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Are the Cincinnati Bearcats in Position for a National Championship Berth?

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Are the Cincinnati Bearcats in Position for a National Championship Berth?
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Log on to ESPN, FOX Sports, CBS Sportsline, Sporting News, College Football Nation, Scouts, Inc., or whatever sporting website you want and check out the NCAA Football page.

Chances are, if you aren't at a local site, there will be a story about how OSU is "national title good" or how they "deserve the hype this year" or something like that.

On FOX Sports, they have an article trying to predict "the next Cincinnati." The obvious reason for this is the coaching change. Scout.com describes new coach Butch Jones as "just good enough to keep Cincinnati from free-falling," although he led CMU to a championship in his first year.

ESPN's Mel Kiper has Cincinnati's Armon Binns listed as the second best receiver in the nation. Sporting News has Zach Collaros listed as a "Top Quarterback," although they do not rank the top few they had in their magazine.

The Bearcats welcome former USC receiver Vidal Hazelton, who was praised as the top receiver in the nation coming out of high school. Add in Kenbrell Thompkins, the nation's top JuCo player from last year, and superstar Mardy Gilyard may not have even be able to start this season.

ESPN's Brian Bennett says he has noticed considerable improvement on Cincinnati's defense, which is arguably what kept them out of the national title game last year. Depth is still a concern, but this team will be able to win games with defense if they need to.

So, why is Ohio State that much more a viable contender at this point?

Jim Tressel has always been criticized for calling "vanilla" plays. He has done nothing to change that perception this spring, but how could he?

Analysts say that this year will be the year that Terrelle Pryor becomes the quarterback he was supposed to be. Maybe he will, but that's just speculation.

Here's what we have seen and what we can expect from Pryor until he proves otherwise: He is talented but inconsistent. It is impossible to prove consistency when you're under no pressure and wearing a no-contact jersey.

The defense looks as good as it did last year, but defense wasn't their problem.

The only explanation is the schedule, which at this point means we're essentially looking at how good we think this team is going to be. Then we look at how this hypothetical team stacks up against how good we think other teams are going to be based on what they did last year, with different players and different coaches.

It's a silly way to decide who gets to be a national title contender, but here's a week-by-week look.

 

Week One

Ohio State hosts Marshall. They've finished one season .500 or better in the past five years. There's nothing wrong playing a C-USA team for an easy game or two, though.

Cincinnati travels to Fresno State, which usually finishes towards the top of the WAC and came within eight points of beating Cincinnati last year, although they don't look as strong without Ryan Mathews.

 

Week Two

OSU hosts Miami (FL). They looked strong at the beginning of last year but weak down the stretch. It just depends on how Jacory Harris and Terrelle Pryor play—they're both quite inconsistent.

Cincinnati welcomes Indiana State to Nippert Stadium. This game is only being played because the only way to get a 12th game on the schedule is to play an FCS team.

 

Week Three

OSU hosts Ohio. They looked good last year, but not good enough to be BCS quality. OSU should easily win this one.

Cincinnati goes to North Carolina State, who only finished 5-7 last year but beat Pittsburgh early on.

 

Week Four

This week features the most lopsided difference in the schedule

Ohio State hosts EMU. They were 0-12 last year.

Cincinnati essentially hosts Oklahoma, who underachieved due to injuries last year. If Cincinnati wins this game, they will go 12-0.

 

Week Five and Beyond

Cincinnati has a bye, while OSU begins conference play against Illinois.

The next week, Cincinnati plays Miami (OH) in the oldest rivalry in the nation. The Bearcats should win easily. After this game, it's all conference play for each team.

Cincinnati travels to Big East powerhouse West Virginia, as well as UConn, who very well could have gone undefeated last year; all five of their losses were decided on the last play. They get a break hosting Pittsburgh at home to end the season, but there is a high chance that this game could have everything on the line, just like last year.

Ohio State hosts Penn State, then travels to Iowa, and closes the season against Michigan. Penn State is always a legit team. Iowa was like UConn last year in that all of their games were decided very late, but they got lucky, winning pretty much all of them. Michigan...we'll have to wait and see.

 

So who has the tougher schedule? Cincinnati does out of conference, no doubt. The bad teams in the Big East are worse than those in the Big Ten, but the three games I highlighted for each team seem to be about equal.

The difference is that Ohio State gets all of their tough games at home, except Iowa. Cincinnati truly has a balance of home and away against tough teams, getting the toughest at home.

As far as anyone can tell from spring, these teams have an equal chance of playing for a national championship.

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