For the University of Cincinnati, 2008 was the greatest year in its history. The only question is, can history repeat itself?
As a Cincinnati native, it was a long time coming for a championship to come back to the city. UC football went from minuscule to big time in less than three years. Cincinnati was waiting for this moment, a moment to get excited again about a sport.
Brian Kelly has brought a winning attitude to a program that most would imagine could not come true.
Big time football in Cincinnati? Well, with an 11-2 season under its belt and a pro team across the street who can't seem to get rid of the worst owner in sports, UC is looking like a hot commodity.
After using a total of five different quarterbacks a year ago, the Bearcats have found their leader. Tony Pike won the job a year ago after starting quarterback Dustin Grutza went down against Oklahoma with a season-ending injury.
Pike was told last summer that he would not have a roster spot unless he decided to earn it. Well, after taking a hard look in the mirror, Pike decided he wanted to have the opportunity to play collegiate football.
The turn of events may have been the best thing to happen to the Univeristy of Cincinnati football team. Even after he broke his arm the following game in Akron, Pike returned two games later not even phased.
He completed the season with a quarterback rating of 136, 19 touchdowns, and 2,400 passing yards. If he were to continue the production of last year to the 2009 season, watch out NFL: Put some meat on this kid and you have quite a prospect!
With the return offensive starters QB Pike, Heisman hopeful WR Marty Gilyard, and freshman RB Isaiah Pead, the Bearcats should have a high potent offense. This team is made to put up points in bunches, while the defense will need to be watched closely.
After the 2008 season, UC pretty much the lost its whole defense. With only one returning starter, they will be faced with newbies learning the system, on top of a new defensive coordinator.
The key losses of Connor Barwin, Terrill Byrd, Ryan Manalac, Mike Mickens, Deangelo Smith and Brandon Underwood will make development difficult. Not to mention playing another Big East team the first game of the year, that being Rutgers. Luckly for Cincinnati's defense backs, Mike Teel will be missing Kenny Britt thanks to the NFL draft.
One more key loss the Bearcats will struggle with this year is the loss of phenom punter Kevin Huber. A large part to UC's success last year was keeping the other team inside their 20 to start the drives. Out of his 60 punts, Huber averaged 45 yards, downed 24 inside the 20 yard line, 15 inside the 10, and seven inside the five. He single handily was able to take the game away from opposing teams.
But after all is said and done, I believe the the Big East will be up for grabs this year, just like it has been the last three. UC/WVU/Pitt/USF/Rutgers all have a chance to take it. Syracuse and UofL are still rebuilding there programs.
If the Bearcats can get the production on offense and Kelly improvises on his new defense, UC has a chance at repeating as Big East Champions.
The new key player to watch out for this year will be Pead with his quickness and ability to read defenses. After seeing limited time last year, you could tell he was going to be a great addition to the team. I mean come on, the guy broke all of Archie Griffin's records in high school. That's got to mean something, right?
Here is to another great season. Last year it was "Be early, be loud, and wear black." This year, it is as coach Kelly always says, "Be the next man in." It's "Be the next fan in" to those of us locals finally getting the chance to watch some quality football in Cincinnati.
UC needs your support, if they are ever to be a big-time football program, they need your money and viewership. Forget O.H.I.O., C.I.N.C.Y. is the new kid on the block looking for tail. There is no longer one big time football program in Ohio. Ask Ohio State these days how Ohio recruiting is going. I bet it isn't as easy as it used to be. Thanks Brian Kelly!