April 2012 Archives
In this day and age, the top high school players want one thing when choosing between schools willing to offer a free education -- a road to the NFL.
For so long, the road didn't run through Nippert Stadium. It bought property in Columbus, stopped regularly in South Bend and even wound down into the Lexington on the fringe of the SEC expressway.
While occasionally the Bearcats placed players in the league and many of them became among the best at their position, the quantity near the top of the draft didn't come consistently.
Butch Jones can tell high school kids about research, facilities and championships all he wants, but until he shows pictures of players being selected on the first two days of the draft, the 17-year-old with the short attention span won't snap away from his Ohio State pamphlet.
That's why what happened Friday was monumental for the future of Bearcats football. Cincinnati owned three of the top 87 selections this weekend's draft and four of the top 127.
Derek Wolfe became the highest Bearcats player taken (No. 36, Denver) in the modern era since LB Alex Gordon went 42nd in 1987.
Only 14 picks later, at No. 50, Isaiah Pead went to St. Louis to make the first time in UC history two players were selected in the top 50. He was the first Bearcats offensive player drafted in the top 50 since QB Greg Cook went No. 5 in 1969.
By the time DT John Hughes went No. 87 overall to Cleveland and Adrien Robinson No. 127 to the New York Giants, college football had officially taken notice that there is a clear, definitive path to the NFL. And it stops in Clifton.
Plenty of Bearcats have been taken in the draft before. Players like Connor Barwin and Trent Cole among the most productive in the league. The schools reputation in the NFL gradually ascended along with its college football profile over recent years. But this draft represents a watershed event.
This was the type of draft that competes with the traditional big boys in college football.
Take a look into the regional recruiting battles UC fights and the numbers they can dangle in front of a recruit from Indianapolis, Youngstown, Louisville or right here in Cincinnati.
School #selected/#in top 3 rounds
Ohio State 4/2
Michigan St. 6/1
While we are at it
Florida St. 4/0
Not saying this is how school should be ranked, but how would you react if you were a high school senior considering your football options? Better believe stats like these will be plastered at the top of every recruiting pamphlet along with pictures like these.
The reverberations of back-to-back BCS bowls and three championships in four years are starting to be felt throughout the program. Days like Friday are among the final steps toward a program that regularly replenishes itself.
Only time will tell if this weekend was a temporary spike in numbers or the beginning of a trend. Regardless, a new precedent for draft exposure has been set at the University of Cincinnati.
--- I would take the time to hunt down all the stories about the drafting of UC players, but the good folks at UC sports info already have a page dedicated to that at NFL Draft Central. Eat your heart out on stories about the Cats.
--- I'll have plenty more this week on the individual situations for all these players. Not much to dislike about any, particularly Isaiah Pead landing in St. Louis to work alongside aging veteran Steven Jackson. Pead on turf=scary burst.
I don't want to forget the undrafted free agents who latched on with teams. JK Schaffer told us Jacksonville had been relentless in pursuit of him in the weeks prior to the draft, so his landing with the Jags made plenty of sense.
For the record, the Jags used but one selection on a linebacker and it was OLB Brandon Marshall out of Nevada. Opportunity awaits to earn a roster/practice squad spot.
DJ Woods landed with Tennessee, Monte Taylor with Seattle and Zach Collaros in Tampa Bay.
I have to assume Bucs scouts held a presence at the two games UC played in USF during Zach's tenure. In my opinion, his two greatest moments as a Bearcat occurred at Raymond James Stadium.
The first still sends chills down the spines of Bearcats fans as one of the definitive plays of the undefeated 2009 season.
The second will be remembered in my book as his most complete and one that topped off with a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute. Of course, my favorite play of that game was this one.
--- Doc writes about Butch Jones being hungrier than ever. Hard to believe after a dinner at Boi Na Braza, but a great column reflecting his loyalty to UC.
--- Here's Mel and Jon Gruden talking about Isaiah Pead. Now, Gruden had compliments for all 253 players selected, but he did just say Pead was "my guy" in the draft. He calls him the modern day NFL back.
--- As I was pointing out last week and His Hairness reiterated on Friday, the most productive DT in this draft: Derek Wolfe.
UC hasn't had a No. 1 pick since Bob Bell in 1971 and Greg Cook in 1969 before that, but two second-round picks is very impressive.
If you spent the recent days under a rock or in quarantine, Derek Wolfe was chosen in the second round by the Broncos and Isaiah Pead in round two by the Rams. Both were standout Bearcats. Pead was more noticeable by his explosive runs, but Wolfe was a constant thorn in the side of opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks.
(Derek Wolfe on the prowl)
To put getting drafted in round two in perspective, your most recent round two picks from UC were Alex Gordon, Artrell Hawkins and Connor Barwin. All three had (or in Barwin's case) or are having extensive NFL careers.
In round three, defensive lineman John Hughes went to the Browns. Hughes was a consistent performer, but may have been the most quiet third-round pick ever around here.
That's quiet, as in workmanlike. While Hughes might not have had the publicity of other UC players, rest assured the opposition knew where he was.
Even being drafted in round three is pretty significant. Your recent UC round three picks were Antwan Peek and Brad Jackson. Again, if you look up their NFL resumes, they had respectable NFL careers. In Jackson's case, he sports a Super Bowl ring.
Finally, in round four, the Super Bowl champion Giants picked tight end Adrien Robinson. Robinson had some incredible plays at UC, but will be getting his bonus money based on his unique build and the great word, "potential".
Robinson's combination of speed, power and wingspan is what pro and college coaches covet. While he actually caught significantly more passes, he reminds me of one-time UC basketball player, turned NFL tight end Rod Monroe. Their physiques are similar.
In Monroe's case, he bounced around a few teams and made it to a Super Bowl with the Falcons.
Of course, Wolfe, Pead, Hughes and Robinson will all have to make it on their own merit, but the odds and probability of success appear to be pretty good.
Beyond the four Bearcats picked, I think JK Schaffer is a sleeper for somebody that bothers to look at UC video and notices No. 37 seemingly around every play. Schaffer has signed with the Jaguars.
And, call me crazy (there's a long line who have), but I think in the right situation Zach Collaros can have pro success. He'll get knocked for some of the same reasons every other so-called "small" quarterback does, but with healthy with a solid line and good receivers, Collaros can heave it.
At UC's Pro Day, he zinged bullets to current Bengals Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton. He also has great play-making ability. In the NFL, the trend is the cookie-cutter 6-5 dude who stands back and throws, but there's been a long history of success with guys named Brees, Tarkenton, etc. that weren't necessarily giants, but made giant plays.
Naturally, there's no guaranteed accuracy in any of my prognostications, other than my own two eyes and ears that have witnessed Bearcat football and NFL drafts up closer than most for better than 20 years.
Agree or disagree, you have to admit, it's kind of fun to watch ESPN and hear the likes of Chris Berman and Jon Gruden speak of your school in such glowing terms.
Plus, it's a chance to buy more NFL jerseys with your UC favorites' names on them.
With needs filled and some acquired with first-round maneuvers last night, here's what a few of the experts are saying about the second round and what it means for the Bearcats.
Mel Kiper lists Wolfe as the 8th best prospect left on the board. And he projects him to be selected by the Ravens at No. 60.
Bucky Brooks at NFL.com has Wolfe slipping out of Round 2.
USA Today has Wolfe going to the defending champs at No. 64.
Look out for the Broncos jumping on Wolfe at No. 57.
For all those clamoring to see Isaiah Pead in Bengals stripes, I haven't seen it as a likely possibility, but the possibility there was saw its chances increase last night. With Cincinnati adding a second third-round pick it opens the door to take a flier on a local guy like Pead.
Just Tuesday Marvin Lewis was talking about additions to special teams/return game influencing some decisions. If Cincinnati goes WR in Round 2 as many expect them to do and Pead is sitting there at either of their third-round selections, there's a decent chance he skips across town.
If that happens, there is a 100 percent chance I do cartwheels through the halls of Paul Brown Stadium.
--- Tommy G sat down with JK Schaffer yesterday before the draft to talk about his future being upon him. JK finishing his degree while going through the draft process. Would you expect any less?
He's hitting the golf course on Saturday instead of staring at every pick coming off the board.
--- TG busy with UC alums yesterday, he also sat down and spoke with Tony Pike and Dominick Goodman.
--- The plan for a college football playoff came closer to reality yesterday as the four-team model appears to be the front-runner. More importantly, for UC fans, the Big East will be losing it's automatic qualifier status. That will begin in 2014, the Big East will have an AQ the next two years.
--- Bill Koch spoke with Butch Jones in regards to this development and Butch said what he's been saying for a while now. He loves the bowl system and doesn't care as much what they do at the top as long as all the bowl games stay in their current format.
The good news is under all these proposals nobody will be touching the bowl setup. And any scenario where more teams get a shot at the national championship is a great thing for a team from outside the SEC/B1G/Big 12/Pac-12 power grid.
Though, it hasn't much mattered in recent years.
Consider this, over the last eight years, 28 of the last 32 teams that would have qualified for the four-team playoff were from one of those four aforementioned conferences. That's two runs by TCU with Andy Dalton, the Bearcats in 2009 and Virginia Tech in 2007. That's it.
Good to know since 2003 UC (2009) is the only team from the Big East that would have finished the year in a Final Four college football playoff.
--- Pete Caroll finding it hard to evaluate talent, apparently. Wasn't this guy supposed have his expertise in analyzing college players?
--- I know a few people who could use a "bacon dangler" to motivate exercising.
--- An interesting read from Michael Silver at Yahoo! inside the Rams panicked war room.
--- Hopefully this guy never coaches a youth baseball team.
--- Best of luck and preemptive congrats to Isaiah Pead and Derek Wolfe tonight. In their honor of what tonight will be for them, here's the best song Aerosmith ever made and one owning a permanent spot in my top 10 songs of all-time.
Apparently, whenever it rains, the internet goes down. I never thought I'd have to use The Weather Channel App to plan my blog writing, but here we are. And currently, I'm stealing my neighbor's single bar of service just to be able to post this much.
If it's frustrating for you not to be able to read some Bearcats nuggets, imagine my discontent. Hint: It involves myself in an animated, heated discussion with a router. The router, being an inanimate object and all, says nothing. And wins by unanimous decision.
Anyway, that's why the Breakfast doesn't have much content today. Try to survive without me. And, to be honest, if you haven't read enough about the NFL Draft yet, your Internet probably doesn't work any day the sun rises.
--- One small development I did want to point out was the play of Lance Stephenson last night for the Pacers. Indiana, who locked into their playoff spot and was uninterested in victory/defeat against Chicago, rolled Lance out there. Stephenson was the only Pacers player to total more than 30 minutes of action.
He finished with a career-high 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting with an assist and no turnovers.
Larry Bird and company have been patient with Lance and they hope it will pay off in the future. If Wednesday was any indication, the future could be closer than we thought.
--- Pat Forde on the college football playoff drawing closer to reality. But what will college football sports talk radio scream about in December now?
--- Dan Hoard on the dangers of Twitter and caution with which UC proceeds on social media. On a related note, follow me @pauldehnerjr.
--- His Hairness has projected and defended Derek Wolfe as a first-round pick (31 to the Patriots). I'd love to see it, though, few others are projecting the same. New England would be lucky to have him.
If Wolfe does get selected in the first round tonight, he will be only the third first-round pick in UC history and the first since Bob Bell in 1971.
--- More than likely won't hear Isaiah Pead's name tonight, but here he is talking with pro alums Armon Binns, Vidal Hazelton and others during a recent UC practice.
On April 6th, the website NBAdraft.net started a mild panic among some UC basketball fans when it listed Sean Kilpatrick among the current college players who are likely to leave school early this year for the NBA draft.
Kilpatrick quickly put out the fire on his Twitter
BEARCATNATION ATTENTION PLEASE!!! I AM NOT LEAVING THE BEARCATNATION ANYTIME SOON! #BEARCATNATION4LIFE-- Sean Kilpatrick (@SeanKilpatrick_) April 7, 2012
It was a savvy use of social media as Kilpatrick quickly defused the rumor by communicating directly with the nearly 6,000 people that follow him on Twitter - many of whom promptly re-tweeted his message to thousands of others.
"I love Twitter and the fact that you get to speak to people across the world every day," Kilpatrick told me. "For example, I communicate with former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield nearly every day. I'm happy that I have people like him constantly in my ear about staying focused. That's big."
Former UC football star JK Schaffer (@Schaff37) is also a fan of Twitter who sends frequent tweets to more than 2,000 followers.
"It's fun to reach out to people," Schaffer said. "You get to show fans your appreciation and you get to show your love for your team. There are a lot of things that I really like about it."
But social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are obviously an area of concern for Cincinnati's head coaches. According to a recent story in USA Today, Boise State, Mississippi State, and South Carolina are among the universities where coaches have banned or limited tweeting.
"In the age that we live in today, all it takes is one bad decision or choice of words and that lives forever with you," said UC head football coach Butch Jones. "It's the age that we live in, so you try to educate them and make policies, just like you would with your own kids.
"One of the most powerful things that we did was bring in the National Football League's Director of Player Development Troy Vincent. He posted all of our players Tweets and knew how many of them were on there, and I think our kids were amazed at how much was out there."
"Coach Jones definitely spends a lot of time teaching about social networking and how it can definitely get you in trouble," said Schaffer. "You can't post things about your team that you shouldn't be talking about - there are things that stay within the football family. You have to learn to censor yourself and hold back your personal feelings on some things."
"We don't let anyone know what's going on the locker room or what's going on with the team, period," said Kilpatrick. "I think everyone has done a great job with that."
While Kilpatrick does not share locker room secrets, he does keep followers informed about his daily activities and frequently states his love for the Cincinnati fan base.
I love Cincinnati and how they have supported me since day 1. This city is one of THEEE greatest cities in the world. #BeleeeDattt-- Sean Kilpatrick (@SeanKilpatrick_) April 14, 2012
"I appreciate all of the people that follow us on Twitter, because they come to our games and support us throughout the season," said Kilpatrick. "Besides being a basketball player, I'm just a person at the end of the day and I try to show everyone that you might know the Sean Kilpatrick that you see on the court, but you don't know him off the court."
Thanks to Twitter, we know that Kilpatrick will be back for his junior season, but if he does eventually become a professional athlete, he'll already have experience in dealing with social media. It's one of benefits that Bearcat athletes receive by being taught to use Twitter and Facebook responsibly while they are still in school.
"What you have to make sure is that your players understand the ramifications that go along with Twitter," said Coach Jones. "There's nothing private about any of that, and they have to understand the repercussions of their choice of words."
"When you post things on social networks, you're
representing your university, your team, your coach, and yourself," said
A man with a concerning amount of time on his hands compiled all the mock drafts he could find on the Internet and came with 258 owning somewhat reasonable credibility.
Everyone owns a mock draft and everyone owns different opinions. What should we expect from the UC contingent? Depends on who you read.
The NFL Draft Bible believes all five UC Bearcats who in the conversation for being drafted will be selected this weekend. Here's their consensus:
Derek Wolfe - second round
Isaiah Pead - third round
JK Schaffer - fourth round
John Hughes - sixth round
Adrien Robinson - seventh round
Whose one of the most respected names in the business when it comes to prospect analysis? Mike Mayock at the NFL Network. Guy is as good as it gets this time of year. He has both Wolfe and Pead in his Top 100. Wolfe is at 59 and Pead at 77.
Todd McShay ranked Wolfe as the second-best defensive tackle in terms of pass rushing skills in his latest positional rankings.
That places both going on Friday night, where most believe the top two Bearcats will go off the board. Obviously, more on all the draft developments as the week continues.
--- Want to open with this behind the scenes piece by Tricia Macke at Fox19, talking with Mick Cronin. You see the guy off the court who talks continuously about his daughter and takes pride in living/working in his hometown.
There are a lot of good guys in this business that don't make it. Being a good guy won't win you games and won't keep the boosters off your back, but it makes you the complete package when you do know how to win games.
--- Keep an eye out this summer for Mick's basketball camps. Here's the details.
--- For those of you who care about rankings, Dickie V has UC ranked in his Top 25 for next year. Which as we all should know by now means absolutely nothing.
--- Andrea Adelson raised the point yesterday on how the future of the BCS and possible elimination of the AQ status would effect the commitment of the new Big East schools. San Diego State led the way in reassuring everyone in BE country that they can breathe a little easier.
--- The BCS meetings this week have made news and it appears more and more likely the four-team playoff will take hold in 2014. According to Brett McMurphy at CBSsports.com, the concept of playing the semifinals at campus sites "is on life support."
Inability for some venues to support the media crush that would occur should a smaller school be ranked first or second it could prove too much.
Imagine for a second UC hosting a national semifinal at Nippert Stadium. Sure, it could be done, but you talk about your all-time media nightmares. Trying to find space for the hundreds upon hundreds that would request credentials for an event that size would be near impossible.
The game itself? The most incredible atmosphere imaginable. The logistics surrounding it -- not so much.
Instead, the Rose Bowl, Superdome, Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl become the new semifinal sites and everybody is happy. If the concern is these teams will be playing in front of half-empty stadiums because the fans don't like the possibility of traveling two weeks in a row -- can you imagine a half-empty stadium for a college football national semifinal? Yeah, me neither.
--- Random frustrating thought that keeps recurring in my head: If only this system were in place in 2009.....
--- Eric Hicks petitioned Marvin Lewis to show up at his Commandos game on Saturday night. Marv might be a little busy, but I'll let him know to check out the game tape.
--- 30 Rock has been good, not great this year. That said, I hope it hangs around for a few more years.
--- Creed and Nickelback on the same night? Boy, Chuck Klosterman sure is a tortured soul.
--- It's Tetris on the side of a building. Which is, of course, awesome.
--- Placing all politics aside, this is pretty funny stuff as Obama slow jams the news on Jimmy Fallon.
--- When it comes to slow jams, though, I have to revert to the patriarch on the topic, Barry White. Have a great Wednesday.
See, the second sounds like nothing now, doesn't it? You can vote every day between now and May 2 and UC will be in the running for Gameday to shoot a commercial on campus. Here's an example of one of a commercial they did in the past.
If the Bearcats were to win, I'm officially on board with any scenario that features Lee Corso, the Keg of Nails and Lucy the Bearcat in a Three's Company type of hi jinx.
--- Kentucky Sports Radio recently wrote this piece on UK's likely schedule for next season and one of the biggest questions is who the Wildcats will draw in the Big East/SEC Challenge.
It's UK's year to hit the road and UC's year to host a game in the event.
Now, the pairings for this event weren't announced until mid-May last year, so there's plenty of time to speculate, but this could be one of the premier home games the Bearcats basketball program has been searching for.
Mick Cronin said last year he petitioned the Big East to place his team in a game with Kentucky for this event. It didn't work out, with UC eventually shipped to a victory at a bad Georgia team and the eventual national champs ravaging a decimated St. John's roster. Good call guys.
You have to believe with the possibility of UK coming to Cincinnati, Cronin and AD Whit Babcock are pushing hard for the Wildcats at Fifth Third Arena or the very least at US Bank. That's a signature schedule item to offer to the fan base clamoring for more pizazz in the non-con. It would be the biggest non-conference event at home in years -- maybe ever.
Whit talked often in regards to football about bringing as many contests on campus as possible, so whether Kentucky or otherwise, know the fight would be strong to keep the game in Clifton and keep as many opposing teams' fans out of the building.
As proven last year, anything can happen with these games, but the TV folks want some marquee matchups.
Two teams from the SEC made the Sweet 16 last year: Florida and UK. Last year, the Gators went on the road to Syracuse, so they will be due a home game.
Four teams out of the Big East made the Sweet 16: UC, Marquette, Syracuse, Louisville (not saying this is the criteria with which the games will be set off, but serves as a decent jumping off point).
U of L and UK are already playing an NYE game at the Yum! Center. Cuse is owed a road game.
Marquette was left out of the 12-team field last year and really elevated the program under Buzz Williams. That said, they will be replacing DJO and BEPOY Jae Crowder. The Golden Eagles earning the UK game wouldn't be crazy in the least.
Here's the full list of options for UC, assuming they swap all of last year's SEC home teams to the road this year: South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi State.
Take out UGA since they are unlikely to rematch the two teams, you have a quality opponent, assuming former UC assistant Frank Martin doesn't make a return to Fifth Third with his new Gamecocks squad.
Can't wait to see the draw in a few weeks.
--- Remember, UC will also be taking part in the Global Sports Classic in Vegas from Nov. 23-24.
--- Since ESPN posted it, I'll link to it, but no surprises on the post-spring depth chart from Butch Jones. Still no official decision on starting quarterback.
--- Andrea Adelson's thoughts on the future of the BCS and how it will effect the Big East.
--- Apparently zoning out is a critical mental state. Must be why I'm so well adjusted.
--- Here's a five-minute ode to The Carlton Dance with a host of celebs doing it. Somehow, they couldn't find Alfonso Ribero, though. Can't imagine he didn't have time for this.
--- I think any policy which states you'll stop selling plastic rats is one worth putting in place.
--- Tonight is Bark in the Park at the Reds game. Which gives me an excuse for this jam. Have a good one.
Stories on Pead and Wolfe are showing up more frequently now and it's great to see these guys in particular receive the much-deserved run.
Bill Rabinowitz at the Columbus Dispatch wrote this piece on Isaiah, talking to Butch Jones about how far Pead came over his time at UC. He points the lack of punctuality when it came to meetings and events the running back used to employ. He goes on to tell a story of Isaiah being the only player sitting on the bus departing for the Liberty Bowl.
That's what college is all about. I don't care if you are an engineer, in business or playing football, the idea is to become a better person and professional along the way. Nothing exposes the system's successes or failures more than college athletics as these personalities are thrust into your living room every Saturday in the Fall. So, we root for this type of development and this type of personality to ascend as Isaiah did.
Will he succeed on the next level? I don't know. Nobody does. All the effort and maturity in the world doesn't guarantee success in that league. It's a production business against the best athletes around. However, on UC's end, the school, staff and program providing the opportunity for Pead to be prepared for the challenge.
As did his 4.47 40-yard dash.
Regardless, it's a refreshing story of what college should and can allow players to achieve. And one that I know I will be locked in to for years to come.
--- Andrea Adelson was part of a spring football surprises roundup at ESPN and shows some love for Solomon Tentman. If you don't know his story, read this now.
--- A member of the Twitterati was asking about the future opponents schedule with the latest announcement of the home-and-home series with Ohio (the artist soon to be known as the Paul Dehner Jr. Bowl).
As Biggie would say, if you don't know, now you know.
@Illinois (Soldier Field)
--- Dan Hoard wrote about the interesting background of OC Mike Bajakian. And if UC ever needs to win a bowling competition at the next bowl game they are selected to, they have their coach already in-house.
Mark it 8, Dude.
--- In the least surprising news to come out of Xavier in years for those at all close to the situation: Mark Lyons won't be back. Let's just say it's pretty obvious the two sides didn't get along. It's a very minor effect, but an effect nonetheless, it at least partially increases the chances the Shootout continues next year as one of the primary perpetrators won't be in the house.
--- UConn just completely unraveling. Have we seen a more dramatic fall from the top than this program experienced in the last 13 months?
--- Great run and shot by former UC Bearcat soccer star Omar Cummings for the Colorado Rapids. His athleticism sparks an awkward man to take his shirt off and spin it around his head like a helicopter.
--- Haven't seen it yet but plan on catching the premiere of the new Julia Louis-Dreyfuss show Veep on HBO. Critics are loving it.
This, of course, allows me to link to one of my favorite Elaine moments from Seinfeld. "You're bald!"
--- Can you make yourself smarter? Where was this 10 years ago when I had zero clue how to pass chemistry?
--- Facts? Remember those?
--- Because I haven't posted anything Pearl Jam related in a few weeks and had this great song in my head all weekend, here's Eddie Vedder. Have a great Monday.
Before becoming a Hall of Fame college basketball
head coach, Jim Boeheim was the varsity golf coach at Syracuse University.
Mike Bajakian, the offensive coordinator for the UC football team, has a similar line in the early portion of his resume.
"I almost don't want to admit this," Bajakian told me with a laugh, "but in addition to coaching football and baseball, I was a head bowling coach at the high school level."
Hey, it's a sport where you throw the ball on every play right?
All kidding aside, when you look at Bajakian's history as a football coach, it's easy to see why he's held in such high regard by UC head coach Butch Jones.
In 2001, Mike helped coach the punt rush at the University of Michigan. The Wolverines blocked a school-record eight punts that year.
From 2004 to 2006, he was on the offensive staff for the Chicago Bears, culminating in a trip to Super Bowl XLI in his final season.
Since 2007, Bajakian has been the offensive coordinator under Jones at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. More than 30 school records were set during their tenure at CMU, and at UC, the Bearcats have ranked in the top two in the Big East in scoring in each of the last two seasons.
"There isn't anyone that I trust more than Mike Bajakian handling our offense," said Coach Jones. "We share the exact same beliefs and it's a comfort level where we always know what the other person is thinking. I think that comes with time spent working with each other. He is of the highest character, he's extremely competitive, and I can't say enough about him."
"Coach Bajakian doesn't like to lose," said Isaiah Pead. "He's not a big guy, but when he speaks, we all listen. We all respect him and know that he wants to win just as bad as we do."
"I think they accidently let me in," said Bajakian. "Small college football gives 5-foot-10; 165 pound backup high school quarterbacks a chance to play at the college level. A 0-0 tie was the very anticlimactic end to my college playing career."
In 2010 and 2011, Forbes Magazine ranked Williams College as the best undergraduate institution in the United States - ahead of every Ivy League university. Bajakian majored in history but knew before graduation that he wanted to pursue a career in football.
"Since the day I realized that I wasn't going to play for a living, I knew that I wanted to stay involved in the game and always thought that I would be a teacher and a coach," Bajakian told me. "Late in my college career, I got the itch to get into coaching at the college level and pursued it after two years in (high school) teaching.
"People often ask me why I coach and I tell them that I'm not qualified to do anything else. But the reality of it is, I love the relationships. There are so many emotional highs and lows that you go through as a coach that you develop really close relationships. It's not something that you can get in the everyday workforce - I truly believe that."
Bajakian's relationships with the players go beyond football.
"We get the opportunity to mentor young men who are still very impressionable and who are still developing their character and world view," said Bajakian. "I try to talk to them about quite a bit more than football and academics. I gave a physics lesson in our meeting the other day to try to illustrate a point."
"He's well-rounded to say the least," said Coach Jones. "The great thing about Mike is that he is a student of the game. We are in a CANI Principle business - Constant And Never Ending Improvement. He is always doing that."
"If you spend two minutes with him, you know that he is a very intelligent guy," said Pead. "Spend another two minutes with him, and you can tell that he knows a lot about football. We're blessed to have him and hopefully he can stick around."
Bajakian says that becoming a head coach is one of his goals, but he appears to be in no hurry.
"For me, every day is about learning and growing professionally," Mike told me. "Honestly, I could be in no better place than right here in Cincinnati because I'm learning from the best coach in the country - I honestly mean that. When it comes to motivating a team and getting so much out of players and coaches, I really believe that Butch Jones is the best in the country."
I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
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Since I consider this blog to be the hub for all things facial hair related in the Greater Cincinnati Area it feels like a special day here. Indeed, the two great worlds I try to promote -- UC and mustaches -- have come together for an event that nearly brings a tear to my eye.
That's right, tonight will be mustache night at Marge Schott Stadium. The first 500 fans in attendance for the game against St. John's ($1 admission at this link, by the way) will be given a GoBearcats.com mustache. What else could you ask for?
We'll call it the Selleck Series or maybe the Mustachioed Matinee. Either way, call it a good time at MSS.
In its honor, here is a list of the 35 manliest mustaches of all time.
--- While we are discussing baseball, I wanted to point out the season Justin Glass is having. The sophomore broke onto the scene last year as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and a Second Team All-Big East member.
He's built on those numbers and has become the undeniable most feared hitter in the Bearcats lineup.
Last year he hit .326 and is sporting a .363 average so far this season. In 67 fewer at bats, he's hit the same number of doubles (14) as last year and stolen three more bases (12).
He's eighth in the Big East in average, third in doubles, seventh in total bases and second in hits.
The biggest key for him will be cutting down on his 45 strikeouts.
While the Bearcats record (13-24) isn't where they would like it to be, they have a star in the making with Glass.
--- For anybody who reads this blog or if you are among the 1,000+ people who have listened to the Whit Babcock podcast, you were already aware of the information which officially came out yesterday regarding UC adding a home-and-home series with Ohio University.
While I cannot confirm nor deny I will still be covering UC Sept. 12, 2020 when the Bearcats -- who I assume will travel to Athens on individual jet propulsion packs -- do head over to Peden Stadium it will be one of the great road trips in recent memory.
I know many of you clamoring for a non-conference schedule full of USC and LSU aren't happy with this announcement, but there's no shame in playing a few games against quality MAC opponents. Who knows, by the time 2018 comes around the MAC might not even exist. Heck, according to the Mayans, we might not exist, either. So let's look on the bright side.
--- Andrea Adelson and Christian Fauria like UConn and Pitt, respectively as their Big East dark horses in 2012. And Fauria references girl talk to back up his point.
--- Little piece of information I came across while doing some draft research. From the 2009 draft class here are your leaders in sacks.
1. Clay Matthews, GB: 29.5
2. Brian Orakpo, Wash: 28.5
3. Connor Barwin, Hou: 16.0
Of 49 LBs and DEs selected in 2009, the UC grad Barwin owns the third most sacks among them. And, oh yeah, HE MISSED AN ENTIRE SEASON!
--- UC has five players who have expectations of hearing their name called in next week's NFL Draft. Isaiah Pead, Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, Adrien Robinson and JK Schaffer. Others will likely end up in camps, but all signs point toward these being the crop of those who could be selected in one of the seven rounds.
Should all five players be selected this year it would tie for the most in UC history. The 1998 draft featured five Bearcats as well: Brad Jackson, Rod Monroe, Jason Fabini, Artrell Hawkins and Derrick Ransom.
In 2009, UC had four players selected (Huber, Underwood, Smith, Barwin) but that's the closest they have come to the '98 class.
--- The Racer at Kings Island turns 40 this week. How about for the anniversary they turn it backwards again? Always loved the backwards Racer.
--- The Chili Peppers style is so unique, an EP of their covers will feel like all new releases.
--- I don't know that I need LED lighting for my cooler, but the ice-block cooler is a pretty sweet concept.
--- Still trying to figure out how Jeets gets all the ladies.
--- Did you know Grand Funk Railroad keyboardist Craig Frost is 64 today? You do now. And that's my excuse for rocking "We're An American Band."
None of those bring me as much joy, however, as National High-5 Day.
I first started celebrating this holiday in earnest back when I worked at CNati because my blog was called HIgh-5, Low-5 and every morning I'd give my take on the five things I liked going on and five I didn't. It made for quite the glorification of the high-5 on a daily basis.
And, to be honest, anybody who doesn't enjoy a hearty high-5, most likely has never felt true joy. Or accomplished anything in any sporting event.
Do me a favor and count the high-5s during the next sporting event you attend. How many? Now, the butt pat has really come a long way and making a very creepy rise in the celebration ranks, but the high-5 is old faithful. Always there to greet you with a smile and a slap.
All the happiness it brings deserves to be celebrated. So get out there and exchange some high-5s (I hate how the low 5 has been overlooked in all this and I'm working for a National Low-5 Day, I know it was really digging at you, too).
And now, the NH5D folks are raising money for Cancer, so check out their Facebook page and help out a great cause.
Or just let this song seep into your brain and never exit.
--- Yesterday, I posted productivity numbers of DT Derek Wolfe up against other players coaches are currently comparing him with for the draft to go along with Bill Koch's piece on DW.
Today, I want to point out some facts about Isaiah Pead and mid-round running backs to pair with Koch's recent conversation with Pead that posted today.
By all accounts, Pead should be drafted somewhere in the 2nd-3rd rounds. He'll be a mid-round back.
Also by all accounts, that should be a thrilling concept for Isaiah and Pead fans everywhere. Here's a draft review of Pead's skills.
Take a look at recent drafts and the success rate of those drafted in rounds 2/3/4.
Who were the two leading rushers from last year's draft class?
DeMarco Murray (Dallas, 3rd, 71 overall) 164 carries, 897 yards
Roy Helu (Washington, 4th, 105) 151 carries, 640 yards
Daniel Thomas (Miami, 2nd, 62) 165 carries, 581 yards
Murray was the sixth back off the board selected in the third round -- sound familiar? That's the exact expectations for Pead. Comparisons with Murray remind me of what an NFL scout told me when I asked about Pead last season. The first thing he pointed out was when watching the Oklahoma game his junior year there was no doubt he was the best player on the field. And that field contained DeMarco Murray.
Here's a list of RBs selected in the 2/3/4 rounds over recent years
Ben Tate, Hou, 58th -- 175 carries, 942 yards in 2011
LeSean McCoy, Phi, 53rd -- First-team All-Pro, 4,241 yards from scrimmage in three years
Shonn Greene, NYJ, 65th -- 253 carries, 1,265 carries in 2011
Matt Forte, Chi, 44th -- Pro Bowler, over 1,400 yards from scrimmage all four seasons
Ray Rice, Bal, 55th -- two-time Pro Bowler, 2,068 yards from scrimmage last year
Jamaal Charles, KC, 73rd -- First team All-Pro, more than 2,500 rushing yards 2010-11
Steve Slaton, Hou, 89th -- 1,282 rushing yards his rookie year
Michael Bush, Oak, 100th -- Just signed 4-year, $14 million deal w/ Chicago
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jax, 60th -- 6,854 career rushing yards
Frank Gore, SF, 65th -- 7,625 career rushing yards
--- Nugget: In the last seven years 11 Pro Bowl appearances have come from players selected in the first round. How many have come from players selected in the 2nd or 3rd? 11.
--- Want more? How about this: here's a list of the top 10 rushers in yards per game last season and where they were selected in the NFL Draft.
M. Jones-Drew 60th
Arian Foster UnD
Fred Jackson UnD
LeSean McCoy 53rd
Ray Rice 55th
Michael Turner 154th
Matt Forte 44th
Adrian Peterson 7th
Marshawn Lynch 12th
Willis McGahee 23rd
That's right, all of the top seven rushers last year were selected outside the top 40 and two were not drafted at all.
Everyone in the NFL is searching for the back they can draft late and use for 4-5 great years. The proof is in the numbers.
--- Bottom line: Isaiah Pead will have his shot no matter where he's drafted and there will be zero shame in going in the middle rounds.
--- One of the great aspects of UC's football success has been coupling it with success in the classroom. Coach Butch Jones blog talks to players about the team that finished first in the Big East in team GPA.
--- Connor Barwin made the cover of Eastbay, here's some behind the scenes with him and fellow cover boy JJ Watt.
--- Congrats to the baseball team for their big win against Ohio State, 6-5, on Big Ten Network last night. It's been a rough go this year, but hopefully this will spark success.
--- The Sacramento Kings are honoring The Big O.
--- I had a lemonade stand once. It didn't raise $10,000. To be fair, my lemonade recipe never quite found itself.
--- Joel McHale does his best to put to bed rumors Chevy Chase is leaving Community. In my opinion, the show wouldn't skip a beat without him.
--- In case, "starring Brooke Hogan," didn't guarantee this would be the worst movie made this decade, this trailer for "Sand Sharks" puts the nail in the coffin.
--- The Ron Swanson bobblehead is a strong product. I'll throw in a Parks and Rec gag reel while we're at it.
--- Cash Cab was canceled! Now what will I do to build excitement during the first 10 seconds I sit down in a cab waiting for the lights to go off?
--- Have a happy National High-5 Day everybody and here's some High-5 etiquette to help you maneuver through the day as smoothly as possible.
Bill Koch spoke with Wolfe and wrote this story.
In it, Wolfe pointed out how he'd been one of the most productive players in college football last season. As has been well-documented on this blog, he's dead-on accurate. However, in case you need a reminder, let's place Wolfe's numbers up against those he'll be compared to on draft boards across the country.
Here's the ESPN list of the top 12 defensive tackles, the only DTs pjojected in the first three rounds. More importantly, here are their numbers from the 2011 season.
Player, School TFL Sck Tack
Fletcher Cox, Miss St. 14.5 5 56
Michael Brockers, LSU 10 2 54
Dontari Poe, Memphis 8 1 33
Jerel Worthy, Mich. St. 10.5 3.5 31
Kendall Reyes, UConn 13.5 4.5 46
Devon Still, Penn St. 17 4.5 55
B. Thompson, Clemson 8 3 47
Alameda Ta'amu, Wash 7 3.5 30
Derek Wolfe, UC 21.5 9.5 70
Mike Martin, Mich. 6 3.5 64
Billy Winn, Boise 8 3 33
--- Notice Derek Wolfe ranks first in all three categories that quantify the effect of a defensive tackle. Not only does he lead every category, it's not even close.
None of those prospects came within seven TFL and all had less than half of his 9.5 sacks. Wolfe finished with 70 tackles and only Mike Martin of Michigan contributed more than 56.
--- Who is the closest defensive tackle to those production numbers over recent years? Try Ndamakong Suh's final season at Nebraska: 20.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 85 tackles.
Last year, Nick Fairley had a season in that range with 24 TFL, 11.5 sacks and 60 tackles.
Outside of those, few enjoyed the disruptive trio of TFL, sacks and tackles. With all this talk of production on the football field, what else is there to look for in Wolfe?
Sure, at 295 pounds he's too big to be a defensive end and on the small end of the defensive tackles. That's why the 3-4 system coaches love him as he fits perfectly in the inside end position of the scheme.
And as far as college production goes, there was no equal at his position. We'll see how much that means to NFL coaches next week. As early as Thursday.
--- Andrea Adelson at ESPN offered up highlights of her conversation with Butch Jones. Most it is information anyone who reads the blog already knows, but there are some tidbits regarding injuries that serve as news.
Apparently, both DL Roney Lozano and WR Dy'Juan Lewis will miss portions of next season due to injuries suffered this spring.
--- Reminder, football season ticket renewals must be in by Friday.
--- The Steelers plan on making a run at the Pittsburgh Pirates reign on Worst Throwback Jersey.
--- I'm not sure the iPhone needs ads since it seems everyone in the country owns one, but if you are going to have some, might as well feature Samuel L. Jackson.
--- Axl Rose has apologized to Cleveland. In a related note, shouldn't Cleveland be apologizing to all of us as well?
--- If you are a kindergartner and throw a tantrum so bad police have to handcuff you, that is a story you can tell your grandkids. Check that, that's a story you MUST tell your grandkids.
--- A 76-year-old woman hit the gas instead of the brakes and blew through the front of a Publix in Florida (no, really, in Florida). Nobody died, but the video is wild.
--- In honor of those like Mo Egger and Tommy G, who headed to Cleveland for Bruce Springsteen last night, here's a little Bruce for your Wednesday morning.
The NFL draft begins in nine days and UC might have the necessary funds to renovate Nippert Stadium if head coach Butch Jones had a dollar for every phone call he's received about the Bearcats' pro prospects.
"NFL teams have left no stone unturned," Jones told me. "I've talked to just about every scout and a number of head coaches and general managers. So have our position coaches, (strength coach) Dave Lawson, and right down to Keri Thoman who heads up our academics. Teams have done their due diligence and it's going to be a fun time for Bearcat Nation to see where they land."
Isaiah Pead and Derek Wolfe are locks to be selected
this year. Pead boosted his stock by
being named the MVP of the Senior Bowl and was among the fastest running backs
at the NFL Scouting Combine when he clocked a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder from team to team, and I'm hearing anywhere from second to third round with Isaiah," said Coach Jones.
"He was under the radar until the Senior Bowl and he really blew up there," said ESPN's Todd McShay. "He's versatile, quick, and I think he has a chance to be in that third round range and a steal for an NFL team that's looking for a versatile back."
McShay's fellow ESPN draft expert - Mel Kiper - recently tweeted that Pead would be a good choice for Tampa Bay if he is still available early in the third round.
What does Pead think of the speculation?
"I live in a bubble," Isaiah told me. "I'm still a college student and I don't have cable or internet at home. I just hang out with the guys and stay away from that. You can't get caught up in it because nobody really knows what goes on in the meeting rooms of NFL teams. I used to have butterflies early in this process, but now my emotions have calmed down and I'm just praying for the best."
While Pead is widely projected to be the first
Bearcat selected, Kiper's latest mock draft shows New England selecting Wolfe
with the next-to-last pick in the first round.
"I love the versatility he can bring," said Kiper. "I projected Wolfe as a surprise first-round pick by the Patriots because a scheme-versatile team can use a guy like him, who can be a one-gap guy in a 3-4 or easily flip to a 4-3 defensive tackle up front. I've seen him on some boards as low as the third round. He should go higher."
"I think Derek Wolfe's stock is rising daily, which is a tribute to how hard he's worked," said Coach Jones. "The thing I keep hearing is that he has the reputation for being the hardest-playing defensive lineman in college football last year. I think that's a tribute to (UC defensive line coach) Steve Stripling and to Derek for buying in."
The other Bearcats who are most likely to be picked are defensive lineman John Hughes and tight end Adrien Robinson who clocked a 4.56 40-yard dash at 264 pounds at Cincinnati's pro day.
"After about game four, John Hughes really came on," said Jones. "I think that he's worked himself into a position of possibly being drafted. And Adrien Robinson is really gaining great momentum going into the draft."
J.K. Schaffer and Zach Collaros are generally not projected to be drafted, but could wind up in NFL training camps as free agents.
"I'm really proud of all of these individuals and how far they've come," said Jones. "We take great pride in our players being NFL-ready and I think you see that. I think it's a compliment to them, I think it's a compliment to Dave Lawson, and I think it's a compliment to our program."
Connor Barwin, Brent Celek, Trent Cole, Kevin Huber, and Jason Kelce are among the former Bearcats who are playing big roles on their NFL teams and Pead hopes to join them.
On Saturday, I asked Isaiah where he will be during the draft.
"I'll be in Columbus at my grandparents' house with my family and friends and it's an open invitation," Pead said. "You can come if you want to."
I appreciate the offer, but I'll proudly watch on TV. Along with thousands of other Bearcat fans.
I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.
The era of AAU and outside influences replacing the voice of the coach contribute to this outbreak.
The list of transfers across D-I this year alone exceeds 300 and is expected to rise over 400 in the coming weeks. That's an average of more than one transfer per program. Check out this list, the length is mind-boggling.
Now, this point has been brought up here before. But I feel like it deserves repeating considering this growing problem in college basketball.
How many players have transferred out of Mick Cronin's program in the last five years (2007 JuCo cluster doesn't count)? Two. Following the 2008 season Kenny Belton bolted after one season at UC and Alvin Mitchell left after the 2009 campaign.
In the last three years as transferring became the most popular move in the game? Not one has left.
Meanwhile, 17 players have transferred from Kentucky since 2003. UConn has 14. Duke seven. North Carolina four.
Too often at schools expectations are incorrectly communicated. Players don't understand what roles they should play when they arrive. When adversity strikes, many coaches don't know how to help their players see the light at the end of the tunnel -- no matter how dark.
Not Cronin. When players arrive at UC they know what will be expected of them. They aren't put off when redshirted (re: Kilpatrick, Sean; Thomas, Shaq) or frustrated enough to transfer because of lack of playing time (re: Parker, JaQuon).
Mick helps them fight through the dark days and reap the rewards. The growing list of those who persevered only make the belief of the struggling young players stronger.
Go ahead and add this to the list of the reasons the job Cronin has done should be considered underrated, but considering all the movement of unhappy players it should be thrust more into the spotlight than ever before.
--- Why are we even wondering where Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, Isaiah Pead, JK Schaffer and Adrien Robinson are going to end up next weekend? Shouldn't we just assume they'll all end up in Philadelphia?
Mardy Gilyard became the latest former UC player to make his way to the City of Brotherly Love. That makes four on the team, joining C Jason Kelce, TE Brent Celek and DE Trent Cole.
In fact, if you look at the 10 Bearcats that played in the NFL last year (according to ProFootballReference.com), four of those are now with Philly.
As for Gilyard, hopefully he finds the fresh start he needed in Philly after a disappointing first two seasons in the league. He'll have a shot to latch on with the Eagles as they certainly lack depth beyond their top three of Jason Avant, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
He'll battle Riley Cooper and host of other unprovens for the final two WR spots. Talent has never been the issue for Mardy, it's always been motivation. Let's hope this experience brings out the motivation in him.
Here's Mardy talking yesterday on Eagles live for almost seven minutes. He sees himself helping out as a returner and "getting back to that flash like there was in college."
--- Dan Hoard wrote about Isaiah Pead and Derek Wolfe approaching draft day.
--- As for other draft news, the Bengals worked out DJ Woods and LS Tom DeTemple. They love the UC undrafted free agents over there, so have to think there's a slight chance another Bearcat could be at PBS when camp opens.
--- Joe Lunardi posted next year's Bracketology and has UC as a 7 seed playing St. Joe's in Philadelphia. UC fans should be outrage the Cats have to play in St. Joe's backyard as a higher seed. Make your hotel reservations today.
Despite the lunacy of posting next year's bracket projections already, that was my first glance at the regional sites this year. There aren't as many near here as this year when half the field was within a five-hour drive, but drawing opening round games in Dayton or Lexington would be ideal.
--- Sara Ganim is 24 years old and won a Pulitzer Prize. Congrats to her, she deserved it for all she did scooping the big boys during the Sandusky scandal.
For the record, when I was 24, I had a plaque on my desk that said Employee of the Month at a newspaper in rural Arkansas. I stole the plaque out of a storage closet.
--- Reason No. 4,872,043 why the rest of the world hates us.
--- Download Soundgarden's new single for free.
--- In case you haven't seen it, the Tupac hologram performance from Coachella was wild. If a possible Tupac hologram tour happens, I think it should be an entire dead musician bonanza. I want Tupac, Biggie, skinny Elvis and pre-creep Michael Jackson in that show with him.
--- While we are talking young Mike, Billie Jean still makes me pop out of my seat every time I hear it. And yes, while I may not look it, I can and will crush a dance floor. I am 15-1-2 career in dance-offs. The numbers don't lie.
Sending the guys out in the rain and forcing fans to get soaked watching a scrimmage wouldn't have been the smartest of moves and while nobody wanted to see it come to that, it had to be done.
Instead, Butch Jones invited the fans who were enduring the conditions to come inside the bubble and watch the private workout. While it lacked the allure of a scrimmage and intensity of The Nipp, it allowed glimpse into what life has been like for UC the past few weeks.
What did we learn over that time?
-- Munchie is the incumbent, though not the guaranteed starter -- though Butch did say Saturday night the junior-to-be enjoyed one of the best days of his spring on Saturday, showing control, poise and control of the pocket.
-- Brendon Kay will be in the conversation.
-- Jordan Luallen will find a way on the field -- somehow.
-- Solomon Tentman is a beast, the feel-good story of this team and your starting middle linebacker.
-- Three running backs are vying for carries and all could be given some. And that wouldn't be all that out of the ordinary.
-- As Butch Jones said on Saturday -- and this may just be coachspeak to stress attention to detail, but I didn't hear Butch say it last year -- "this is a football team where our margin for error is going to be extremely small."
Now, coaches aren't allowed contact with the players and the team will be in the hands of the strength and conditioning staff until the fall. Then the competition truly spices up.
--- With no new storylines to explore as a result of the what was supposed to be Bearcat Bowl VI, I was able to talk to a two players I'd been meaning to speak with all spring.
Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano are two of the key remaining parts of a defensive line that carried UC last year. Don't forget, this team was ranked second in the nation in sacks last season.
It became one of two things this team hung their hat on. Defensive line and Isaiah Pead. Those defined nearly every win. Derek Wolfe and John Hughes will be in NFL camps next year with Wolfe projected by Mel Kiper as a first-round selection.
But what will become of UC's dominant line? The senior season for Stewart has been eagerly awaited by the UC fan base since he broke on the scene as an explosive freshman. Replacements are coming on the interior, but arguably the strongest position with the highest expectations on the UC defense will be defensive end.
"That's the plan," Stewart said. "Me and Dan we show up everyday we know the expectation. That's why we come out here every day coaching up the younger guys. We're just trying to set the tone, let people know that hey, we have to win up front."
Of the 46 sacks UC rolled up last season, 25.5 of them graduated. However, 16.5 sacks from the defensive end position will all be lining up Sept. 6 against Pitt.
"Those guys graduated, its opportunities for the young guys to step up," Giordano said. "You can't really replace Derek Wolfe and John Hughes but they set a standard, they raised the bar. The bar is set high."
"It will be different," Stewart said. "We can still be just as good, just our strength will be on the edges. It will be the opposite."
Giordano (5 sacks in 2011), Stewart (6) and Brandon Mills (5.5) admit in a personal competition inside the locker room to win the sack battle. Stewart got the dub in that category last year, but those mean little beyond bragging rights.
Leading the Big East or being second in the country again would be nice, but not the goal.
"We just want the quarterback on his back," Giordano said.
Looking at the progress Stewart made last season, he appeared prepared to rough up the quarterback consistently for the first time since moving to defensive end. Of his six sacks, five came in the final five games.
"The numbers can be what they are," Stewart said. "Bottom line, that's how we win games."
Both concluded their final spring practice with the University of Cincinnati on Saturday. While in the past some of the practices may have run together and the drills become monotonous, that wasn't the case this season. With the finish line in clear focus, the attitude changed for two guys high on potential but still waiting to post the truly dominant season.
"The clock is ticking," Giordano said. "You are reminded every day. towards the end of your career you are more motivated. Being a senior you have a whole different outlook. Not only are you responsible for yourself, but being responsible for the defensive team. If we ain't ready to work, they ain't going to be ready to work."
--- Saw JK Schaffer at Saturday's practice. He said teams have been blowing up his phone for a while now, calling regularly. The most persistent has been Jacksonville. He's still unsure what round he would be drafted in or if he'll be drafted at all. He really could care less.
"Just get me to camp," he said.
Man, if you aren't rooting for Schaffer, I don't think you can root for anybody. All he wants is the opportunity to outwork and outhustle people.
--- For anybody who thought I was a stat nerd, check out the tempo-free predictions for next season put forth over at CBSsports.com. This is some in-depth stuff. They essentially came up with a future predictor formula to calculate wins.
As for UC, they have them finishing in a tie for fourth in the Big East again, going 11-7.
They have Louisville leading the way in the conference but ask the legitimate question: who will shoot now with Kuric and Smith gone?
--- Eli Manning will host SNL on May 5. He may have one more Super Bowl ring than his brother, but he's got some serious shoes to fill at 30 Rock.
--- The words newspaper and empire were used in the same sentence -- and not by The Onion. that's nearly reason for us journalists to dance in the streets.
--- Nobody can claim the Olympic committee isn't in touch with pop culture. They reached to The Who drummer Keith Moon to perform at the closing ceremonies this summer. Only one problem: he died in 1978.
--- But when Moon did play, he sure could kill it. Have a great Monday everybody.
Rather than sit high underneath one of the pavilions at Nippert, those that braved the elements enjoyed the climate-controlled bubble that has been kept open for Butch Jones this spring. (Originally, the bubble was to come down at the end of February.)
Clearly, the indoor facility has proven its worth time and time again.
Another asset that has proven reliable is No. 4, Maalik Bomar. With the departure of JK Schaffer due to graduation, Bomar will lead UC's linebacking corps.
Since his arrival on campus, Bomar has put over 40 pounds of muscle. Video evidence is forthcoming....
Nobody at UC will ever question the toughness of
quarterback Brendon Kay.
As a true freshman in 2008, Kay suffered a devastating knee injury...and kept playing.
"It was a bye week during the Orange Bowl year," said Kay. "As the scout team quarterback, I got hit by Ricardo Mathews and I hyperextended it. It was a grade two and they put me in a brace for a couple of weeks. I came out of the brace and scrimmaged a few days later and just planted on it and blew everything out...ACL, MCL, both meniscus. I actually played the next play and probably hurt it worse. It was an outside zone running play so I had to move. After that, it was bad."
Kay has been battling back from that injury for the last 3-and-a-half years and now as he prepares for his final season as a Bearcat, the 5th-year senior is not even wearing a knee brace.
"If I'm going to go out there, I want to feel normal and I don't want to be thinking about my knee," Brendon told me. "I just want to go out there and play. My knee feels great and I'm 100 percent."
"It's come a long way - you don't see a limp or any effects of the knee injury," said head coach Butch Jones. "His knee is actually stronger than it has ever been which a tribute to his work ethic."
"He's moving very well, and everything that we ask the quarterback to do, I feel confident that he can execute it," said quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian. "He's a tough son-of-a-gun. He's taken some licks out here on the practice field that he pops up from and you're like, 'Wow.' There's nobody that questions his toughness."
Heading into Saturday's Bearcat Bowl VI, Kay is battling junior Munchie Legaux to be Cincinnati's starting quarterback next season. A few weeks ago, Coach Jones told me that Legaux was number one and Kay was 1-A, but following the team's final practice before the spring game, Jones said the two QBs are running even.
"I would say now that they are 1 and 1," said Jones. "Brendon Kay has done a great job of getting himself back into playing shape; he's a great student of the game, and a great competitor. They will continue to compete and I think that competition is extremely healthy."
"The competition will continue to exist into the summer and into training camp," said Bajakian.
"That has pushed me every day to keep working," said Kay. "I think spring ball has gone great and we'll see what happens. I'm just going to keep playing ball and keep working every day."
Kay is 6'4", 237 pounds and has a powerful arm. In the practices that I've attended this spring, he's completed more deep throws than Legaux, but isn't as big a threat in the running game.
"He has had a good spring and has stepped up his game in a lot of ways," said Bajakian. "He has mentally mastered the offense. There is not a question that I am able to ask in the meeting room that stumps him - and I mean that. He is really sharp mentally, he has worked his butt off, he has earned the respect of his teammates, and he is battling."
"I'm very comfortable and I know the offense inside-and-out," said Kay. "I just stick to the progressions and do what the coaches are saying. Whenever my number is called, I'll be ready to go - it's that simple."
Even if Kay is not Cincinnati's opening night starter in September, the odds are that he will get meaningful playing time in 2012. UC's starting quarterback has missed at least one start due to injury in each of the last six years and Brendon is eager to prove himself.
"I want to play - I want to show everyone what I can do," Kay told me.
"He has worked extremely hard to put himself into a position to go into training camp competing for the job," said Coach Jones. "As we all know, you can never have just one quarterback."
I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.
Speaking of young Sam, here he is proudly wearing his first baseball uniform.
The UC players and staff received their Big East championship rings from the past season on their way into eat lunch. I don't quite know where you were would appropriately wear these things out, other than for an A-Team marathon, but they sure were impressive.
For the record, Alex Hoffman is about 6-6, 295 pounds. And this is how big the ring looked on his finger.
I'd need to hit the weight room and do some finger curls of some sort in order to keep the hand stable.
The rings were modeled after those of the San Antonio Spurs when they last won an NBA title for any ring aficionados following the blog.
By any design, impressive and a grand symbol of a grand accomplishment.
--- Last year about this time, when offering up predictions regarding the 2011 season, all signs pointed to the offensive line as the question mark. Sure, Zach Collaros could toss it. Sure, Isaiah Pead could run it. But could a refigured offensive line attempting to replace a starting NFL center find a way to give them both time to do their worst to opponents?
The answer was a resounding yes. Last year's group finished second in the Big East in sacks allowed (16), plus first in yards per carry (4.6) and rushing touchdowns (28). That's one of the primary reasons UC ascended to a share of the Big East title and victory in the Liberty Bowl.
One year later, a reconfiguration occurs again. Only this time, with maturing components surrounding them at quarterback and running back, the pressure increases exponentially on this group to lead the way in offensive production.
Two of the five starters from last year's opener will be the same as Sean Hooey will play RT and Austen Bujnoch will man LG, but the three other spots will consist of two Bearcats with little to no experience (C Dan Sprague and whoever wins a competition at RG) and a third playing the most important position on the line for the first time in his college career (LT Eric Lefeld, moved over from RT).
Recapturing the magic of 2011 won't be as easy as repeating the steps taken along the way one year ago.
"Every offensive line is different," Bujnoch said. "We already have conversations with Hoffman, Randy (Martinez), Evan (Davis) about how we are going to be better than them. Try to be better than them. It is a competition each year. We are going to try to be more physical than them."
Easy thoughts to consider when opening day sits five months off in the distance. Coach Don Mahoney said we caught him on a bad day yesterday as the group suffered one of the valleys along the roller-coaster of mixing and matching the team's best lineman to form a cohesive group.
He knows without Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros behind them, this group can't afford to be just as good as last year. The must be better.
"In all reality, when you do have a back as talented and electrifying as him, you can be a little bit wrong and he covers that up," Mahoney said, pointing out they need to sustain blocks longer this year. "We can't be wrong, not slighting our backs we have right now, there aren't many Isaiah Peads in the country. We love George Winn, love Poteat, love Ralph David, Buckley, those electrifying backs only come so often. We all have to be right on a consistent basis a lot more than ever have before."
At the centerpiece of the line is the intriguing story of Sprague, a senior whose yet to start at game for UC. He sat back and watched All-Big East centers Chris Jurek and Jason Kelce develop the Bearcats reputation for the league's top centers. He did so while being converted from a high school linebacker. Not exactly the standard move.
"Dan's been a story that has been ridiculous, his freshman year, Dan didn't know anything," Bujnoch said. "From Year 1 to now completely different."
Making the calls and enduring the mental rigors of playing center are progressing nicely, picking up the speed of the game challenged his talents. Luckily, he's surrounded by a group learning new spots as they go along with him.
"It was definitely hard for me to try to learn the offense inside and out," Sprague said. "I had to learn what I was doing. I had to sit back and trust everything and watch those guys before me. Our communication is really good. All of us are pretty close, tight-knit group, communication comes naturally for us. We are all taking this big step forward, trying to drag each other along the way."
--- Sprague called Jason Kelce the greatest athlete he's ever seen, not just on the offensive line. Kelce was back at practice roaming around yesterday. His beard was as well.
Seeing it in the flesh, I can tell you it is one of the most impressive facial hair productions I've seen in years.
"He looks terrible," Bujnoch said with a laugh.
After speaking with him for a bit, he talked about the optimism the Eagles have for next year after finishing strong. He pointed out they should have beat the Super Bowl champion Giants twice.
He's one of the good guys and most engaging personalities in the league and the Cats are lucky to have him represent them. Especially because of the beard.
If you need a visual, here he is talking with Tommy G.
--- TG also spoke with the always insightful OC Mike Bajakian about the progress of his guys.
--- Also, ran into Mick Cronin up on the 8th floor as the rings were given out. Talked to him for a bit about new JC signee Titus Rubles. He gave his assessment of Rubles talent in a way that made sense in both name and game.
He compared Rubles favorably as a taller version of Ruben Patterson. The same way Patterson could score and attack athletically from all over the floor, he sees Rubles in that mode as an instant impact guy.
With the starting three guards of Cash, SK and Parker all but set, he'll fall into the rotation with Justin Jackson and others at the four for now -- depending on what happens with the still vacant final scholarship.
Not saying this will happen at all, only pointing out in his second season with UC before being drafted by the Lakers, Ruben averaged 16.5 points and 6.3 boards. Add even half that to next year's team and the team will be developing scary depth.
--- Eamonn Brennan at ESPN pointed out UC among the preseason Top 25 snubs to look out for.
--- Apparently, Kenny Satterfield left his team in Japan. He was the league's leader in assists, but bolted because he was unhappy with his situation. Here's the piece from the Japan Times.
Maybe he'll join Eric Hicks with the Commandos.
--- Once again, hope to see everybody out at the Bearcat Bowl tomorrow. Remember, activities going on all day up at the Varsity Village, be sure to come check it out.
--- All the Jay-Z fans out there can appreciate this couples jersey combination.
--- Mike Tyson. Not sure what to make of this, only know it's probably marginally entertaining.
--- All my man wanted was his shocks replaced on his car. The dealer wouldn't cooperate. Thus, his bad day reached its tipping point. And we all were given this gem.
--- Happy Friday everybody. Enjoy it and we'll see you tomorrow. In honor of Axl Rose refusing to show up to his band's HOF induction, how about some classic Guns and best opening lick in the history of rock n' roll.
One that interestingly has excelled each spring is former St. Xavier Bomber Danny Milligan. Unfortunately, his spring success hasn't always translated to fall playing time, although he's seen more and more action each year.
"The spring game has been Danny's game," coach Butch Jones admitted. "He's a senior and it's time for him to step up. The big thing with Danny is overall consistency on a day-to-day basis."
While Bill Koch of the Enquirer has already delved into this subject, many have often wondered what it would take for Milligan to experience some level of success at UC after being "Mr. Everything" at St. Xavier.
For the answer and more, here's No. 83:
As we transition from the NCAA basketball tournament, spring football, baseball, golf and other sports take center stage reminding me of my on going commitment to myself to continue lobbying for the most fitting tribute, for the most deserving alumni in the history of UC athletics if not UC period.
His name is instantly recognizable; his nickname is a brand unto itself and he has stayed connected to the University of Cincinnati not just in name but with contributions beyond the money. With the obvious need for a new basketball venue, seeing that Shoemaker Center's time has come and gone, it is only fitting that I once again champion the cause in print for a new facility to be built in his honor. Ladies and gentlemen, Alumni and students I present to you the Big Orena (not arena).
Oscar Robertson is one of the most deserving individuals in the history of college basketball and the University of Cincinnati. When Bob Huggins was removed he stepped in; when recruits come and coaches want to show him as a jewel of the University he complies. When he is on TV, in print or on radio the UC name is mentioned so much that a PR firm could easily calculate the value into the millions of dollars. So that in itself should offset the cry that naming rights take precedent over Oscar. I think he has valuated himself worthy of the ultimate naming rights for this new venue.
I have seen broadcasters run to his seat to say hello and ask for autographs; game officials do the same. I have seen successful businessmen and parents alike seek out his hand or signature. That alone justifies my request as to his name taking its rightful place on a new arena. And while you're at it, name the street Big O Boulevard and the address One Big O Boulevard to cement the deal.
Oscars' name is as legendary as his play. The National Basketball Writers of America have named their player of the year award after him so why can't UC name their venue after him? Even if it calls for another 1-2 years before you start, make the announcement now. Oscar, nor you or I, are getting any younger and to do this after he would be gone would be sad. I would say along the lines of Buck O'Neil's blatant snub by Cooperstown, not admitting him to the hall until it was done posthumously while everyone knew it should have been done while he was around to see it and enjoy it.
The time has come; it has always been here and while I see other universities name courts after coaches, deservedly so while they're alive to see it, I think why can't we? I would love to help and I think the Nike's, Reebok's, Converse, Magic Johnson's and others would agree too. Maybe we just need to ask them for their support.
That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat.
Will be a great chance to catch a glimpse at the progress of the returning players and a first look at the early enrollee freshmen attempting to make an Alex Chisum-like impact next season.
That's 4 p.m. at The Nipp with activities going on all afternoon prior to that.
--- Thinking about the three-headed monster idea at running back made me want take a deeper look at the distribution of carries across college football.
In the NFL, the devaluing of the bell cow running back has been obvious for years, but how important are the contributions of one true back in the college game. The lack of superior talent like that at the NFL's disposal makes many more teams feature one back and one back only on the ground.
For instance, UC didn't have another Isaiah Pead last year, so Pead took the ball 18 times per game.
But how essential is that to winning? Specifically in the pass-happy landscape the game has become, reliance on a single running back has become less and less. Utilizing two or three backs per game can absolutely be a recipe for success.
In fact, it's the norm.
Take a look at the top 10 teams in the country last year in the final AP poll and how many running backs they had with at least six carries per game (none missed significant periods of time to create misleading stats).
And for the reference, UC averaged 18 carries for Pead at running back and the next closest back was George Winn at 3.
1. Alabama: Trent Richardson 22
2. LSU: Spencer Ware 9, Michael Ford 14, Alfred Blue 6.
3. Oklahoma State: Joseph Randle 16, Jeremy Smith 8
4. Oregon: LaMichael James 21, Kenjon Barner 13
5. Arkansas: Dennis Johnson 10, Ronnie Wingo 9, Broderick Green 7
6. USC: Curtis McNeal 12, Mark Tyler 12
7. Stanford: Stephan Taylor 18, Tyler Gafney 6
8. Boise State: Doug Martin 20, DJ Harper 10
9. South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore 23, Brandon Wilds 8
10. Wisconsin: Montee Ball 22, James White 11
--- That's right, of the top 10 teams in the country last year, all but one of them had two backs averaging at least six carries per game. Two of those ten had three backs carrying the load. That includes national semifinalist LSU who blew through the regular season undefeated and really without much of a quarterback to speak of, either.
--- Four of the top 10 teams had two backs lugging double-digit carries every game. Depending on a team's style, there are numerous ways a team can add its way up to 25-30 rushes. And the vast majority of the most successful teams in the country don't do so in the hands of one back.
--- The 2:1 method became the most popular among the group as seven of the 10 broke down the carries about that way and most still handing it to the back at least 15 times per game.
--- In a similar survey of the situation, let's take a look at the top xx teams in rushing average from BCS conferences and see how they distributed the carries:
1. Oregon (6.6 ypc): LaMichael James 21, Kenjon Barner 13
2. Georgia Tech (5.7): Orbry Smith 10, Embry Peeples 10, Roddy Jones 8 (Triple-Option)
3. Alabama (5.5): Trent Richardson 22
4. Wisconsin: (5.4): Montee Ball 22, James White 11
5. Oklahoma State (5.4): Joseph Randle 16, Jeremy Smith 8
6. Missouri (5.4): Henry Josey 15, Kendial Lawrence 12
7. Baylor (5.3): Terrance Ganaway 19
8. Stanford (5.3): Stephan Taylor 18, Tyler Gafney 6
9. Michigan (5.2): Fitzgerald Toussaint 16 (Denard Robinson rushed 17 times per)
10. Texas A&M (5.1): Cyrus Gray 18, Christine Michael 15
--- Not shockingly, many of the teams from this list overlapped with the previous. Even in the video game, spread offense era running the football effectively equals wins.
Yet again, however, only three of the top 10 rushing teams utilized one primary back. One of those was only because Denard Robinson was dreadlocking all over the field 17 times a contest.
Add Missouri and Texas A&M to the teams sporting a two-pronged running attack with the carries spread relatively evenly.
--- Bottom line: What occurred last year with Isaiah Pead taking nearly every snap at running back proves to be much more the exception than the rule for winning college football. The majority of the most efficient, successful running games in the country use at least two backs to drive the offense and in some cases more than that.
What does that mean for next year? Whether it is a two-back combination of Winn, Poteat, RDAIV, the choice of rotating backs can't be blamed for winning or losing games. Perhaps picking two out of three to create the optimal 2:1 ratio will be the toughest decision Butch Jones faces.
--- Dan Hoard wrote about the growth of Camaron Beard -- one of the more interesting storylines of the spring as he attempts to fill in for Derek Wolfe.
He also talks extensively about late-night eats. Beard was setting his alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to eat PB&J sandwiches. If I were told late-night eats needed to be my method to success, everyone would run to buy stock in Waffle House.
There is no better late-night combination of butter, deliciousness and atmosphere than the House. I've said this many times and I'll do so again, if I were on Death Row (not with Snoop, Dre and Suge Knight, with, well, probably soon to be Suge Knight) and given my final meal choice I would ask for a trip to the House at 2 a.m. Nothing like it.
--- Wanted to apologize for not being able to come up with the name of Burnett Woods during the podcast with Whit Babcock. (If you haven't listened yet, seriously, what's going on over there?) It was the area Whit said he's been told UC should build two new arenas when we were discussing some radical suggestions. While Burnett wouldn't be the answer to construction, it does own some potential in the tailgating arena.
Whit mentioned his desire to improve the tailgating experience and while Burnett wasn't specifically talked about, be sure he's taking all ideas into consideration when it comes to that. Be sure, it's a top priority.
--- Andrea Adelson on UC safety Drew Frey. (http://espn.go.com/blog/bigeast/post/_/id/31914/cincinnati-s-drew-frey)
--- How's Munchie progressing as a leader on the field? Here he is mic'd up at a recent practice via CoachButchJonesBlog.com.
--- UC officially announced the signing of JC forward Titus Rubles (ROO-bulls) on Thursday as UC continues to build its reputation as the sponsors of the all-name team.
Here was Mick Cronin's analysis:
"Titus is a versatile wing forward who fits our style of play. He has outstanding athletic ability and brings great physical toughness. He doesn't mind battling bigger players for rebounds. He also has the ability to guard different positions and excels at making his teammates better."
A 6-7 forward owning athleticism with a penchant for shot-blocking and rebounding sounds like a nice fit for the new high-octane offense Cronin talked about. Not having seen him play, it's tough to make an analysis, but when you averaged 14.5 and 9.8 at Blinn CC, you can ball at the DI level.
--- The Chili Peppers talking about their next chapter. As long as it continues to involve tours like the one this summer, I'm on board. Plus, they make for a great triple headline at Lollapalooza in Chicago this year: RHCP, The Black Keys and Florence+The Machine.
--- Did you want to know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs? Did you wonder why they were calling again? Frasier secrets revealed. Sometimes the Internet just goes too far with information.
--- Mentally tortured cat videos with a dark, French peril theme. Surprisingly, I like it.
--- Don't Stop Believin' sung by the movies. Have a good one.
I have something in common with UC sophomore Camaron Beard: Both of us spent our college years chowing down late at night.
In my case, the motivation was a combination of gluttony and procrastination. I would put off my studies and happily trek from Syracuse University's Watson Hall dormitory to the nearby Wimpy Wagon food truck where I would indulge my late-night craving for a "cheese jaw."
(The cheese jaw was basically two extremely greasy cheeseburgers sitting side-by-side on a toasted sub roll. I would give a year's salary for one right now).
In Camaron Beard's case, the late-night feasts are not
delaying his schoolwork and are much healthier than mine were as he tries to
become a dominant defense tackle at the college level.
"I was probably about 235 pounds when I committed to UC in high school, so I've definitely packed on a few pounds - I'm around 275-280 now," Beard told me. "Me and teammate Eric Lefeld would wake up in the middle of the night and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That was our secret. We had to eat regularly to keep our weight up. At times we even set an alarm. I've definitely gone up a couple of sizes in clothes."
The Bearcats are hoping that bigger clothes will help Beard fill gigantic shoes - he and Jordan Stepp are expected to replace tackles Derek Wolfe and John Hughes in UC's starting lineup.
"They are big shoes to fill, but if there's anyone capable of doing it, it's Camaron Beard," said head coach Butch Jones. "I like what I've seen so far."
"What separates John and Derek from Cam is their FBI - their football intelligence," said defensive line coach Steve Stripling. "They kind of knew if it was run or pass before the play and Camaron is getting to that point. I'm going to tell you this - he's a treat to coach because he has a great attitude, never says 'boo,' and is a wonderful kid from a wonderful family."
Derek Wolfe will be especially difficult for Cincinnati to replace. Last year Wolfe was the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East as he led the conference and ranked fifth nationally in tackles for loss (21.5) and tied for 16th in the nation in sacks (9.5).
"Watching Derek was definitely a great learning experience," said Beard. "He really taught me how to play and set the standard for how the position should be played. When you watch him on film, you see how physical he is. I just want my play to replicate that."
"Camaron is a big body and has a great frame," said Coach Stripling. "I think he's going to continue to grow and be a Wolfe-style player. He's been in the program for two years and right now, I'm really excited that he's here. We put kids in high pressure situations today and some guys get the 'big eyes' on their face, but he doesn't. He's maturing and I'm really excited about it."
At 6'5", Beard is just as tall as Wolfe and gives the Bearcats a commanding presence in the middle of the defensive line.
"I originally came here as a defensive end, but I feel like I am a tackle at heart now," said Beard. "I like being in the trenches and I wouldn't have it any other way."
"People don't appreciate the life of a tackle," said Coach Stripling. "You get two 300-pounders banging on you on every play. That can wear you out, and the coaches are still yelling 'run to the ball.' To me, defensive tackles have the tough world in football."
It is a tough job, but at least Beard gets to reward himself with those late night PB & J sandwiches.
"It's helped me play the position better," said Beard. "I couldn't play inside at 250 pounds."
"I'll tell you what, he's one of the most improved players this spring," said Coach Jones. "I love his mentality and his work ethic, and I'm very excited to see where he is come August."
I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I'm on Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.
So many great points and insights coming from the conversation. There's no denying the department is in great hands and that isn't just because he's my boss. You can listen for yourself and make your own judgments.
I'm not sure how many ADs in the country would sit down and do a podcast in that forum and talk as openly about critical issues facing the department.
--- I want to expound on a few topics Babcock talked about during the podcast. First, I think the Nippert renovation ideas are interesting. Much speculation has been made about the difficulty of making expansion happen but he sounds as confident that it will as anybody I've talked to.
One of the questions sent to me from reader Gary Porteus was wanting to know if you stadium could get to 46,000-48,000 capacity to find themselves among the top programs in college football.
Only four teams in BCS conferences have a smaller capacity than The Nipp (35k). Duke (33.9k), SMU (32k), Houston (32k) and Wake Forest (31.5k). Of course, two of those are soon to be in the BCS, joining the Big East in 2013.
The problem with looking at this expansion is fans might become obsessed with pushing that number up as high as it can go. Is this about posting a number so recruits and other programs can see the rank push up on a list of stadium capacity?
If you want 48k, we can slam seats into every nook and cranny as high as allowed by the university and find a way to "increase capacity," but what will that do for the game experience?
Babcock, rightly I believe, contends this should be about creating the most hostile environment to win games, generate revenue and create comfort for the fan base.
"I'd rather make it the hardest place to play in the country that is more comfortable for our fans," Babcock said.
As for a number, he said he hopes the capacity begins with a four, but can't guarantee that right now while still trying to sift through all the possibilities. There needs to be more suites, restrooms, concessions and other amenities and that means transforming the West side of the stadium. A number of plans for doing that are on the table right now, one of which includes lifting the press box and placing seating underneath it.
A big key will be adding some luxury seating that many members are clamoring for and will assist in paying for the expansion.
Take a look at this story from Forbes magazine written in 2007 regarding the most profitable programs in college football. It broaches the topic of luxury suites with this:
"In fact, 16 of the 20 most valuable teams have undergone major stadium expansions and renovations over the past 10 years, and three others have renovation plans in the works. Premium seating has proved to be a valuable revenue stream that was non-existent at the time most aging college stadiums were constructed. Ohio State (Ohio Stadium) and the University of Tennessee (Neyland Stadium), for example, added 81 and 78 suites, respectively, in recent years."
Forbes went on to say premium seating and suites generated $12 million for the University of Texas five years ago.
For reference, Nippert Stadium has two luxury suites. Two.
Revenue. Comfort. Wins.
Those are the three priorities driving a stadium expansion. Not reaching some certain number just to say your stadium holds as many people as the Carrier Dome.
--- So, we know what UC wants out of expansion, but how will it get there? Well, the road to renovation begins with the Big East TV contract. That's not shocking news. It's been what every program in the Big East has pointed to for years.
Babcock said he would be hard-pressed to believe there's another program in the conference, however, who will benefit more from the financial windfall it could create than UC.
How much more money per year are we talking?
Well, UC currently receives about $4 million per season from the TV deal with ESPN. The negotiation period with the WWL will begin in September.
For reference, member schools of the Big Ten and Pac-12 all receive more than $20 million per year with their TV deals with the SEC just shy of that threshold. The ACC schools receive in the area of $15 million from their deal with ESPN.
What would a new TV deal mean for UC? Well, depends on how the negotiation goes. But if conference administrators can pull off a deal in the vicinity of the ACC, that would mean about $10 million more per year for UC. And you are on your way.
To think the TV deal will get the job done on its own would be crazy, but it certainly draws the vision closer to reality. At that point, it would be up to those close to the program to make it actually become one.
--- Bill Koch wrote about the three-headed monster UC might employ next season with George Winn, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Jameel Poteat. Many kind words for the development of top recruit Poteat.
--- Todd McShay broke down the top 100 draft prospects down into tiers and placed Derek Wolfe as a late second round selection and Isaiah Pead as a third-round pick.
--- Coach Butch Jones Blog had this promo for Bearcat Bowl VI. Cool to relive last year's run.
We spoke in his office about the specifics of the possible Nippert renovation, the state of the basketball program and break news on the future of a "Paul Dehner Jr. Bowl."
Here's the breakdown:
Minutes 1-6: We open by discussing how this podcast could be the most important moment of his six-month tenure, some of the radical ideas broached to him by UC fans around town and a possible secret weapon of bringing his dog into the next tough negotiations.
7-14: The two topics every UC fan wants to know about: the schedule and the status of the future plans for Nippert Stadium.
14-17: The timeline on the Big East TV contract and why that will affect UC as much, if not more, than any other school in the conference.
17-22: The delicate balance between size of expansion and revenue generation in the specific plan of a possible Nippert renovation. Liked this line: "Rather make it the hardest place to play in the country that is more comfortable for our fans."
22-25: Mick Cronin, not taking him for granted and an important upcoming round of golf.
25-29: The high expectation bar set in the first season and the relief of surviving his first podcast.
On that note, I am on my way in to talk to Whit for the pod, so this will be an extremely brief Breakfast this morning and you can look for the archived conversation up on the blog this afternoon barring some urgent AD business forcing a postponement.
Let's eat a snack...
--- Dan Hoard spoke with Drew Frey about his experience as he utilizes his sixth year of eligibility thanks to a medical waiver. He's the rock of that young secondary right now and much will be expected of him this season.
--- Bill Koch touched on the most talked-about storyline in spring this year: Munchie Legaux. The torch hasn't officially been passed yet and many compliments are being sent in the direction of Brandon Kay, but Munchie will be receiving every chance to flip last year's success into a solid starting gig in 2012.
--- If you attended either Opening Day or Sunday against Miami, you heard the new victory song the Reds play after every win. It's called "Unstoppable" by local band Foxy Shazam. I'm hooked. It's been stuck in my head for five days. Now it will be stuck in yours. Enjoy.
As a true freshman in 2007, Drew Frey dislocated his shoulder during preseason practice and missed the entire season.
As a redshirt freshman in 2008, Frey broke his right arm in week four and missed the rest of that year.
Since Frey suffered separate season-ending injuries,
the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility which he will use in
2012. That means the 23-year-old from
Wilmington might be the most experienced active player in college football.
"I think this is spring practice number five for me, so I'm probably setting a record," Drew said with a laugh. "Every single guy that I came in with is long gone now and moving on to bigger and better things, but I feel like I'm just as much a part of the team as the young guys. Age-wise I don't feel older, but I don't know how many guys in the country are working on their fifth spring practice."
I expected Frey to be a bit jaded about going through spring practice drills for the fifth time, but instead, he sounds like a freshman who is trying to make his mark.
"This is the strongest that I've ever been, the heaviest that I've even been, and I don't think that I've lost any speed, so I'm really excited," Frey told me. "You're always working to get better, so this is just another opportunity for me to improve. It's awesome to be with the guys and work to get better every day."
Frey has been a starter at safety for the last three seasons (36 career starts) and earned first team All-Big East honors last year. He also earned Academic All-Big East honors after finishing the winter quarter with a 3.667 GPA in Architectural Engineering. Drew excelled on the field, despite having to miss considerable practice time due to his academic load.
"I loved math and science in high school and I wanted to come to Cincinnati because they had a great engineering program," said Frey. "It's pretty demanding, but it's bearable and as long as I have the support of the coaching staff and they're willing to work with me, it all works out."
"He's seen it all," said head coach Butch Jones. "The sacrifices that he's made with his schooling and the internships - lifting weights on his own and doing the little things - it's been great to have him back this spring on a day-to-day basis. He brings so much to the table for us. I think he's a great resource for a lot of our younger players."
Frey's study of architecture has given him a unique appreciation for 89-year-old Nippert Stadium.
"I'm intrigued by how certain things can stand and withstand the elements and last for 50 or 100 years," said Frey. "It's right in the middle of campus and they've built all of these huge buildings around it, but it's still standing right there as the centerpiece. I'd like to be part of the team that puts an addition on it. I think that's something that is in our near future here at UC and that would be awesome."
But first, Drew is getting ready for his sixth and final season. After losing seniors JK Schaffer, Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, and Wesley Richardson from last year's starting defense, Coach Jones is counting on Frey to be one of the Bearcats leaders this fall.
"He has to be," said Jones. "We've challenged him - along with Walter Stewart, Maalik Bomar, Jordan Stepp, and Dan Giordano - all of those individuals need to step up and they have. They've embraced that role and done a great job to date."
"I want to be one of those guys that the team goes to when we're in a sudden change environment or a backs-against-the-wall environment," said Frey. "Especially in the secondary. We need a guy who is going to step up and take charge and I want to do that."
He's certainly had plenty of training.
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What are the issues that most concern you and you'd like to see addressed by Whit and his staff?
What are the biggest problems/greatest assets the athletics department offers you right now?
Since I know all of you have opinions, let's hear them. Send in your thoughts and I'll do my best to relay them to Whit as we discuss in the podcast. Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll even give you a shout out on the pod. Look for this tomorrow afternoon up on the blog barring any breaking business that forces us to postpone.
Look forward to hearing from all of you.
--- Since I think I know my readership pretty well, I wanted to reset a piece I wrote Friday since I assume many of you dipped out of work early on Friday.
I posted this story on UC redshirt sophomore linebacker Solomon Tentman. It was one of those rare pieces that you treat with extra time and care because the player's story is so deserving. Tentman's journey was unbelievable and as I said when linking it on Twitter, anybody who loves to root for the human spirit should be rooting for Tentman this Fall.
I've never played sports beyond being cut from four of them my freshman year at Moeller, so I can't relate to being told you suffered a catastrophic knee injury and you probably won't play again. I can only imagine the concept of fighting a rehabilitation battle that you've been told you'll likely lose.
I certainly can't imagine the feeling realizing after two years of suffering and working you have overcome the odds and become the starting middle linebacker once again playing a full strength a game you devoted your life to.
Unreal perseverance and toughness.
A few tidbits I didn't sneak into the story that I wanted to mention here: Butch Jones went out of his way to acknowledge Tentman not only working as hard as anyone on the field, but being a stellar student in the classroom. Though, considering this guy's work ethic, I don't think that's at all surprising.
Also, loved the concept of the local kid who had a magnificent high school career (in the GCL, mind you) taking over at middle linebacker amid high expectations. Story sound familiar? UC can hope that Tentman (Roger Bacon) follows the path JK Schaffer (LaSalle) paved at the position.
Luckily, Tentman's been learning from JK for two seasons.
"The toughest thing (taking over) would definitely be the play-making ability and leadership and communication," Tentman said. "JK did a great job of that, I learned the past two years from him based off what he did. I'm trying to transfer that on to the field now."
--- Come on out and root for Solomon and the rest of the Bearcats this weekend at Saturday's Bearcat Bowl VI. Here are all the details on the event that features activities for the family going on all afternoon at the Varsity Village.
--- Tommy G spoke with Pat O'Donnell out at spring ball and the man who used to rock one of the great mustaches on the team is now clean shaven, but still rocking high expectations for next year.
As for those expectations, it's not beyond the realm of possibility to think he could be one of the top punters in the country.
Last year he finished 17th nationally in punting. The 43.8 average was only 3.5 yards shy of the national leader (Shawn Powell, FSU).
The odd part about next season is this might be viewed as the year of the punter in college football (no sentence quite excites the public like that one). Of the top 13 punters in the country last year, all but one are returning. Ten of those will be seniors in their final season.
Jumping ahead of that group won't be an easy task, but O'Donnell should set his sights on more locally-driven numbers. Remember, Bengals punter Kevin Huber averaged 45.0 yards per punt his senior year. Replicating those numbers would be fine with everybody on the UC staff and more than a few scouts.
--- Tim Adams on redshirt freshman CB Trenier Orr, who is starting at corner this spring with Deven Drane banged up.
--- Saw Twitter rumors circulating about Sean Kilpatrick "likely leaving" for the NBA Draft. They stemmed from erroneous speculation on NBADraft.net.
He put those to bed with this Tweet: "IM NOT LEAVING BEARCATNATION ANYTIME SOON!"
End of story -- which wasn't really even a story, rather someone posting an opinion on a topic they have zero knowledge about on a random draft blog. Oh, you have to love modern "journalism."
--- While we are talking NBA Draft, Yancy Gates will take part in the Portsmouth Invitational Draft Camp.
Good luck to Yancy there as he tries to increase his draft stock. He'll be playing on the Portsmouth Partnership team alongside JaMychal Green (6-8, 240) of Alabama and Steven Idlet (6-11, 247) of Tulsa. #MansGame
Will be a serious proving ground for Gates.
--- An Easter Bunny was arrested. Wish I could have been there to see it.
--- Planning on attending a game at Camden Yards this summer. I now also plan on eating bacon on a stick.
--- Apparently the reclusive Dave Chappelle was spotted out on the town in Miami. This once again allows me to champion my request for the Chris Rock/Dave Chappelle Comedy Tour to End All Comedy Tours.
--- Congrats to one of the best personalities on tour in Bubba Watson. He's been through a lot to get to this point and became one of the best stories in recent Masters history on Sunday.
You can't help but like a guy who would be a part of this video and simultaneously kill the image of the uptight golfer. Score one for the new school.
Oooh de lalye lalye!
CINCINNATI - In the evolving era of modern sports medicine, treating knee injuries feels as ordinary as taking blood pressure. Players repeatedly tear an anterior cruciate ligament or sprain a medial collateral ligament. They return as if nothing happened.
The rehab and time frames are known quantities. Full recovery is expected. Standard practice.
Then there's what happened to UC linebacker Solomon Tentman.
On a typical day and typical play during his freshman year of training camp the extraordinary occurred.
The Roger Bacon product lay on the ground after planting and twisting. His left knee suffered the equivalent of a bomb going off inside it.
Butch Jones said the knee injury was reported to him as "catastrophic."
Head athletic trainer Bob Mangine observed hundreds upon hundreds of knee injuries during his 35-plus years rehabbing athletes. After looking at Tentman's, he decided to use it in his teaching videos to show students how severe a knee injury can be.
"He tore three ligaments: ACL, LCL, MCL, partial PCL, lost part of his meniscus," Mangine said, rattling off the damage. "He pulled the ligament off the fibula."
Tentman didn't need to hear any of those facts, though. The doctors made the cold reality abundantly clear.
"They said I wasn't supposed to play again," he said.
Tentman was done. Finished. A bright football future fades to black before the first act.
There was only one problem with the devastating diagnosis; Tentman wasn't listening. A young man who so much defined himself by football refused to hear people telling him it would be stripped away.
"I knew I was going to play again," Tentman said. "There was a little worry in the back of my head but I didn't care about what they said because I know I've got the motive and the drive for it."
Twenty months later, Tentman runs on to the field during spring practice having earned the starting middle linebacker spot for the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Numerous adjectives were given to describe the ugly nature of this knee injury, but only one descriptor came to mind for teammate Maalik Bomar to quantify the recovery and resurgence: "It was a miracle."
'ONE OF THE HARDEST TIMES IN MY LIFE'
In the weeks leading up to Tentman's knee injury, the freshman turned heads as much as any of his classmates attempting to make an impression on the new coaching staff. He was the talk of the camp.
The starters were in place with JK Schaffer moving to middle linebacker and Maalik Bomar taking over on the edge, but new linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator John Jancek searched desperately for depth. He found what he was looking for in Tentman.
"He was in the mix for some playing time," Jancek said. "Unfortunately, he got hurt and that kind of put an end to that."
With that end came a new beginning for Tentman. A long, tumultuous trip against the odds buoyed by only a refusal to see his dream die. Staring down the barrel of Day One of the trip didn't follow the path of glorified toughness that would eventually serve as the backbone to his return.
Not at all. Day One presented the daunting task of dealing odds stacked against him.
"It was depressing definitely," Tentman said. "That was probably one of the hardest times in my life. I eventually moved past it."
Tentman credits family, friends and the UC staff for helping turn his attention from reality to rehab.
"That was the only thing I needed at that time because everything else was just distraction," he said.
The most difficult part of a rehab of this severity owning a good chance it never reaches complete conclusion is not the early morning exercises or building muscle around the knee. The most difficult part is fighting the adversity.
"Not very many people are able to come back from that," Jones said. "Not only from the severity of the damage to the knee, but also the mental toughness, the mental conditioning that it takes to rehab yourself back to being football condition."
'NIGHT AND DAY'
Around two months into his rehab, Mangine said optimism replaced pessimism. Tentman's commitment produced progress and they no longer saw his career in jeopardy. By the time the 2011 season began Tentman suited up again.
He grinded through practices and attempted to regain the explosiveness that earned him a spot on The Cincinnati Enquirer's First Team and recognition as the GCL Defensive Player of the Year his senior season.
Players who suffer ACL tears can return to full speed in 9-12 months. Heck, former UC receiver Vidal Hazelton was cleared to play only three months after tearing his ACL in the 2010 season opener. When a knee is obliterated as Tentman's was, expecting to be anywhere near 100 percent in one year could be classified as rabidly optimistic. The fact he even touched the field at all blew away expectations.
Tentman only played in five games, managing three tackles. A limp was noticeable. Playing time wouldn't have been easy to come by stuck behind star JK Schaffer anyway, but the redshirt freshman wasn't capable to contribute.
"Last year I could feel a little frustration with that injury just getting back and getting the mode of things," he said.
The game changed this spring. With Schaffer's departure leaving a gaping hole at the epicenter of the defense, Tentman's mind and body cooperated to seize the opportunity. The limp subsided. The mental concern disappeared. Suddenly, he feels and looks like the Tentman of old.
"This spring is definitely key because I'm for the first time playing ball without worrying about it or anything," he said. "I am just moving full speed."
His ascension comes at the perfect time and as the pleasant surprise of the season for Jancek.
"His overall movement and his transitions, just his speed in general, is so much better this year than it was last year," the defensive coordinator said. "It's like night and day. If I showed you the cut-ups you wouldn't think it's almost the same person.
"The chances of him playing again weren't very good and the doctor's were right up front with that. Solomon has worked tremendously hard, he's got a great will. And he's got himself in position to be the starting linebacker right now."
Greg Blair, Clemente Casseus, Colin Lozier and Kevin Hyland all battle along with Tentman, but he's become the clear starter. His positive impression allowed a luxury and versatility for the defense. Instead of replicating the path Schaffer took and moving returning starter Bomar from the outside to the middle, Tentman's play allows UC to keep Bomar at the natural, familiar position for his senior season.
Bomar knows both and can move over if need be, but Tentman sets a comfortable position for all involved. Jancek, Jones and Tentman all agree he must improve his overall play-making to capitalize on his potential next season, so by no means should he be considered a finished product. The fact he's a product at all makes improving at linebacker look like a walk in the park.
Tentman didn't know devastation like what occurred to his knee was possible prior to the injury. Now, after 20 months of dealing the knowledge it very much is, he serves as the symbol of resiliency and toughness for his teammates.
Doctors told him his dream would likely be ripped away. There's only one thing left to do to prove them wrong: Live it.
"Thursday, Sept. 6, at night, ESPN, play in front of a sold out Nippert," he said, imagining the season opener against Pittsburgh with a wide smiling across his face. "(Football) is my love. This is the only thing I want to do."
Considering all Tentman put himself through, nobody can doubt that.
What I'm getting at is be it Munchie Legaux, Jordan Luallen, Bennie Coney, Patrick Coyne or Brendon Kay, I think the Bearcat offense can move the ball in a number of ways.
However, I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I was intrigued by Brendon Kay. I'm written on this before and it's not a shot at the other quarterbacks, it's just based on observation and some private discussions.
If you look at what most pundits look at as a prototype quarterback, he is it. He's big. He runs. He throws. In various cameos, Kay has usually been able to move the team.
The downside is he's older and he's had some injuries. (Gosh, isn't that most of us?)
In a true Jon Gruden quarterback test, I wouldn't be surprised if he came out on top. Again, Legaux and Luallen are more than capable players, but I think Kay might get the edge if everyone were to start at square one.
Naturally, what I think means little. Coach Jones, Jon Gruden or ESPN Gameday have never dialed my number for my two cents worth.
What intrigues me though is the case of Tony Pike. He was on the team seemingly forever, seemingly an after thought and nearly given the boot. Then, he got a chance and turned out to put up some really impressive numbers for a guy that toted a clipboard longer than most shop foremen.
Is that now not Brendon Kay?
Time will tell, but here's the young man from Marine City, Michigan who could end up around Nippert a little longer than anticipated.
This one was particularly special considering the accomplishments of this group. In case it hasn't been said enough in this space this year: Great season, Cats.
Watch the video.
And let's eat...
--- Yesterday, I placed my vote behind Cashmere Wright for team MVP. Inevitably, the award went to two deserving seniors in Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon. Can't argue with that. As I said in the blog yesterday, so many players played a significant role in the development of this group. You can't criticize what Dion and Yancy did for the season and the program.
One of the biggest reasons I supported Cash for MVP was because of the leadership and character he showed in the face of adversity this season. UC gave him the Character and Leadership award recognizing that.
As expected, JaQuon Parker received the Most Improved Player award and Justin Jackson with his 61 blocks was named Defensive Player of the Year.
--- An interesting piece of information came out yesterday regarding UC DT Derek Wolfe. His Hairness himself, Mel Kiper, placed Wolfe as the 31st overall pick in the first round to the New England Patriots in his latest mock draft.
This might be surprising to some, but Wolfe told me at Pro Day most scouts/coaches he was talking to were saying late first early second would be his time. Kiper's the first official projection I have seen with him this high but shouldn't come as a shock.
Wolfe is a perfect 3-4 defensive end fit for his size and coaches love his attitude and production (as did the UC fan base).
Teams running a 4-3 would be less interested in Wolfe because his body type/skill set don't fit the tackle or end position well. However, there were 13 teams utilizing the 3-4 at the open of the 2012 season.
Here's the list to watch there: Arizona, Baltimore, Dallas, Green Bay, Houston, Kansas City, New England, New York Jets, Pittsbugh, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington.
Let's just say if Wolfe was drafted by The Hoodie, he couldn't ask for a better place. Plus, he could follow in the footsteps of previous productive Bearcats DL Mike Wright (just released).
--- Should Kiper's prediction come to fruition Wolfe would become the first UC first-round pick since Bob Bell in 1971 and just the third all-time (Greg Cook, 1969).
--- More draft news, for the Bearcats/Bengals fans among us you aren't going to like this: Isaiah Pead met with the Steelers yesterday.
If you are Pead fan, this is great news. Running backs thrive in that system and Pittsburgh hopes to go back to a more run-heavy offense. If you are a Cincinnati fan, the last thing you want is that guy tearing you up for the next five-plus years.
Wherever Pead is selected, he will become the first UC running back picked since Reggie Harrison was taken in 1974 by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 9th round. Wow.
Of course, I won't miss an opportunity to post some Pead highlights.
--- As for the man responsible for replenishing those left in Pead's wake -- meet new RBs coach Roy Manning in this interview over at CoachButchJones.com.
--- Teaser: Came across an incredible UC football success story this week involving a key member of the defense. Can't wait to write it and it will be up on the site tomorrow. Trust me, you'll want to read this so be sure to check back and follow me on Twitter (@pauldehnerjr) for when it posts.
--- Andrea Adelson caught up with Munchie Legaux for this Q and A. Nothing groundbreaking, but more reasons to be excited about the future.
--- Hard to believe with UC finishing the basketball season ranked 18th and the football season finishing 25th this was the first time in their history they ended the year ranked in both polls.
This really is a new level of UC Athletics.
--- Nothing random about this today. For those that don't know, I also work in season as a member of the Reds scoreboard crew (no, I cannot divulge the winner of the Reds Race to you in advance of games, that is confidential information), so Opening Day means a little extra for me. Having been removed from the city working at different newspapers for more than half a decade one of my biggest thrills coming back home was being a part of this day. Nobody does it like this city and nobody cares about it more than this city.
That said, enjoy it, because I sure as heck know I will.
Hopefully today's game ends just like last year's.
Hard to imagine the difficulty of compiling a limited number of highlights from the season that was. Intrigued to see what TG came up with.
The most prominent award to come out of the festivities will be the Most Valuable Player award and it's a tougher call than I can remember in recent years. Last season UC took the easy way out and sliced the MVP pie six ways to all the seniors. It made sense for a class at the foundation of rebuilding the program.
This season, though, so many players made meaningful contributions, it's difficult to choose just one.
Here's the candidates and their arguments:
Sean Kilpatrick: The team's leading scorer (14.3 ppg) typically takes this type of an award and nobody can deny that the restructuring of the offense was meant to feature SK's talents. He became the most consistent and lethal offensive threat and the one of the primary guys other team's had to plan specifically to defend.
In Cincinnati's biggest wins of the season, Kilpatrick provided some of its biggest shots. (See: Syracuse, Florida State) He has a chance to compile one of the great four-year careers in UC history and this was the season his true potential came to reality.
Yancy Gates: He deserves the MVP as much as a lifetime achievement award as a season-long honor. The four years he put in at UC in a spotlight under heavy scrutiny became one of the most pressure-packed four-year careers I can remember in UC history.
People expected Gates to be a combination of Danny Fortson/Kenyon Martin/Eric Hicks and do so in a program in rebuilding mode. At the end of the day he was Yancy Gates and became the only player in history to lead the team in rebounding four consecutive seasons and finished the year nearly averaging a double-double (12.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg). And when UC's season ascended from good to great in the final month -- particularly at the Big East tournament -- it was on his shoulders.
JaQuon Parker: By the specific meaning of Most Valuable Player Parker maybe fits this bill more than anyone. Just look at this team pre-brawl to post-brawl and the difference speaks for itself. Without his ability to play inside and out the four-guard attack would be worthless. If it weren't for his knack at grabbing rebounds over 6-foot-11 trees on a regular basis, UC would have been beaten to submission on the boards.
Parker made as much of an improvement as anyone on the team and should receive recognition tonight for doing so. If not for his play, UC does not even make the tournament this season and I firmly believe that.
Versatility, grit, hustle and toughness were all attributes UC lacked early in the year and all attributes Parker brought with him and proved contagious as the year drug on.
--- All these players made great contributions and are all deserving of the MVP title, but for my money, when viewing the big picture of all tangible and intangible elements of the award, there's one player slightly above the rest: Cashmere Wright
Sure, he finished fourth on the team in scoring (10.9 ppg), but Wright fueled the UC attack -- both offensively and defensively. His assist percentage (30.0) to turnover percentage (20.2) was among the best in the country for point guards.
Wright set the single-season steals record in UC history (74). That sentence alone might be deserving of an MVP. This team won game after game by owning turnover margin. That stat funneled directly back to Cash.
Plus, he finished one of the best 3-point shooters (.371) on a team with a stockpile of them.
Maybe Wright's most ringing endorsement, however, would the job he did taking over leadership of the team during the brawl and suspensions. Mick Cronin recognized Cash repeatedly in the days and weeks after the incident for the leadership he displayed in picking up his teammates and asserting himself as the face of the team.
Whether he liked to admit it or not, this was Cash's team and they would go as far as he could take them. He took them to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 12 years. That's why he receives my vote.
Let's face it; the last six years haven't been easy for Mick Cronin.
The program was an absolute mess when he took the job. A huge portion of the fan base was still pining for his former boss. And steady progress didn't satisfy many people who had grown accustomed to Top 25 rankings and annual trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Mick's critics were vocal and often vicious. But if that bothered him, Coach Cronin never let it show.
"People are going to be skeptical - it's only natural," Mick told me. "That's the nature of the beast and if you let that bother you, then they're right. You should have never been appointed the head coach if you're not tough enough to stay focused on what's important.
"I knew everything that was going to happen when I took the job. People in Cincinnati knew me as a young guy from the west side or as an assistant coach. They didn't know me as a head coach. It was interesting when I went to Murray State - I was immediately accepted as a head coach because nearly every young assistant that has gone to Murray State has been wildly successful. So there wasn't a big barrier of people saying, 'Can this guy be a head coach?' Cincinnati had a great coach that had resurrected the program in the modern era who didn't leave on the best of terms. Who was happy about that? I wasn't happy about it in Murray, Kentucky."
When Mick took the job in March of 2006, some of his friends in the coaching profession thought he was nuts to take on the challenge and destined to fail. But Cronin reasoned that getting his dream job was worth the time and effort required to rebuild the program.
"The Cincinnati job was obviously in a bad spot at the time, but what if I would have passed on it?" said Cronin. "What if somebody would have come in and done a good job and rebuilt the program and I would have never had the chance again? In life, you can't always have everything. If you get a chance to get the job that you've coveted your whole life since you realized that you're a midget and your playing days are over - you can't also want it to be in great shape.
"Sometimes you have to take a chance and believe in yourself. It hasn't been easy - I'm not going to lie - but at the same time, I think that sometimes in coaching, to get what you want, you have to be willing to take a chance and find out if you're cut out for it. I don't want to talk about how tough it's been too much because it's also been the opportunity of a lifetime. No matter what happens for me, I'll always get to say that I was the head coach of the Bearcats."
Over the last two seasons, Mick Cronin has led his Alma mater to 52 wins, two NCAA tournament trips, a Sweet 16 appearance, and a runner-up finish in the Big East Tournament. Additionally, he was widely praised for his postgame reaction to the Crosstown Shootout brawl.
If my e-mail inbox is any indication, Mick has turned many of his former critics into supporters who are now thrilled that Cincinnati has a young, successful head coach that wants to stay here.
But Coach Cronin's reaction to acclaim isn't much different from his reaction to blame.
"It's a constant proving ground - it doesn't matter who you are," Mick told me. "You have to focus on doing your job. You have to ignore criticism and deflect praise and just try to get better every day.
"You can't take that stuff personally. You just do your job and in time, everything will work itself out. But you have to get your job done and my job is far from done."
Not as far as it was six years ago.
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How about that class reaction, Part II, from the UK folks who saw the black eye Saturday placed on their reputation.
Regardless, UK was the best team all year and it played out that way during the NCAA Tournament. This was one of the most dominant national champion we've seen in some time.
The 2009 UNC championship team littered with stars Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson was the most recent, the second year of the Florida run featuring Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer also enjoyed an imposing run.
As dominant as they were, both entered the tournament with at least four losses.
UK will finish the season with only two.
The last time a team could make that claim was the 1999 UConn Huskies. In the 13 years since then no team that won the title entered with fewer than four losses.
Pairing the most talented freshmen with a small sample of returning sophomores proved all Calipari needed to take his program over the hump. That was a special run to watch and pretty inevitable at the end of the day. The resounding favorite doesn't always win this thing. In fact, it doesn't the majority of the time. To do so deserves some serious recognition.
Here's to UC and UK getting together in the Big East/SEC Challenge in the near future.
--- Of course, since almost 12 hours have passed since the 2011-12 season ended, it was time to rank the Top 25 for the 2012-13 season. ESPN's did just that. UC was "on the cusp." Surprisingly, Indiana earned the No. 1 spot.
Since everybody knows how much these rankings mean (even the polls coming out weeks before the tournament were a disaster) make sure to take plenty of stock in them.
--- Talked about this when it was first announced, but want to send another special congrats out to our guest of the blog and podcast, Mike DeCourcy, for his official induction into the basketball writers Hall of Fame yesterday.
On top of being an incredible writer and reporter, he always does his best to help out the rest of us, especially here in Clifton. He's as class act as it gets -- even if he supports the RPI.
--- Hey, look who ended up on the YouTube thumbnail of this year's One Shining Moment.
For the record, SK, Dion and Justin Jackson all make an appearance in one of the most underrated cool parts about being in The Dance if you are a college hoops player.
Also, the video concludes with awkward, slow-motion heavy petting of Coach Cal's hair. Probably wouldn't have been first choice, but who am I to criticize the OSM folks?
--- Don't know if you've seen the latest Thank You 30 Promotion from the UC staff, but it's a sweet idea. Essentially season ticket holders that renew their tickets prior to April 20 will be given a chance at winning a special prize package every day. The details are all here.
What they win varies depending on the day. Yesterday's winner received the thermal coat the coaching staff wears.
The first winner received a personal call from Butch Jones where they can ask the coach questions about the upcoming season. I hope the winner Jon Breiner let's coach know due to all the thorough information he receives at this blog, he doesn't have any unanswered questions but would be happy to talk about life with him.
--- Andrea Adelson took a brief glance at UC's football schedule and places them somewhere between 10-2 and 8-4. I'm sure Butch Jones would be fine with that range.
As we've mentioned here before and Andrea nicely brings it back, while nobody likes to see a conference foe in the opener with many changes at the skill positions, facing a Panthers team with a new coach having to make their first trip on the road is probably the best time to see them.
Plus, the projected top teams (for whatever that's worth this time of year) are all coming to Nippert with only the trip to Louisville looming as a tough road test. As crazy as seasons can be I would be hesitant to place a worst case scenario for any team at only 8-4, but she's probably not far off through the initial glance.
--- CoachButchJones.com had Drew Frey mic'd up for Saturday's practice and working on communicating with the young pups. Video sponsored by Gavin Rossdale.
--- It's always Florida with these things.
--- If this Votto deal makes the price of media dining go up at GABP I'm storming into Walt's office! (Disclaimer: Absolutely no way I would ever do this)
--- Placing eight sets of quadruplets in the same park and watching reactions only makes me wish I had access to eight sets of quadruplets every day.
--- Did Tom Cruise show up in the Rock of Ages trailer I saw last night? Yes. Yes, he did.
--- I would love to see the face of a guy interested in buying this used car when he asks how many miles are on it and the sweet, little 93-year-old lady says, "576,000."
--- Did you know Eddie Murphy is 51 today? Well, there's only one option when hearing that news. I'm looking in the background for Charlie Murphy with a backwards UNITY ring imprint on his forehead.
Considering the high profile of the Big East, it's not at the same level of Brad Stevens sticking around at Butler or Shaka Smart turning down offers to leave VCU. In the same light, when schools with money to burn dangle it in front your guy and the conversation lasts five seconds -- as he told Bill -- that's makes for a gratifying offseason.
Cronin allows the rare combination of loyalty to alma mater, youth and success. As Cronin states all the time, he wants to be the Jim Boeheim of Cincinnati. The only way to accomplish such a run would be to own a combination of those three in a major conference.
Only 29 current NCAA basketball coaches are at their alma mater. Here's the list with all numbers according to statsheet.com
Of those 29, only eight lead teams in what I could consider major basketball conferences and half of those are over 49 -- the median age of college coaches:
Mick Cronin - UC - 40
Derek Kellogg - UMass - 38
Roy Williams - UNC - 61
Matt Painter - Purdue - 41
Jim Boeheim - Syracuse - 67
Dave Rice - UNLV - 43
Lorenzo Romar - Washington - 53
Bob Huggins - WVU - 58
(UPDATE: For some reason Statsheet.com didn't list Chris Mack, 42. He's obviously among the top of this list and can be added in with Painter and Cronin)
Of the four young coaches on this list, judging success, only Painter and Cronin hold the combination. Dave Rice, while a nice coach and well on his way, just completed his first year at UNLV (26-9). Sidenote: Cronin and Rice will square off in a Vegas tournament over Thanksgiving.
In four seasons at UMass, Kellogg is under .500.
Painter, however, has reeled off six consecutive 20-win seasons and been to the Sweet 16 twice during his seven-year run with the Boilermakers.
Compare that with Cronin, who rebuilt the Bearcats and now accumulated back-to-back 26-wins seasons and won games in The Dance both years.
Looking at a specific category such as coaches at their alma mater under 50 may be slightly obscure in the eyes of some. Yet, in a sport where the coaches are the stars that sustain the program and finding the perfect combination of security, longevity and talent represents the holy trinity, UC is one of just two in the country to own a stranglehold on the trifecta.
--- Consider this piece by Jeff Goodman from last summer that ranked the top coaches by age group, the under-40 crowd included. He listed his top young coaches as Butler's Brad Stevens, Painter, Marquette's Buzz Williams, Smart and Baylor Scott Drew.
While not much happened to dissuade that top five this year outside of a down year for the Bulldogs -- but Stevens and his back-to-back trips to the championship game aren't going anywhere, ever. Marquette reached the Sweet 16 with the Big East Player of the Year, Shaka served up another first-round upset and nearly moved on to the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed. All Drew did was take Baylor to within a game of the Final Four.
After this season of a double-bye and runner-up in the Big East tournament (one that sent four teams to the Sweet 16 and two to the Elite 8, by the way) and two wins in The Dance and Cronin must be a part of that conversation now, too.
There's little doubt he's among the top young coaches in the game. Take into consideration how short the the list of active coaches under 40 who even own one NCAA tournament win:
Chris Mooney, Richmond
Buzz Williams, Marquette
Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois
Steve Prohm, Murray State
Brad Stevens, Butler
Shaka Smart, VCU
Most of the UC fans who were critical of Cronin through the rebuilding years have either jumped back on the bandwagon or ditched the sport altogether. Anyone left still taking jabs at Mick probably wouldn't be happy even if Coach K and Roy Williams showed up tomorrow deciding to joint-coach the Bearcats.
A deeper look at where other programs succeed and fail is with a great coach/recruiter. Just look at tonight's championship game between John Calipari and Bill Self, two of the great coach/recruiters in the sport.
Clearly, when looking at the results and the state of the program, UC owns as bright a future in that category as any team in the country. And by all indications, it isn't going anywhere.
--- Spring practice continued with a family day for UC faculty and staff to take in practice and interact with the team for a day. Cool way to say thank you to everyone that works behind the scenes. Scott Springer talked to Butch Jones about the event and John Jancek -- father of four with youngest son Brady joining -- spoke with Tommy G.
--- Remember, the Bearcat Bowl will be April 14. That afternoon a youth mini-camp will be held on the field there are UC. Here's all the details on the events surrounding the spring game.
--- The team resumes spring practice Tuesday. I'll be out there and pick up a few stories for this week and any other relevant info that comes to light.
--- Heard it here first: UK 72, Kansas 66.
--- I despise people promoting fake news stories on April Fools Day. Call me a sourpuss, but I think it's bad journalism to ever purposely "report" fake news -- even in a joking form. Plus, how often is that actually funny? Yes, the answer is never.
And the runaway winner in this case was the Penn State student newspaper that prematurely reported Joe Paterno's death apparently thinking it should remind everyone of their massive foul-up and report their editor who allowed the slip was dead. Yikes. Bad call from every angle.
--- Speaking of bad journalism, HBO is premiering a series on the inner-workings of 24-hour news networks.
--- Bigger Neanderthals: UK students or hockey players?
--- In a shocking development, a Mega Millions winner is trying to keep all of the money instead of distributing among the 15 McDonald's co-workers in she was in a pool with. I assume True Hollywood Story is already on the scene shooting footage.
--- I am down with bands that cover Hall & Oates. I'm definitely down with bands that do so while driving their tour bus. Here's The Gramblers:
Granted, Nippert Stadium is in the open and any passerby can catch a glance or pull up some cement, but it used to be just a handful that would watch.
When I stopped by Saturday, March 31 I noticed more folks than usual at practice, particularly considering the weather wasn't conducive to spring spectating (football weather yes--but several degrees below what it's been).
When I reached the sideline, I noticed numerous recruits around, along with coaches wives and their families, player parents and others. For what wasn't a highly publicized scrimmage, it wasn't a bad turnout.
After the final whistle, the various position groups broke into numerous circles around the field and a lot of pictures were being taken. At each position group, introductions of players and families were being done and it struck me as something a little different in what usually is a highly regimented environment.
To get the full skinny, I sought out coach Butch Jones, who posed for pictures with numerous families and hosted the affair.