much more forgiving.

Previous AD Mike Thomas in his infinite stupidity decided it was a good idea to play two of Cincinnati’s three Big East home games in 2011 down in the spacious and not-so-friendly Paul Brown Stadium. Sure the University’s financial situation isn’t ideal but nothing can replace the intimidating environment of Nippert Stadium in which fans practically sit on the other team’s bench. Hell, I don’t need to tell you how much of a homefield advantage Nippert provides. Thankfully, the 2012 schedule will be much more agreeable to UC’s football team. The Bearcats will play 4 home games and according to Whit Babcock all of them will be played in Clifton. That’s phenomenal news in my mind and bodes well for UC returning to yet another bowl game.

To preface this I need to mention that Cincinnati is the only team in the Big East other than Syracuse to return their starting quarterback from last season. Returning a starter at such a key position is critical for a team to maintain success year-after-year, even for UConn.

Big East opponents arranged in the order the Cincinnati Bearcats will face them:

Pitt – 9/6/2012 (Thursday Night)

The Panthers are on their 4th head coach in 3 years (Wannstache, Haywood, Graham, Chryst). The encouraging thing for Pitt fans is that their offense is returning to the run-first style that had pretty solid results under Da Stache. However it’s unclear how that bodes for senior quarterback Tino Sunseri will fare in this system. He was criticized for his play as a sophomore in the final season in this offense throwing for just 16 touchdowns to 9 picks. In Todd Graham’s ‘high-octane’ spread it was believed that Sunseri would thrive. He had a 10/11 touchdown-to-interception ratio. So with Paul Chryst at the helm now bringing the Wisconsin ground and pound system back to Pitt, it’s anyone’s guess just how Sunseri will perform. Playing this game at home and especially as the season opener will be advantageous to the Bearcats.

@ Louisville – 10/26/2012 (Friday Night)

As it looks right now, this is the most difficult game on the Big East schedule next season. Charlie Strong has made it a point to stock his team with some of the most talented players from the recruiting hotbeds in the Southeast. However the biggest thing holding them back was the youth on the team. Not anymore. The Cardinals return something like 17 of 22 starters and most of them are the talented prospects Strong convinced to sign with Louisville over the past few years. Now that they’ve more than cut their teeth in big boy college football they are poised to make a run for another conference title. What makes this game even more difficult is that it will be played away from the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium. While the Bearcats have won the past two games played at the Pizza Bowl, the Cardinals will have a significant edge in this game.

Syracuse – 11/3/2012

Doug Marone has brought Orange football back to respectability after Greg Robinson ran the program into the ground. His players fight and fight hard for him and that’s reflected in the brand of football Syracuse runs. SU focuses on a hard-nosed running game coupled with solid run defense, although they may try to sling the ball around more this fall. The Orange had a series of successful runningbacks come through their doors including Antwon Bailey and Delone Carter who have benefited from bulldozing offensive lines. On defense the linebackers aren’t afraid to smack you in the mouth and Cuse will return most of the those players next season. For Cincinnati the Bearcats have had success against the Orange recently. Even better news is that Munchie Legaux (the expected starter in 2012) played and beat last year’s Syracuse squad. He had quite a bit of help from Mr. Everything Isaiah Pead but Legaux should improve next season. He will also have the added benefit of a veteran receiving corp that can torch most secondaries. If they catch the ball that is.

@ Temple* – 11/10/2012

Oh hello there, Temple. Fancy seeing you around these parts again. To be honest I’m not sure what to expect out of Temple next season but you can rest assured that the Owls will be play similar football that Syracuse and UConn have operated in the past. When Al Golden resurrected this program a few years back he did so by instilling the mindset that his players were going to try and go out and kill the 11 guys on the opposite side of the ball. In doing so, the Owls had one of the best smash-mouth running games in the country complimented with a defense that was extremely stingy. They play old-school, pre-Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers-like football and it has earned them great success. But making the transition from the MAC to an AQ conference is difficult and the Owls will probably go through their own growing pains in the first few years in the Big East. So while it is being played on the road this game doesn’t scare me much.

*Temple joined the Big East to replace West Virginia for the 2012 season.

Rutgers – 11/17/2012

The Scarlet Knights are just one of the teams in the conference this year who have succumbed to the ‘Big East Effect’ in which head coaches moved on to perceived ‘better jobs’. Now it’s tough to really blame Schiano who rebuilt a defunct Rutgers football program into respectability, was the longest tenured Big East coach, and went on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But in this case it might work out better for the Scarlet Knights. While Schiano did an incredible rebuilding job, he seemed to peak at mediocre in the conference despite pulling in recruiting class that finished at or near the top of the Big East. The only problem is I don’t have much faith in his replacement the former offensive line coach Kyle Flood. This is the same guy that coached an offensive line that gave up a record 61 sacks in 2010. Yea, that guy. So I really don’t have much confidence in the Scarlet Knights next season and playing the game at home only makes it that much easier for the Bearcats.

South Florida – 11/23/2012 (Friday)

For whatever reason, the USF Bulls have a habit of developing some amazing defensive linemen. Jason Pierre-Paul and  Quarterbacks, though, not even close. BJ Daniels is one of those quarterbacks. He’s more of a runningback with a solid arm but for whatever reason he always seems to light up Cincinnati. Last season he had only 13 touchdowns to 7 interceptions but threw for 409 yards and 3 scores against the Bearcats. A year earlier he put up less than 1,700 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 picks but against UC he threw for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception. WHAT THE CRAP?! A strong defensive line in 2011 didn’t seem to slow down Daniels much so hopefully an improved secondary will. UC’s defensive backs will be a strength of the team in 2012 and maybe, just maybe, that is enough to keep Daniels in check. But also don’t be surprised if he throws for 300 yards and 4 TDs against the Bearcats this fall. Because Cincinnati-South Florida games are pure insanity.

@ UConn – 12/1/2012

The Huskies are one of those football programs that no one respects in the preseason. They are an afterthought when it comes to conference championships and an easy ‘W’ on most fans’ schedules. I’m certainly guilty of this practice but it seems rather unfair. UConn has been one of the most consistent programs in the Big East finishing around the middle-of-the-pack most years and winning the conference title in 2011. They play the old-school ground and pound brand of football and have had success of it over the years behind big offensive lines and smart, powerful running backs. But the main problem with the Huskies is that they have been so one-dimensional over that time because of a lack of quality quarterbacks and playmakers on the outside. They always relied on strong running game coupled with a stout defense but the inability to make big plays has always hurt them.

Looking up and down the schedule it doesn’t look too bad. Obviously had West Virginia been a member of the conference for next season but the Bearcats can get off to a strong start in the conference by beating the Pitt Panthers on opening weekend. They also have the advantage of hosting 4 out of their 7 Big East games but the ones away from Nippert Stadium could be tricky. The Louisville Cardinals are favorites to win the conference next season and return a boatload of talent. In addition, the Rent (UConn’s stadium) is never an easy place to play in and the Bearcats haven’t had much success there. But I think Cincinnati can finish in the top half of the conference yet again next season.

Syracuse brings quite a bit back on defense but will be starting a new quarterback. Plus UC gets them at home. Cincinnati can beat Temple even though the game will be on the road simply because the Owls will have a difficult time adjusting to a full season of Big East football. The other realistic wins could come against Pitt who UC will open the season against and are again using a brand new system and potentially UConn depending upon which Bearcats and Huskies team shows up that day. Since UC is playing both Rutgers and USF at home I could see them picking up wins against at least one of those squads. The Scarlet Knights have a new head coach who also happened to coach a terrible offensive line in years past and you never know when USF will begin their annual meltdown. But Rutgers also returns a slew of playmakers on offense and defense and the Bulls possess Cincinnati’s biggest nemesis in BJ Daniels.

While still a bit early for predictions, I think Cincinnati goes at least 4 – 3 against their Big East foes this year when it’s all said and done. They will beat Syracuse, Temple, and Pitt and split with Rutgers/South Florida. The Bearcats will lose at Louisville and UConn. Like most seasons Cincinnati can easily go 5 – 2 or 6 – 1 against the Big East but it all really just depends on how these young UC players progress. It helps that most of this team will be playing another season in Butch Jones’ system which they should be able to run in their sleep.

Can’t wait for August.