(Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
I'll say it right here...for all the credit ex-UC coach Brian Kelly received as an offensive guru, his biggest mistake may have been not redshirting Armon Binns early in his tenure. Despite looking good in spring drills, etc. Binns went his first two years in the Kelly era hardly ever being, "Next Man In".
He caught one pass in '07 and one pass in '08, then exploded with 61 grabs and 11 touchdowns last season (including the most memorable catch in Bearcat history at Pittsburgh). Had Kelly not burned the redshirt year on Binns, we could be talking about #80 coming back for another year after this one.
Instead, the beginning of the Binns swan song begins this Saturday night in California against Fresno State (some three hours from his hometown of Pasadena).
This is Armon's final chance to play within reasonable distance of his friends and family, unless UC were to make the Rose Bowl, which isn't likely due to conference affiliations. As things are planned, numerous #80 jerseys are headed north to Fresno. Binns estimates the number to be around 30.
"I am looking forward to it," said Binns. "I've been waiting for an opportunity to play in front of my home crowd for a long time. I'm real excited about it."
Who wouldn't be?
When you're scoring in droves and you've spent New Year's Eve in Miami and New Orleans in consecutive years, you walk with a little "pep" in your step. There's some changes on the line and Mardy Gilyard's gone, but USC transfer Vidal Hazelton's in the fold and Binns, D.J. Woods. Ben Guidugli, Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros all bring significant playing experience to the table for the offense.
"We are very confident as an offense," said Binns. "We feel like we can score, put up points on any defense in America. We're just going to go in there and do what we do."
If the game goes like last year's, UC will score early and often, while Fresno State will try to "grind it out" and eat up valuable time of the clock. On the other hand, Binns thinks Head Coach Butch Jones might try to do some "grinding" himself.
"I think it will be mixed up a little bit more, but I think at the same time, the pace of the game is going to be so fast that every drive's going to have different elements to it," said Binns.
What UC would like to avoid is the possession time debacle that ensued last season with the Bulldogs and Ryan Mathews holding the ball for over 43 minutes compared to UC's 16.
"They're a very physical team," said Binns. "They're going to run the ball at us all game. They're a clock-control team and they'll try to keep our offense off the field as much as possible. Our defense is going to have to 'bow up' and make stops and our offense is going to have to put points on the board."
Sounds simple enough. Especially, since Ryan Mathews is a San Diego Charger now.
But, you can never count the pesky Bulldogs out as Coach Pat Hill puts out a winner year after year and gets the most out of his guys. He also tries to get the most from the local media by throwing out lines for them to buy and spread to the city of the opponent.
Hill's latest endeavor is to claim Bulldogs Stadium will be sunny and hot and the hometown Bearcats might just completely wilt. Hill says, "No fans are permitted in" (unless of course, you have two legs and a ticket).
"We've been practicing right under the sun all summer and Coach has been really on us about not complaining about the heat because it's going to be hot this first game," said Binns. "You've got to just bear through it. We've been practicing all summer, so it shouldn't be any different in Fresno."
Having seen Fresno State numerous times on tape, Jones and the Bearcats know the defense is aggressive and opportunistic, heat or no heat.
"They have a real good defensive end (Chris Carter) and I think they have one of their corners coming back and a linebacker coming back too," said Binns. "I think they got some licks in on us, but we came out with the win so that's really what matters. We're going to have to get that done this year (again)."
One thing the Bearcats don't lack in, is confidence. While Binns is far from Mardy Gilyard or Vidal Hazelton in the vocal department, he still understands the importance of getting out to an early stage.
"This game is like every game," said Binns. "It's important like every game. We feel like this game--it's another opportunity on a big stage to show the world that we are the real deal."
Whatever the "real deal" is, many have boasted that it's faster than the "old deal". If that's the case, the Bearcats would be fortunate to pounce on their opponent early as they did opening up last season at Rutgers.
"That's the goal," admitted Binns. "Just come in there and play fast and with a lot of confidence. We're going in to take care of business."
That approach will win you a lot of games,fans and accolades from the so-called "pundits". Thus far, various internet experts say the Bearcats will fizzle.
Same story. Different year.
These are the same folks that this time next year, will be boasting about how they took the rookie Armon "Mercedes" Binns from the powerhouse UC offense in their fantasy draft.