(Courtesy Fox Sports)
It does nothing to help the disappointment, but it might help Bearcat fans to realize UC is not the only team not having the season many expected them to have. From a regional point of view, in the Big East, you could argue that Pitt, Rutgers, Connecticut and West Virginia aren't having the seasons fans have envisioned.
Nationally, you can look at UC's opponent in the January Sugar Bowl and see that they're obviously not the well-oiled machine many Florida Gator fans are used to either. Sure, 6-4 is much more appealing than 3-6, but it's been a long time since the Gators dropped three games in a row and been .500 in Gainesville (including 0 for their last three).
UC Coach Butch Jones was an observer at the Sugar Bowl and knows neither Florida nor the Bearcats are the same team today as both depth charts have taken a beating. In UC's case, a significant amount (and group) of seniors moved on leaving their young teammates to pick up the pieces.
"You look at the challenges they're (Florida) going through and there's so many parallels," said Jones. "It starts with red-zone efficiency. It starts with turnovers. It starts with maturity--youthful individuals growing up. We ask them to grow up in a hurry. It's overall leadership. It's very difficult when you have 12 seniors."
The end result is youthful mistakes, a reduction in discipline and attention to detail and losses that a year ago would've been wins--particularly at home. It all stems from inexperience and things snowball from there.
"It's overall energy," Jones noted. "You look at all of the games where we've performed well. You look at Miami, you look at Oklahoma--we made too many costly mistakes--but the energy we had (was good). If a team plays with great energy, they make plays, their production levels go up. That's what we have to get back to."
Situations like UC's can cause a coach a lot of gray hairs and a lot of late night conversations/therapy sessions with his peers in the business. It's never easy to be on top of the mountain because a fall can wear on you.
"You do rely on some of your past experiences," said Jones. "The longer you're in coaching, you're going to suffer years like this. It's how you deal with it, how you handle it. It's usually handled appropriately by high character people. It challenges your character."
Fortunately, Jones' character can be helped along by the countless number of guys he's coached with at both the NFL and the major college level. Working so many hours so close together can make a group tight.
"You rely on people you respect in the business," said Jones. "A lot of times you'll have mentors and you'll talk in private settings about their team, our team, all those different things that go in to trying to manage your football team."
Jones wouldn't give specifics, but having coached in Tampa Bay, at Rutgers, West Virginia and being head coach at Central Michigan, his contact list on his Blackberry is probably a little more influential than anyone else's.
"I've been very fortunate to have coached with a lot of great head coaches and a lot of coaches who are coordinators at the NFL level," said Jones. "I rely on a bunch of those. There's not one person in particular. It's a number of individuals you come in contact with that you have mutual respect for."
In the shoulda-coulda-woulda department, this team would be no less than 5-4 and maybe as good as 7-2 had the original cast stayed intact and a plethora of mental and physical errors not been committed. After the intitial 14-point burst on Fresno State, injuries started occurring and the overflowing optimism of August gave way to a tentative approach.
The arsenal of players that Coach Jones took in to Fresno is not the same platoon he's been lining up with on Saturdays since. The Bearcats don't have near the level of experience they had on Labor Day.
"We don't, but that's football," said Jones. "That's why depth is critical The next individual that comes in has to play at a high level, a championship level. It's gets back to competition. You look at any successful football program at any level and it's all about competition. Competition is the greatest motivator. Playing time is the greatest motivator."
That's why you rarely see smaller teams knock off majer powerhouses. The starting units are usually not all that dissimilar. However, the second and third levels are drastically superiors at the schools that are able to sustain support and relevance.
"You look at the teams that win national championships, they have tremendous competiton day in and day out," said Jones. "Practice, in the weight training room, everything they do is based on competition and that's what we're working toward here."
It's tough to work on such goals though when you lose your top wide receiver (Hazelton), another receiver that would've made an impact (Dyjuan Lewis), another receiver due to a NCAA transfer rule (Kenbrell Thompkins) a running back who would've helped shoulder the load on kick-offs (Darrin Williams) and a starting corner (Dominique Battle).
Even yet, a key loss happened at Camp Higher Ground as UC lost a young linebacker who would've figured in on the depth chart. UC's linebacking corps is admittedly thin and JK Schaffer and Walter Stewart can't make every tackle (though they try).
True freshman Solomon Tentman out of Roger Bacon suffered a season-ending injury in training camp in Indiana. Tentman would've certainly gotten his share of snaps and pushed Schaffer, Stewart and Maalik Bomar.
"We were excited about the progress that Solomon was making and he had worked himself into the two-deep," said Jones. "That (the injury) was very unfortunate. But I'm very excited because he's a great person of character. He's going to be ready for spring football."
No question, this season has been difficult to deal with because of the expectations placed on a back-to-back BCS team. But, a quick study of the roster shows you the available parts on hand and there quite honestly are not enough widgets and cogs to make the same machine.
The upside is, the new parts will blend in and be more effective over time and the rest are on order. Just as Florida's not going to hover around .500, UC's not going to be in this predicament forever.
That's probably not the short-term answer a lot of cantankerous Gator and Bearcat fans want to hear, but it is the long-term solution.