Thursday's Showdown Between The Bulls and Bearcats

Stephen MContributor IOctober 12, 2009

PISCATAWAY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 07:  Tony Pike #15 of the Cincinnati Bearcats throws a pass against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Rutgers Stadium on September 7, 2009 in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

This week South Florida and Cincinnati meet to decide the early favorite for the Big East crown.  Both teams are undefeated and will probably be favored in all remaining games.  The early line out of Vegas has the Bearcats as a 1.5 favorites.   

This game should answer some lingering questions for both squads.  Can South Florida avoid the typical October meltdown?  Can Cincinnati continue its early season roll after lack luster performances versus Miami Ohio and Fresno State? 

Both teams are ranked at or near the top in most offensive and defensive categories in the Big East, much less the nation.  On paper this seems to be great match up.  A deeper look into these numbers however could spell doom for the South Florida Bulls.

UC Offense vs. South Florida Defense

 At first this seems like strength on strength.  Cincinnati comes into the game ranked 11th offense while the South Florida defense is ranked 10th.  Rankings can be deceiving because they are based on who you play.    

South Florida has compiled impressive defensive stats while playing two FCS schools and two of the worst offenses in college football in Syracuse and Western Kentucky.  The average offensive ranking for Bulls opponents comes in at a poultry ranking of 80th.  The one solid offensive the Bulls have played is Florida State at 25th, which was kept in check by the Bulls defense.  A closer look at the box score, however, reviles that the Bulls allowed Christian Ponder to pass for 269 yards on 25 completions.  The question is can the Bulls pass defense hold the superior Tony Pike and company in check?

Cincinnati Offense comes in facing what most would consider a much better schedule.  With tough tests at Oregon State, Rutgers and home against Fresno State, Cincinnati has passed winning by at least a touchdown in every contest.  The average defensive ranking Cincinnati’s offense has face is 63rd with Rutgers leading the way at 29th.  Obviously Cincinnati hasn’t faced a great defense yet either and will be tested against the Bulls.  If Tony Pike can have a great day it should further cement his place as a Heisman candidate.

Finally the X-factor in this contest could be South Florida’s defensive coordinator Joe Tresey who was with Cincinnati last year.  Did he learn any secrets in practice to slow down Tony Pike and Brian Kelly’s spread offense?  If so the Bulls may be able to hold down Cincinnati enough to come out with a big win.  I, however, expect Cincinnati’s offense to continue their trend beating the Bulls soundly in this match up.   

UC Defense vs. South Florida Offense 

Both units come in as the second fiddle to their counterparts yet both have put up respectable numbers and rankings.  The Cincinnati defense comes in a surprising 37th after losing 10 starters while the South Florida offense comes in 36th after losing their starting quarterback.

When Matt Grothe went down most wrote off the Bulls, but B.J. Daniels has filled in nicely.  This however will be a tough test for the redshirt freshman.  Daniels has not played against a defense as strong as the Bearcats.  The average ranking for the defense faced by the Bulls is 102th.  Daniels himself has face the 108th and 79th defense in Florida State and Syracuse accordingly.  Can Daniels keep the Bulls rolling or will Cincinnati keep the freshman under wraps?

Cincinnati defense has face stiff competition on the defensive side of the ball squaring off against two top rushers in Fresno State’s Ryan Matthews and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers.  Both were held below their game averages against a rebuilt defense.   If Cincinnati’s defense can keep this trend going it could be a long night for the Bulls.  

Cincinnati’s defense should hold a big edge in this battle.  B.J. Daniels will have to play big for the bulls to keep them in the game.  He has shown so far but will face much stiffer competition than he has.  

If this game comes down to the wire the deciding factor could be penalties.  Cincinnati comes into the game as one of the least penalized teams in college football averaging 4 penalties for 36 yards per game.  South Florida, however, is one of the most penalized teams with 8 penalties for 58 yards per game.  This twenty yard difference could tilt the battle of field position to Cincinnati’s favor setting up the offense for easy scores.      

I fully expect this game to be close at half with Cincinnati pulling away in the second half.  The Tampa crowd should be rocking for this Big East Championship match up but Cincinnati has proven it can handle the crowd.  As someone who has watched Cincinnati sports for decades I can tell you that they typically show up for big games while losing to teams they shouldn’t.