My family is half-Seminole, half-Bearcat.
So when I was thinking about where I would start with my college football previews, it was easy to head up to southern Ohio and the defending Big East Champions.
And I think they will be fully capable of doing it again.
The Bearcats had a magical season in 2008, rattling off an 11-2 regular season record before losing to Virginia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl (what can I say, the ACC is just better). Cincy was perfect at home, and one of their two losses in the regular season was at Oklahoma, who went on to play in the BCS Championship Game.
This season, Cincinnati will not be playing any out-of-conference juggernauts like Oklahoma. In fact, they have a very good shot to start 5-0, which may get them into the top-10 in the national rankings.
Playing in the Big East is a tremendous advantage for any strong team, because there are only eight teams in the conference. When looking at the teams that could contend for the Big East title, you can pretty much shave four teams off the pile: Syracuse, Louisville, Connecticut, and Rutgers.
So that leaves Cincy, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and South Florida. Hey, I guess USF could concievably win the conference, but those of us from FSU know they will choke their way out of that no matter how fool-proof it looks.
So now we’re down to three teams. Although West Virginia will return every starter from last season’s defense, I don’t see them going 10-2 like many predictions have said. Looking at their class breakdown, the Mountaineers are thinnest in seniors (18) and their largest class is the incoming freshmen (28). I also don’t think second-year head coach Bill Stewart is the answer for the Mountaineers, and his leadership left a lot to be desired in his first year.
That leaves Pittsburgh. The Panthers also had a solid 2008 campaign, going 9-3 before losing a 3-0 yawner to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. One problem with Pitt is that head coach Dave Wannstedt has proven time and time again that if there is the option to choke and fold, he will help his team do it.
Last year was no exception, as the Panthers were cruising along in the Big East schedule right up until a 54-34 beatdown by Rutgers. Then a loss at Cincinnati clinched another disappointing season for Pittsburgh.
So now that I have answered the question “Why not everyone else?” I can answer “Why Cincinnati?”
Look no farther than their head coach, Brian Kelly. He is one of the great up-and-comers in college football, and he chose to stick with the Bearcats when other opportunities arose in the offseason. He is committed to winning at Cincy, and his players will be committed to him in return.
While the Bearcats lost 10 of their 11 starters on defense, this team is built to withstand a hit like that. The largest class on the 2009 roster is the sophomores, and that’s a huge plus as Kelly has had a chance to develop the young guys and still has three years to mold them into a unit. If this defense can stay afloat in the Big East this year, they will be a top national power in 2010 and 2011.
Finally, the schedule is great. They will travel to Rutgers on Labor Day as a late-afternoon opening act to Florida State and Miami’s nighttime showdown, and I think the Bearcats will roll in that game. Then they have four straight nonconference games against lousy opponents (the one test being at Oregon State), and they could be 5-0 heading into the tough finishing stretch of their schedule.
Imagine if this team gets rolling and has a chance to truly bond during those first five games. With three of their final four games being at home, the Bearcats could be well on their way to another Big East Title in 2009.
All together with me now- “OHHHHH, OHHHHHH, OHHHHHHH, U-C!”