(courtesy Trophy Awards)
WHO: UC and Pitt
WHAT: Senior Day
WHERE: The Grand Finale at Nippert Stadium
WHEN: Saturday, December 4th 12 noon
SERIES: Pitt leads 7-2
LAST TIME: On 12/5/09, UC won 45-44 at Heinz Field to win the Big East.
So much for the best laid plans.
This was originally set up by ABC/ESPN family to wrap up the year much like it did last year won Tony Pike dramatically found Armon Binns in the endzone at Heinz Field to catapult the Bearcats to the improbable 45-44 win and the BCS bowl berth to the Sugar festivities in New Orleans.
Sadly, Pitt is fighting for a respectable bowl, but out of the BCS running. Even sadder is the fact that UC won't be bowling at all over the holidays unless it's indoors with rental shoes involved.
The Bearcats needed to shock UConn on their home field last week and beat Pitt for that possibility. Even then, they would've been a mediocre 6-6 and in line with many schools just looking to go anywhere to gain the extra practices a bowl game brings.
As long a fall from the Orange and Sugar Bowls that it seems, that would've been a major accomplishment in this season of youth, injuries and inexperience.
As has been well documented, transfers were not granted faster eligibility, some recruits couldn't qualify, starters were injured, players that would start were injured, some couldn't follow the agreed upon rules and players were lost on both sides that have either been in NFL camps or are playing.
Add to that, a new staff had to come in and coach guys who were being instructed by guys in compromising positions a year ago. Shortly after UC's dramatic win over Pitt, the ink was drying on Brian Kelly's contract to Notre Dame. While a group of coaches hung around to see the team through their bowl, the bottom line is the staff in question didn't finish the job.
(Such is the way college football operates. Regime changes are quick and immediate. Allegiances are lost upon donning the freshly-laundered logo of someone else.)
In the personal opinion department, it's my contention that once coaches were declared for Notre Dame or Buffalo (where interim Jeff Quinn went) their priorities were compromised by their obligations to their new teams.
At some point, players being recruited for Cincinnati "might" have been swayed to consider "Option A" or "Option B".
Not really, but that's kind of how the food chain works.
So, Butch Jones comes in and keeps the loyal Kerry Coombs, but then must assemble a new staff and assess the talent left. To the outsider, there was a talented offense. Many forget that a starting Senior center and tackle were lost though (Chris Jurek and Jeff Linkenbach--now starting for the Colts). If you want to keep anyone on your offense, it's your offensive line.
On defense, it was a mess already in terms of statistics. From a depth standpoint, it was unrealistic to think this unit would up and improve overnight. A group largely made up of sophomores with even more inexperience behind them takes time.
As noted before, these struggling players will be good, but there honestly wasn't much to work with this season. The best you could hope for was young players to play above their expectations.
At 4-7, that obviously didn't happen.
Now, you hope they've learned from their unfortunate mistakes and will be back with a vengeance to make fans forget what pray was a "bridge" season to the next years of success. Those you may have cursed this year, might well be fan favorites in the coming years that they celebrate THEIR Senior Days.
As for this week, it is Senior Day and it's only fitting that fans see some of these guys out right.
Regardless of how this campaign went, these guys were part of the infrastructure that allowed many of you to make unforgettable bowl trips that you previously never would've imagined.
With that, I leave you with some brief thoughts on the guys you'll be waving goodbye to Saturday at "The Nipp"...
Linebacker Robby Armstrong came in with a lot of defensive potential, but perpetual injuries kept him as a back-up for the bulk of his career. He should be commended for sticking his career out.
Receiver Marcus Barnett came on strong in his freshman year, but never regained the position as the "go to" guy again as other talented receivers were recruited. Still, Barnett was a pretty unselfish player who even volunteered to play defense a few games. Based on recent results, I'm not so sure UC would've been better served if Barnett stayed on defense.
Armon Binns somehow was ignored early in his career but had excellent Junior and Senior seasons and should make a fine NFL player. His catch last year against Pitt is clearly UC's most famous reception ever.
Obadiah Cheatham spent most of his career as a walk-on linebacker, but earned a scholarship this season. If you've watched the defense this year, he's had his number called several times making key tackles.
Offensive lineman C.J. Cobb is another guy who was plagued by injuries and probably never realized his potential. However, Cobb came back brace after brace and has made it through pretty much unscathed this year.
Sam Griffin is an under-sized offensive lineman who suffered from changing styles of play. He's gone from Mark Dantonio's bulky run game, to Brian Kelly's shifty pass game to the combination game of Coach Butch Jones. Coaching turnover affects things more than most imagine.
Ben Guidugli will leave without a bowl game this year, but has had a pretty awesome college career and has caught touchdowns each season he's played. He'll go down as one of the smaller tight ends to ever play here, but you can't argue with the numbers he put up.
Vidal Hazelton's story will finish with an incomplete as Bearcat fans (barring an appearance in this Pitt game) never saw what he could do. After a year of sitting out, his injury in the Fresno State game pretty much was the beginning of the avalanche for this season. On the other hand, when you get talent from USC that's wants to come, you open the door. Many of us will wonder what could've been if Hazelton could've lined up all year long next to Binns and D.J. Woods.
Jamar Howard was recruited initially here by Mark Dantonio but didn't qualify. Then, he returned after his junior college career but the injury bug bit him too. Unfortunately, it might've zapped his desire to play as too much bad news can often allow others to pass you by.
Offensive lineman Jason Kelce is the "scary guy" every team needs. He wears his heart on his sleeve and regardless of his methods, he's got your back. He went on Twitter after the UConn loss and tried to take blame for everything. Truth is, a line full of Jason Kelces would've made for a more exciting and effective offense.
Collin McCafferty has largely been a special teams guy, but he's been VERY good at it. If you pay attention on kickoff coverage, McCafferty's often right in the middle of it.
Finally, Jake Rogers leaves as UC's all-time leading scorer. It's almost hard to imagine with some of the quality kickers that have been here (Rich Karlis, Jonathan Ruffin, Kevin Lovell). That's what longevity will do, Rogers kicked four years and actually punted for one. He's got a monster leg so he may get a shot at playing for pay somewhere. His best kick in my estimation was his 55-yarder against Oregon State in 2007 that let the Beavers know, "Wow, we're really in a game!"
OK, seeing as I've taken a lot of space in my opening statements and descriptions of the Seniors, I'll keep my preview segments short and to the point. As many of you know, I don't sugarcoat much.
To the River City Rivalry:
UC OFFENSE VS. PITT DEFENSE
As tough as it will be, Isaiah Pead MUST rush for more than 23 yards. Look at the games--when Pead hits triple figures, UC does well. Also, Zach Collaros must not try to do too much as he has sometimes in this frustrating year. It's been proven time and time again, when your QB throws to guys wearing the same color jersey, results are often enhanced.
If Jarred Holley catches a Collaros pass, that won't be good (5 INT) and Pitt DL Brandon Lindsey will be looking to grab at #12's jersey as he has 10 sacks and 16 TFL.
As with every game, UC has the potential to score 30 points on anyone. It all boils down to whether or not they hand the ball over to the opposition.
UC DEFENSE VS. PITT OFFENSE
Dave Wannstedt is a defensive coach and therefore likes to run the ball as all hard-nosed, stubborn defensive coaches do. The Bearcats will get a steady diet of a couple small backs in Dion Lewis (5-8, 195) and Ray Graham (5-9, 195). If either run rampant like Jordan Todman did last week in Hartford, then the Bearcats will be in rough shape. You can't bank on a dramatic comeback like the one the 'Cats pulled off last year. If QB Tino Sunseri goes to the air, the likely candidate is Jon Baldwin who has burned the Bearcats before.
UC must play spirited defense to stop the run and somehow get some turnovers. Problem is, Pitt's goal will be to keep it on the ground and not turn it over. Fumbles are welcome, but not always predictable.
Clearly, Pitt has the talent to score with anyone. What UC must bank on is Wannstedt going ultra-conservative and not getting into a track meet.. Sometimes conservative turns risky when you're playing too tentatively.
It's the last game for Jake Rogers and I hope he gets the chance to split the uprights after missing a pair at UConn. UC is still suffering from a lack of a return game and it would be nice to see someone break it to daylight. Defensively, I mentioned Collin McCafferty with the Seniors, I'd guess you'd hear his name again Saturday as he's often the first helmet on someone on kick coverage.
Pitt has a very accurate kicker in Dan Hutchens. He doesn't have the leg of Rogers, but sometimes reliability is more important than explosiveness.
WHAT'S THAT MEAN?
I hope Rogers gets his points, but I wouldn't want this to come down to a field goal kicking contest.
WRAP IT UP FOR 2010 SCOTT
I think UC has a good chance to win this game to build momentum for the future. The Seniors have nothing left to play for OTHER THAN THIS FINAL GAME. In essence, THIS IS their bowl game. Couple that with Pitt's tendency to fold down the stretch and I wouldn't be surprised to see UC upend the Panthers to further muddy up the Big East's reputation (soon to rise courtesy of TCU).
Naturally, if the Panthers get their runners going and UC goes into "Swiss cheese" mode on defense, you can scrap all of that.
Regardless of the result, happier days WILL be ahead for UC football AND the Big East once 2010's in the rearview mirror.