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The Big East Looks To Change Perception

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"By any objective criteria that you choose, the Big East has been, is today, and will continue to be one of the top conferences in the nation."

Big East senior associate commissioner Nick Carparelli made that remark while addressing reporters at the start of the league's annual media day on Tuesday in Newport, RI.  I've known Nick for nearly 20 years and told him afterward that I thought he did a good job of making the case to the league's critics that the Big East isn't dead yet.

"I hope the tone was a little more positive than that," said Carparelli with a smile.  "Hopefully, that statement is obvious.  I think the intent was to cause everybody to take a deep breath on some issues because there's a lot more work to be done, but on other issues, maybe the perception is not the reality.  It's our job to change that and today was the start."

"The perception has been false out there," said UC head coach Butch Jones.  "All you have to do is look at the facts.  Since the modern day BCS era, we are the all-time winningest conference in terms of bowl records.  We're 7-7 in BCS bowl games.  If you look at the product on the field and our body of work, I think it speaks for itself."

In the last year, Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia have decided to leave the Big East, and TCU reversed plans to join.  That forced the Big East to reinvent itself as a coast-to-coast league with the addition of Temple this year, Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, and SMU in 2013, and Navy (and perhaps another school) in 2015.  That will allow the Big East to split into divisions and begin holding a league championship game next year at the home venue of the highest-ranked division winner.

"We've always been different and we've made it work to this point," said Carparelli.  "Realignment is not new to the Big East and I think you could argue that with every realignment that we've gone through, in some way or another we've been better." 

The Big East's future stability will largely be determined by its next television contract.  On September 1st, the league will enter an exclusive 60-day window to negotiate with current media partner ESPN.  If ESPN and the Big East cannot reach a deal, Comcast/NBC and Fox figure to have interest.

"It's all about inventory and quality of inventory," said Carparelli.  "The fact that we can play games in four time zones at any time of day gives our television partners a lot more options to capitalize on their investment in us."

The total dollar amount of a new TV deal will obviously be important to the league's future, but the Big East is also looking for a partner that will showcase its product.

"Everybody knows the financial challenges that athletic departments have, but at the same time, if this league is going to grow, we need a television partner who is going to embrace us and give us great exposure at the right times and brand us in the right way," said Carparelli.

Another critical issue that has to be resolved is landing a bowl deal for the Big East champion beginning in 2014 when a 4-team national championship playoff begins.  For the next two years the league champ is still guaranteed a spot in a prestigious BCS bowl, but with no deal in place beyond that, the Big East is considering a variety of options including starting a new bowl game for its champion.

"We are barely three months into a process that won't go into effect until two-and-a-half years from now," said Carparelli.  "It is premature to evaluate our position in the 2014 postseason today when major details of the new format have not been decided. 

"Let's see how these things play out and evaluate it when it's done and I'm confident that we're going to be in great shape."

Admittedly, it was Nick Carparelli's job on Tuesday to put a positive spin on the state of the Big East.  It's a job that would get much easier if the wild game of "conference musical chairs" slows down.     

"I think change is constant in intercollegiate athletics, but you go through peaks and valleys and I really get the sense that nationally with the new postseason system taking shape, with most conferences having TV contracts that they're pleased with, I really sense that we're at a point in time where people are going to pause a little bit before they start shaking things up again," said Carparelli. 

"I know that we're not going anywhere.  We lost some schools, but we gained three times as many as we lost and those schools feel pretty good about being here."

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Walter Stewart, Austen Bujnoch and Maalik Bomar arrived in Newport, RI for Big East Media Days yesterday along with Butch Jones.

Monday night was the annual clam bake. This is the best feast in the media days circuit and one that elicits jealousy from nearly every writer not in the building. I'm no exception.

Dan Hoard had the mouth-watering sights and sounds from the schmoozfest.

Keep it locked to GoBearcats.com as Dan will update with videos all day as the business side of the media days takes over today.

Let's eat...

--- The rumor circulating as media days kicks off is the Big East showing interest in creating their own bowl game for the champion to play in every year if they aren't a part of the national title picture.

The argument about not being part of an elite level bowl emerged recently as a doomsday scenario. First, the definition of elite-level bowl game is changing with a postseason landscape that will look dramatically different in the coming years.

If the Big East locked in a bowl for its champion against a top Big 10 or Big 12 opponent with a large payout, the difference between playing a terrible ACC team in Miami or playing a Michigan State or Ohio State type in an unnamed bowl in Jacksonville or Tampa would be nil.

Now, hooking up another conference willing to lock into such a bowl will be the challenge, but if its a real option, I think the Big East positions itself nicely.

--- The media poll was released. Here it is:

1. Louisville (24) 219
2. USF (4) 176
3. Rutgers 155
4. Cincinnati 139
5. Pitt 131
6. UConn 77
7. Syracuse 70
8.Temple 41

The numbers came out pretty similar to my vote, with UC higher up the scale. Here was my ballot:

1. Louisville
2. Cincinnati
3. USF
4. Rutgers
5. UConn
6. Pitt
7. Syracuse
8. Temple

Being much closer to the Bearcats program, I clearly know more about the answers for last year's high-profile departures than the average writer in New England. The only other difference was I believe more in UConn than most -- or perhaps believe less in Pitt than most. My first-year/second-year coach theory would be responsible for that notion.

Again, in regards to these polls, remember UC was picked no higher than third in the three years they won or shared the Big East title. In fact, they were picked fifth in 2008 and 2011. The consistent underestimating is almost comical at this point.

--- Did I mention underestimating? CBSSports.com's Chip Patterson broke out the preseason All-Big East team. Only Pat O'Donnell made the team. Other UC players are mentioned in consideration but none received a nod.

Chip squarely on shoulder.

--- So, pundits like Louisville.
Fair. Athlon, who makes a living boggling preseason predictions, has taken the Cards love to new heights with this one, though.

--- Preseason expectations are fantastic. Promise
at Pitt! Optimism at Rutgers! Temple will be tough!

OK, I couldn't find anybody declaring the last one. 

--- Jason Kelce was one of 16 rookies to start all 16 games last year. Critics are piling praise upon him. Anybody who knows Kelce at all understands he'll brush all that out of his beard along with the occasional bread crumb.

Great piece on Kelce here.

--- Randomness....

--- When a live power line falls
on a tree, keep your distance. (Explosion warning at 1:05)

--- Just when NBC criticism
begins to die down, they do this.

--- Paul McCartney played the Olympics for just $1.57? I'm going to offer him triple that to play my backyard cornhole tournament next year. How can he refuse?

--- How about a little Angels and Airwaves today? Have a great day.
 


Welcome to media-created storyline season. That's right, Big East media days opens today in Rhode Island. Nowadays in this conference that means national media descending upon the conference to question every player and coach about uncertain futures, realignment and take shots at the league's new geography.

So be it, we'll talk about football. You remember football, right? The reason we care about all the issues garnering headlines the last six months?

Dan Hoard will be there from GoBearcats.com, reporting with video and blog format from the sprawling landscape of Rhode Island. Look for that and of course keep it locked here for links to all the content pouring out of the clam bake.

Let's eat...

--- In case you missed it last Friday, I sat down in with Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick for a 40-minute podcast. Those guys were fantastic. Honest, affable, driven, passionate. Really enjoyed it. You can listen here.

What struck me most was no topic elicited more passionate responses than what Mick Cronin means to them. Now, that's typically the case for many teams, but the joy and respect in regards to Cronin knocked me over. These players, the leaders of the team remember, will run through a wall for their coach.

Not all schools can say that. The great programs can.

--- Andrea Adelson took a shot at predicting the Defensive Player of the Year vote. Walter Stewart made the poll along with Khaseem Greene (Rutgers), Aaron Donald (Pitt) and Trevardo Williams (UConn).

Stewart will be at BE Media Days to talk all about his potential, but UC fans are well aware.

The Bearcats DE didn't have the dominant 2011 season of his teammate Derek Wolfe, who was the co-BEDPOY. Yet, that's typically the case of most who have won this award. Five of the last seven have come from the defensive line and of those, sacks and TFL are typically the defining stats.

Take a look at the bump from junior season to senior season among those five defensive linemen when it comes to the previous year:
Year/Player/School            Winning Sack/TFL-Previous Sack/TFL
2011 Derek Wolfe, UC        9.5/21.5 -- 3.0/6.5
2010 Jabaal Sheard, Pitt    9.0/14.5 -- 10.5/5.0
2009 Greg Romeus, PItt     11.5/8.0 -- 7.5/15.5
2009 Mick Williams, Pitt     5.0/17.0 -- 4.5/8.5
2007 George Selive, USF   14.5/31.5 -- 5.5/15   

AVERAGE: 9.9/18.5 -- 6.2/10.1

2012 Walter Stewart, UC    ?????? -- 6.0/11.0

--- Yes, you could make this comparison with any player coming off an above average year. With Stewart, it plays precisely into the trend. All but George Selvie, who broke out for his absurd sophomore season, were juniors or senior coming off above average seasons.

In fact, Wolfe, Sheard and Williams were all seniors. The numbers for Stewart sit close to identical of the previous season average of these DPOY winners. The precedent is set. Butch Jones placed all the confidence that Stewart will take the next step.

Stewart making the leap and giving UC a repeat DPOY would fit the standard bill for the award, we now wait to see if his production matches the trends and words of those who've seen him.

--- Big East reporter for
CBSSports.com, Evan Hilbert, takes a look at Munchie Legaux and the concept of continuing UC's QB legacy. Without Isaiah Pead to take the pressure off, Legaux must become a leader of this team and the key to their identity. As of July 30, we don't know what that identity will be.

--- Congrats goes out to women's lacrosse coach Gina Oliver, who was named to the 2012-14 US National Team. Not often could coaches outplay their players, but Gina would toast the entire UC team -- and that's not indictment on the Bearcats.

--- Randomness...

--- Louie has been renewed by FX for a fourth season. Great news. He continues to pump up episodes that are hit or miss, but the hits are as good as any on TV.

--- Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell got married. No word if it was held at The Maxx.

--- The walrus dances to Michael Jackson almost as well as I do. Almost.

--- Enjoying Phoenix lately and here's the song you probably know by them.



WrightSk1.jpg
Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick represent the two biggest reasons the Bearcats basketball team believes it can surpass last year's postseason success. Kilpatrick, the second-team All-Big East player and Wright, UC's single-season steals record holder (74) sit down in Kilpatrick's Clifton apartment to give a glimpse inside one of the friendships that drive UC basketball.

We hear stories about what you do when your coach and a Hall of Famer are yelling conflicting information during a game, the allure of chicken fingers and fries, influential teammates, breaking uniform news, how these two feel about the concept of being tabbed one of the best backcourts in the country and a two-word phrase given to describe Mick Cronin.

Enjoy.

Listen to internet radio with pauldehnerjr on Blog Talk Radio

Minutes 1- 4: SK gives the background to the LeBron posters on his wall and both tell stories about Oscar Robertson yelling instructions from Row 1 of Fifth Third Arena.

4-6: Cash and SK discuss his high-pitched voice and how he still doesn't know why he was given the name Cashmere.

Cashmere.jpg6-10: SK's questionable diet and the discerning looks he receives from the training staff.

10-14: The first time this top tandem met, developed a playing style and how Cash sold SK on coming to Cincinnati.

14-17: The role and influence Lance Stephenson had and still has on SK.

17-19: The long, wild ride to Cashmere Wright's senior year and how SK would slowly back Cash into submission in a 1-on-1 matchup.

19-23: Best moments of 2011-12. And how SK didn't even realize his greatest moment even happened.

23-25: Best uniform combo, the secret to postseason success plus possible breaking news on the Inside the Bearcats Podcast.

25-28: The best backcourt in the Big East? In college basketball? Discuss.

28-31: Why will next year's team be better than last year's team? Cash gives his reason with one gesture.

31-34: Next year the perfect postseason setup for these two?

34-36: One player in particular opened their eyes during offseason workouts. And he'll be badly needed.

36-39: A glimpse inside why this team loves playing for Mick Cronin.

39-42: Lightning round as SK admits he can watch golf all day and the fashion statement the team plans to employ next season.

Love At First Sight For Bearcat Newcomer Rubles

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Within days after taking his recruiting visit to Cincinnati in early January, junior college standout Titus Rubles changed his Twitter handle to @BearcatBound even though signing day was more than three months away.

"I think I gave away my plans when I did that, but Cincinnati fans loved it," Rubles told me with a laugh.  "After I took my visit, I knew where I was going but I had to work out a few things with my family and look into a couple of other schools as well.  But in my head, I knew where I was going.  Once I visited, I was in love with Cincinnati."

Rubles signs.jpg

The Cincinnati coaching staff was understandably fond of him too.  The 6'7", 220 pound forward averaged 14.5 points and 9.8 rebounds at Blinn College in Brenham, TX last year and was ranked as the #2 junior college prospect in the country by JUCO Junction.

"I give Coach Savino the credit," said UC head coach Mick Cronin.  "We try to really find guys that fit our style and system and have a certain attitude and we felt he was the best junior college player in the country by far.  Darren did a great job of identifying him early before other people figured it out.  That was the key, because late in the year he was dominating junior college basketball but by then, we were way ahead of the game."

Titus is the only recruit that Cincinnati signed this year and will be counted on to contribute right away.  Following the departure of senior Yancy Gates, Rubles figures to join 6'8" Justin Jackson and 6'10" Cheikh Mbodj as the Bearcat big men who see the most playing time.

"I'm looking to contribute in any way possible," said Rubles.  "Whatever I have to do to get on the court, that's what I'll do.  I'm here to rebound, block shots...anything that I can do." 

"When you have a new guy, all you're hoping for is that he helps your team win," said Coach Cronin.  "Titus has great talent and great athleticism - he has a lot to learn on the defensive end, but he's a veteran guy coming out of junior college.  He was on a winning team and had a really good coach in Tra Arnold, so I think he has some advantages because he does have some basketball acumen.

"The key is going to be to get him in shape so that he can play at the speed that games are played at in the Big East.   And then make sure that he's letting the game come to him and get him sound on the defensive end."

Rubles, who goes by the nickname T-Rub, is the youngest of five children and was born and raised in Dallas, TX where he idolized one of Cincinnati's all-time best players.

"I'm a big Kenyon Martin fan," said Rubles.  "He used to be my favorite player and still is one of my favorites, but LeBron James is on top.  I've been #4 since I was a little kid, but (Kenyon's) number is retired here and you've got to respect that.  I'm going to be #2 instead.  That's a family number - one of my older brothers wore that and he really liked it."

Kenyon Martin jersey (220x440).jpg

But seeing Kenyon's retired jersey on the wall of Fifth Third Arena was not what impressed Rubles on his recruiting visit.  It was the atmosphere in the building as he watched the Bearcats beat Notre Dame 71-55.

"What stood out was the crowd," said Rubles.  "When I saw how into the game they were and how many people were there, it was really like a done deal."

"I tell people all the time, when recruits come to a home game and it's a packed house and the crowd is a factor in the game, that's impressive to kids," said Coach Cronin.  "People say, 'Coach we need to recruit this guy or that guy.'  Well, if we sellout Fifth Third Arena every game, recruiting becomes a lot easier." 

Titus Rubles - and his Twitter handle - are proof of that.

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I"m back on the Breakfast after more than a week of opponent analysis. And there was much rejoicing.

Cue O Fortuna....



Thinking that could make the most dramatic at-bat music in history and another in a long line of reasons why I regret not practicing baseball more as a kid.

Let's eat...

--- Chad Brendel at 247 Sports dripping out pieces of his interview with Mick Cronin this week. The first part was released yesterday. Chad caught up with Mick recruiting at the Peach Jam.

Mick spoke about loving working with this group of guys as much as any he's had because of their dedication to being the best team they can. Anybody who knows Mick knows he won't BS us just for the sake of being optimistic. He tells it like it is -- good or bad.

This admittance about chemistry is a great sign. Great guards and great leadership usually make for a great run in March.

Unfortunately, for the cheap folks, CB gets stingy with the second installment and you need to be a VIP member to read it. Good stuff if you are a member. If not, come on, fork over the cash they do good stuff over there.

--- Eamonn Brennan gives a best-case,
worst-case scenario for the 2012-13 basketball Bearcats. Indeed, the search for an inside presence will be the biggest question entering the season.

--- I mentioned running across Jeff Luc a few weeks ago when I sat down with Butch Jones. As I said that day, Luc is a huge dude and looks the part of a the bigtime linebacker that he is.

Dan Hoard wrote this piece about him last week -- the highest rated recruit in UC history. Mark down another case of the family atmosphere Jones created locking in a prospect. We see it happening over and over again. Parents and kids see and hear from players the atmosphere created and fall for it.

And I don't know how he keeps doing this in Florida, but the recruiting pipeline he's cultivated in one of the most difficult places to recruit in the country is astounding.

A total of 17 players on UC's current roster Butch Jones personally recruited out of the state of Florida...to come play in Ohio...in the winter. Remarkable.

How many Florida players are on the roster for Florida guy Urban Meyer at OSU? Seven.

--- Have to give love to this video cranked out by UC media department. Love the More To Come logo with the three BE championship rings. Pretty much a two-minute, 44-second statement about what makes UC football.

Great stuff and worth your time if you need to a rush this morning.



--- The Penn State sanctions handed down yesterday were unprecedented. You don't need me to write about them, you can check ANY SPOTS BLOG ANYWHERE and they have a 1,000-word take.

As for UC possibly plucking players off the roster, which is a question posed to me a few times from readers -- I can't say I know for sure. I can offer an educated guess, though. Knowing what I know about CBJ, he always does his due diligence, especially regarding personnel acquisition. He likely kicked the tires on a few possibilities and asked what his staff knows about the PSU roster.

Will they land a transfer? Hard to say and I'd place the odds at less than favorable, but if there's a player interested in leaving the Nittany Lions, Jones will explore it.

Was that a vague answer? Yes, because nobody really knows what will happen this early in the game. The bottom line is many of the PSU players may stick around through this year, then see a mass exodus next year when more scholarships are available nationally. For now, most teams are close to their max scholarship limit. UC is close, but there is some gray area.

--- Athlon ranks the Big East linebacker groups.
They land UC sixth. Most people see the departure of JK Schaffer and immediately assume a major drop-off, which is an understandable process. Anybody who knows Maalik Bomar, the progress of Nick Temple and heart of Solomon Tentman know the Bearcats probably should be ranked higher.

--- Bill Koch caught up with Zach Collaros as he attempts to carve out a career in Canada. Best of luck to ZC. Hope he can find something to do in his off time even if all the bowling alleys are wrecked, eh.

--- Randomness...

--- If American Idol were the movie Titanic, this would be the point where Jack keeps saying never let go and begins turning blue. Only a matter of time until they float away into the abyss now that Mariah Carey is on board as a judge.

--- AV Club visits filming locations from The Big Lebowski. Bad news: You can't go to the Star Lanes bowling alley anymore. The Dude does not abide.

--- Darth Vader did not use enough of The Force for his ceremonial first pitch.

--- How bad must the opponents be for a slow-pitch softball pitcher to toss a perfect game?

--- Given the return to the Breakfast, figured this would be a fitting closer. Have a great day everybody.

With Camp Higher Ground only two weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we conclude the series with USF and UConn.


Here are all the previous installments:

Pitt and Delaware State
Virginia Tech and Miami
Fordham and Toledo
Louisville and Syracuse
Temple and Rutgers

South Florida Bulls
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Friday, Nov. 23
Time: TBA
TV: ESPN/ESPN2
Offensive Starters: 8/11
Defensive Starters: 8/11
Specialists: 2/2
Last year: USF (5-7, 1-6) saw a season that started so bright spiral into one of the most disappointing in their recent history. The Bulls opened 4-0, including a Week 1 win at Notre Dame. They went on to lose all but one of their final seven games, many in heartbreaking fashion (see Collaros, Zach).
Player to watch: QB B.J. Daniels. Will Daniels ever deliver on his potential? He owns enough talent to provide hope and lofty expectations every season, but this will be his final year to translate those into results. The talent surrounds him, so no excuses exist.
Stat of note: Since joining the Big East, the Bulls have lost at least three conference games every season. They haven't enjoyed a winning conference season since 2007. While many discuss their talented Florida-laden recruiting classes, USF has never asserted itself to the elite of the Big East.
Why they're dangerous: Yes, last year's team underachieved, but will the combination of talent and a chip on the shoulder allow USF to break through with a conference title? They'll be as fast as any team on UC's schedule and Daniels gives defensive coordinators headaches.
Media storyline: Will Skip Holtz be feeling the pressure. His seat is as hot as anybody in the conference, but if another season of high expectations fall short that could mean nervous moments against UC.
Schedule Rank: 5. Different year, same story. As scary a team as there is in the league...on paper.

Connecticut Huskies

Location: East Hartford, Conn.
Date: Dec. 1
Time: TBA
TV: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2
Offensive Starters: 7/11
Defensive Starters: 9/11
Specialists: 1/2
Last year: UConn (5-7, 3-4) showed promise, but couldn't string together back-to-back wins. Defense let the Huskies down. Yet, Lyle McCombs established himself as one of top backs in the conference racking up 1,151 yards at 4.2 per carry. The building blocks were put in place for a bounceback season.
Player to watch: Johnny McEntee. Can he improve enough to take the pressure off the running game? McEntee took over the starter's job to mixed results. UConn was at their best when he wasn't asked to do too much. If he can develop into a consistent passer who isn't a liability when throwing more than 20 times a game, UConn could develop a potent attack.
Stat of note: The Huskies defense allowed an average of 36.8 points per game in their four conference losses. Yikes.
Why they're dangerous: Paul Pasqualoni enters his second year with nobody returning more starters could be a recipe for success. Such has been the trend across college football recently. Plus, a running game that can control the ball could be an even more difficult mathcup on a New England December afternoon.
Media storyline: Will this be the latest December Saturday where UC plays for a conference title? Considering the parity across the conference, it would be a shock if this game didn't hold title implications.
Schedule Rank: 7. UConn has a scary element to them, but the question of how much Pasqualoni can get out of this defense will decide their fate. 

Highly-Touted Luc Joins Bearcat Family

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When linebacker Jeff Luc was still in high school, the parade of coaches that came to visit him in Port St. Lucie, Florida was a "Who's Who" of head coaches and assistants from several of the top college programs in the country.

Jeff Luc (248x440).jpg

"Pete Carroll and Ken Norton (USC)," recalled Luc.  "Jimbo Fisher and James Coley (Florida State).  Bobby Williams from Alabama.  Lane Kiffin from Tennessee.  Coaches from the University of Miami.  My parents had to change our home phone number because schools used to call like crazy. 

"I still have the mail in my old room.  If I had to estimate, I would probably say well over 1,000 pieces of mail and that's no lie.  I guess it will be something to show my kids someday.  It was a lot of pressure, but there are pros and cons to everything.  I enjoyed the experience and I think it was a blessing from God that I got to have that opportunity."

Luc, a First Team USA Today All-American who was rated as the top middle linebacker recruit in the country by Rivals, eventually signed with Florida State.  But after battling injuries and seeing limited playing time in two years with the Seminoles, Luc decided to transfer.

"When I first got my release, I didn't really want to talk to any reporters because no matter what I said about the situation, somebody would have taken it the wrong way," Luc told me.  "I guess I didn't fit their scheme or wasn't what they were looking for, but it wasn't anything personal.  I can still call the coach and see how they're doing.  I was a good kid and that's why they didn't take it personally.  It was strictly business."

Fortunately for Cincinnati, another coach that had visited Jeff at Treasure Coast H.S. was John Jancek when he was the linebackers coach at Georgia.  John is now the co-defensive coordinator under Butch Jones at UC, giving the Bearcats a foot in the door when Luc elected to transfer.

"Coach Jancek has been recruiting me since high school and he's a good guy," said Luc.  "I'd love to play for him.  That was a huge part of it."

The Jancek connection helped, and Luc says that the program's "family atmosphere" convinced him to make Cincinnati his new home.

"I saw what kind of guys Coach Jones and Coach Jancek were," said Luc.  "When they were recruiting me, they talked about how it's a family - everybody talks about that but Cincinnati really showed it.  It feels like home.  Everybody has taken care of me and they're helping me out with everything that I need.  Basically, they've welcomed me into the family."

"When he decided to transfer, the recruiting process started all over again and we were competing against high-profile institutions," said head coach Butch Jones.  "At the end of the day, what it proves is that we're recruiting on a national stage and people want to come here.  They want to be a part of our football family.  They can feel the excitement, they can see the vision, and I really believe that we have a tremendous product to sell."

Luc is 6'1", 245 pounds and says he's been timed at 4.6 in the 40 yard dash.  Jeff has already enrolled at Cincinnati and is taking part in summer workouts.  He'll redshirt this season and then have two years of eligibility remaining. 

"To tell you the truth, I wanted to redshirt," said Luc.  "I think it's going to make me a lot better by helping me pick up the scheme.  I think it's going to make me a better person as well by being patient and knowing that everything happens for a reason."

"He'll have a full year without any pressure to come in and play right away and that will allow him to fully develop," said Coach Jones.  "We lose some linebackers after this year, so to have an individual who has experience, who has been in a big-time program, and who understands everything that goes into playing at a high-profile institution - I'm encouraged that we're going to have him the following year."


Luc will become one of the most highly-touted recruits to ever play for Cincinnati, but does he expect to be the starting middle linebacker in 2013?

"I'm not going to say that I see myself as the starting middle linebacker - that's really up to the coaches," said Luc.  "I see myself as someone who is going to help this program and give them what they're looking for in me."

"We're really excited about this young man," said Coach Jones.  "I think he has a hunger to prove himself and is very, very driven.  Even though he can't play this year, he'll be on the scout teams and will work on his craft each and every day."

"I want to help motivate the team and be some type of leader," Luc told me.  "I came out of high school with that 'big time' label, but I just want to win to tell you the truth.  I want to help out as much as I can."

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The six-year extension of women's basketball coach Jamelle Elliott rewards more than winning games, rather rebuilding a culture of winning basketball. 

CINCINNATI - When Jamelle Elliott was named the University of Cincinnati women's basketball coach three years ago, she viewed the Bearcats as a destination job. She immediately laid roots and bought a house.

Others across college basketball may have viewed UC as a destination job at that time as well, if that destination were Alcatraz. In the three years prior to Elliott's arrival in 2009, Cincinnati went 12-36 in Big East play.

Jamelle.jpg

After three years spent escaping Big East irrelevancy, Elliott emerged Thursday with a six-year contract extension securing her to the Fifth Third Arena bench through 2018. The destination job in her eyes is now beginning to be viewed similarly across the country.

The Bearcats won a postseason game for the first time in a decade last year with a 68-63 win against Duquense in the WNIT and marked the first time the program qualified for a postseason tournament since 2006. Suddenly, a program running on empty three years ago merged into the fast lane of the up-and-comers.

"I am going to be honest with you, I didn't see us going to the postseason in my mind in my plan until after Year 4," Elliott said. "I knew it was a program that was going to take a while to get to where not only the administration but where I wanted it to be. Every day, every week, every month we were just going to focus on building a solid foundation so the things we were going to improve would be visible."

They were clear to AD Whit Babcock. Though, not necessarily for the reasons most would think. Sure, the landmarks of the first .500 or better season since 2007 and winning six of seven Big East games raised the idea of rewarding his women's basketball coach. For Babcock, he knew midway through the conference season that extending Elliott was near the top of the first-year AD's agenda.

He saw the response of her players. He witnessed the demeanor and attitude of everyone associated with the team. He viewed a program making the university proud on and off the floor.

All that started with Elliott.

"I really love what Jamelle has done here," Babcock said. "I really like how she builds our young women into great young women not just great basketball players. She's the total package. She fits the brand of UC to a T. I couldn't be happier about this announcement."

Babcock mentioned Elliott's pedigree as a winner with her time as an assistant under Geno Auriemma at Connecticut. With each of her three years that detail faded further down her resume. Being a part of seven national titles will never become a footnote, but she hopes it can be overshadowed before this latest extension concludes.

Everyone remembers the Huskies run of success, but Elliott recalls the program working its way to the elite when she first arrived as a player in Storrs in 1993.

"I was also there at the beginning when the football players used to walk through our games to go to study hall," she said.

What happened next is unprecedented in women's college basketball, but Elliott does see the parallels in the state of the UC program now compared to what she witnessed as an 18-year-old.

"I think the parallel is, and with anybody whose building a program, you have to start at the bottom and the foundation is the most important part of building anything," she said. "You have to make sure you change the culture, bring in players who work extremely hard, who are good students, team oriented."

Such has been the accomplishment of three years Elliott says she's "happy she's on the other side of." Building a foundation and changing the culture became a two-year long ripping off of the Band-Aid. A strong foundation and culture of winning expectations now filter from top to bottom.

The extension allows the next step of the plan to flourish. In recruiting, Elliott can sell herself as the face who will guide the student-athletes throughout their college experience. To parents, that fact allows them to sleep at night much more than winning seasons or postseason victories.

"If you did decide to come to the University of Cincinnati my contract is put in place so I will be here through the duration of your time here," Elliott said. "Kids want to hear that, parents want to hear that because they know the trend of turnover in women's college basketball has been really high the last two or three years."

It won't be at UC. Though zero guarantees exist in college athletics, Elliott and Babcock signed off on the closest thing to it this week. That means job security and focus on ascending to the next level for the women's basketball program.

What does the next level mean for the near future? Elliott's not exactly sure, but she's thrilled at the pieces surrounding her attempting to find out.

"We just want to continue to improve," she said. "Our players are hungry, they want to see improvement. On the flip side because we've had that success I don't know if we are going to be as under the radar as we have been in the past. People are going to look at Cincinnati now and know that we had success. They won't look at Cincinnati as a win-game no matter what."

Indeed, thanks to Elliott, nobody views Cincinnati basketball in the same light.

With Camp Higher Ground only three weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching on the horizon, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we take a look at conference newcomer Temple and the high expectations at Rutgers.


Temple Owls
Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Date: Nov. 10
Time: TBA
TV: TBA
Offensive Starters: 2/11
Defensive Starters: 5/11
Specialists: 2/2
Last year: Temple (9-4, 5-3) finished their final year in the MAC outside of the conference championship picture but did fare well enough to earn a win in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Though, the highlight of Temple's season came in the non-conference. They nearly upended Penn State in Philly and took Maryland behind the woodshed in a 38-7 victory.
Player to watch: Chris Coyer. The Owls quarterback showed well over the final month of the season with nine TDs and no picks. He's a dual-threat QB who does a bit of everything, but must do all of it better to make up for losing four of five offensive linemen. He could spend much of the season running for his life in the backfield.
Stat of note: How will Temple fare in the Big East? They are 2-6 against BCS schools over the last four years. Of course, that includes an 0-4 against rival Penn State. In the other games they own wins against Maryland and UConn. The losses were an OT loss to the Huskies and 2010 bowl game defeat versus UCLA.
Why they're dangerous: RB Matt Brown, while a diminutive 5-5, 165 pounds, can be a gamebreaker. He's rushed for more than 2,200 yards in his career with 18 touchdowns. If Temple's O-line can come together, the Owls offense will be enough to score wins with their solid defense.  
Media storyline: The first run through the Big East figures to be a struggle for the Owls and UC's first trip to Philadelphia will leave them as heavy favorites to leave with a win as the broadcast crew is to crush cheesesteaks.
Schedule Rank: 8. Temple's offensive line and depth issues could catch up with them as conference play unfurls. By the time UC shows up in November, that depth is likely to be exposed.  

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Nov. 17
Time: Noon
TV: Big East Network
Offensive Starters: 6/11
Defensive Starters: 8/11
Specialists: 1/2
Last year: Rutgers (9-4, 4-3) defense made them one of the most underrated teams not just in the conference, but in the country. They finished eighth nationally in points against (18.7). In six of their seven Big East games, the Knights held the opponents at 17 points or less. Unfortunately, a young offense couldn't always capitalize. They did finish with a 27-13 win in the Pinstripe Bowl against Iowa State.
Player to watch: Khaseem Greene. The team's leading tackler (127) and BE co-defensive player of the year with Derek Wolfe returns to head the defensive unit that figures to be the most feared in the conference. He could have turned pro but decided to return to Rutgers coming off a broken leg (but he's expected to fully take part in preseason drills).
Stat of note: Six of Rutgers 11 projected defenders are senior returning starters.   
Why they're dangerous: This year, they may have the offense to pair with the intimidating defense. New coach Kyle Flood is an offensive line coach and brings in a new offensive coordinator to match six returning starters. Chas Dodd and Ivan Nova, last year's QB lazy susan, both return for a second go-round. Jawan Jamison, who Bearcats fans remember ran for 200 yards in Rutgers 20-3 win, will also return.
Media storyline: Is new coach Kyle Flood able to live up to the lofty expectations for the team? This figures to be a game with significant Big East implications at The Nipp if all falls to plan for these two programs.
Schedule Rank: 4. Barring a coaching collapse in Flood's first run, the Knights will be in the upper half of the final standings.
With Camp Higher Ground only three weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching on the horizon, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we look at one of the most critical road games as Louisville and Syracuse are on the docket.


Louisville Cardinals
Location: Papa Johns Stadium
Date: Friday, October 26
Time: 8 p.m.
TV: ESPN/ESPN2
Offensive Starters: 7/11
Defensive Starters: 7/11
Specialists: 0/2
Last year: Louisville (7-6, 5-2) opened the year in trainwreck fashion before letting go of their offensive coordinator and promoting freshmen Teddy Bridgewater to starting quarterback. Those two moves changed the course of the year. Following a 27-16 loss to UC at Paul Brown Stadium in the Isaiah Pead pink-sock ankle-breaker game the Cards won five of their final six games en route to a share of the Big East title. They would eventually fall to NC State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, but the strides made created a buzz for 2012.
Player to watch: Bridgewater. Some place him as a frontrunner for Big East player of the year after his breakout freshman campaign. The numbers don't lie, not only did he lead Louisville to wins but he was the primary reason for them. In victories against South Florida and West Virginia he won duels with two of the league's top quarterbacks combining to go 40 of 55 for 487 yards with four TDs and one pick. That's a freshman in the team's biggest games completing 73 percent of his passes. If his game takes another developmental step he'll be the top QB in a league filled with returning signal-callers.
Stat of note: Not only was Bridgewater a freshman QB, but three of his four leading receivers last year were also freshman (Michaelee Harris, Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker). Two of the five starting offensive linemen protecting him? Freshmen.
Why they're dangerous: A team returning a group of freshmen and sophomores that overachieved last season could easily become the beast of the Big East if they continue to progress. In a quarterback sport, they also boast one of the top prospects in the league.  
Media storyline: The school that has won three of the last four BE titles against the one favored to take this one on ESPN. Has all the feel of a swing game to decide the Big East season right out of the conference gate for UC.
Schedule Rank: 3. Placed Pitt above Louisville because of the atmosphere, stage, timing, setting tone, but traveling to the Cards will be the most challenging conference task. 

Syracuse Orange
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Nov. 3
Time: TBA
TV: TBA
Offensive Starters: 6/11
Defensive Starters: 6/11
Specialists: 2/2
Last year: The Orange were the anti-Louisville. They opened up 5-2 with a slew of bizarre victories, three in overtime. The second half of the season, however, the wheels came off. The Orange lost the final five games of the season, including a 30-13 victory by the Bearcats in the Carrier Dome.
Player to watch: Alec Lemon. He set a Syracuse record with 68 receptions last year and will be counted on to resuscitate the Orange offense this season. He was second team All-Big East last year.
Stat of note: Syracuse's offense was almost as ugly as their winters. They finished 90th in the country in total offense.  
Why they're dangerous: Anytime you return a senior quarterback and one of the most productive wideouts in school history, the potential exists to win games. Unfortunately, one of the two is the enigmatic Ryan Nassib. The senior QB showed he can be a productive QB (22 TDs, 9 INTs last year) but the Cuse need more from him if they are to make a push at the BE title.
Media storyline: What is it about Syracuse that always brings out the backup QB in the Bearcats? Chazz Anderson started in 2010 and Muchie Legaux filled in for Zach Collaros last year. Will it be three years in a row?
Schedule Rank: 6. By preseason models Syracuse doesn't appear to have the firepower to push for the Big East championship and having the Cuse at Nippert makes this one of the more winnable conference games of the year. 
With Camp Higher Ground only three weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching on the horizon, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we roll into the middle of the season with Fordham and Toledo.


Fordham Rams (FCS)
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Oct. 13
Time: TBA
TV: TBA
Last year: The Rams went 1-10. Only one of the losses was within 15 points. I could expound, but considering those stats it seems unnecessary.
Player to watch: Punter Patrick Murray. Not the best news when your punter is your top player, but that's not an indictment on Murray. He averaged 44.1 yards per boot last year and was named second team FCS All-American this preseason.
Stat of note: Fordham has not played a team from a current BCS conference since 1969 against LSU. For the record, they tied, 7-7.
Why they're dangerous: They will be hungry. Going 43 years without playing a BCS opponent does that. This will be the biggest stage they play on all season. 
Media storyline: More time to analyze the depth of the squad.
Schedule Rank: 12. Sorry, Rams. It's true.

Toledo Rockets
Location: Toledo
Date: Oct. 20
Time: TBA
TV: ESPNU/ESPN3
Offensive Starters: 4/11
Defensive Starters: 4/11
Specialists: 1/2
Last year: Toledo (9-4, 7-1) broke onto the national scene out of the MAC after nearly toppling Ohio State in The Horseshoe. Toss in a competitive game against Boise State that spiraled out of control late and a win against Air Force in the Military Bowl and the Rockets were BCS caliber. How would they have done in the Big East? Well, they were hosed out of a win on an extra-point replay debacle at Syracuse and trounced Temple by 23.
Player to watch: QB Terrance Owens. The Rockets QB received a surprising call June 6: He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 40th round. He hadn't played baseball since his freshman year of high school. That's how much people believe in his athletic ability. Stopping Owens will be the key for the Bearcats to enjoy their bus ride down I-75.
Stat of note: Nobody in the country boasts fewer returning starters/specialists than the Rockets (9/24). 
Why they're dangerous: Owens is back from last year's ninth-ranked offense along with Lombardi Watch List lineman Zac Kerin. This team should still be able to rack up the points. Playing in Toledo, this will be far from a pushover. If only Eric Page didn't decide to bolt for the NFL early without being drafted the Rockets would have caused a serious concern for the UC DBs.
Media storyline: One final tune-up before the bulk of the Big East schedule arrives. Is this team ready?
Schedule Rank: 10. If Page returned Toledo would be higher on the list, but without him they lack the dangerous outside threat for Owens to match up with.
With Camp Higher Ground only three weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching on the horizon, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we roll into the thick of the non-conference slate with Virginia Tech and Miami.


Virginia Tech Hokies
Location: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
Date: Sept. 29
Time: TBA
TV: TBA
Returning Offense: 3/11
Returning Defense: 9/11
Returning Specialists: 1/2
Last year: The Hokies enjoyed a very Hokie-like season. They finished 11-3 and played in the Sugar Bowl, but on the outside looking in to the national championship picture due to two losses to eventual ACC champ Clemson. Va. Tech still went to the Sugar Bowl, though, where they lost to Michigan. Their defense finished the year seventh nationally in points against.
Player to watch: QB Logan Thomas. The Hokies defense figures to be nearly impenetrable -- too much talent. The question will be the development of junior QB Logan Thomas. Take a look at his stats in wins vs. losses last season. In the losses he completed 56 percent of his passes for 6.2 yards/att with one touchdown to four picks. In the team's 11 wins, he racked up a 61 percent completion percentage, 8.2 yards/att and 18 TDs to 6 INTs. UC's ability to contain the Hokies QB will go a long way to deciding the outcome in Landover.
Stat of note: Virginia Tech's running game fueled their 11-win season last year, but four of the the starting five lineman plus first-round pick RB David Wilson. The Giants selection ran for 1,627 yards for 6.1 yards per carry last season.
Why they're dangerous: That defense that finished last season seventh in the nation in points allowed (17.6), yeah, they are returning their entire front seven. They are the reason this team will be favored to notch a 14th 10-win season in the last 18 years. If they find the reinforcements for the running game, the Hokies will have the ability to make a national title run out of the ACC.
Media storyline: The non-conference headliner of the Bearcats season this will be a monster crowd at FedEx Field. This beats heading into Lane Stadium, but will be a rowdy Hokie road environment for the Cats. No bigger opportunity to turn heads exists for the Bearcats.
Schedule Rank: 1. The Hokies are the best team on the schedule and it isn't close.

Miami (Ohio)
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Oct. 6
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: FoxSports Ohio
Last year: The RedHawks (4-8, 3-3) endured a shutout at the hands of the Bearcats early last season (27-0), but the young team began to find its footing as the year progressed. Following the loss, Miami won four of five. It closed the season with three consecutive losses, but each came by one possession.
Stat of note: Miami last beat UC in 2005.
Why they're dangerous: Only seven teams in college football return more starters than the RedHawks. Considering the uptick they experienced last year, they should be a team on the rise this year. Coming into Nippert and winning will be a chore, but they own a far better shot of winning than last year's squad which held close for a majority of the game in Oxford.
Media storyline: Time to rerack Brian Kelly's comments about whether or not UC should be playing this series. To clarify, the series is going nowhere, but us media types sure like bringing it up as the streak of UC wins approaches seven in a row.
Schedule Rank: 9. I place them above all the other non-VT, out-of-conference opponents, but Miami understandably lacks the Big East talent. 
With Camp Higher Ground only three weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching on the horizon, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we open with the first two games of the season at home against Pitt and Delaware State.


Pittsburgh Panthers
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Sept. 6
Time: 8 p.m.
TV: ESPN
Returning Offense: 8/11
Returning Defense: 5/11
Returning Specialists: 2/2
Last year: Oh, the Todd Graham era. What a legendary time for Pittsburgh football. It takes quite an effort to make Dave Wannstedt look capable. Graham bolted for Arizona State after one season with all the grace of a Tino Sunseri deep ball (Hint: Not a significant amount of grace there). Pitt finished 6-7 in Graham's only season including a 26-23 loss to UC in the Tony Miliano game. 
Player to watch: RB Ray Graham returns after tearing his ACL midseason. Assuming he's full strength after the injury, he'll be the top projected RB in the conference. He has Pitt NFL back (Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis) written all over him. Running in the offense of former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst only further places the onus on Graham's return. The Panthers are confident enough in his recovery to bring him to Big East Media Days at that end of the month, so all signs point to Graham driving the success of Pitt in 2012.
Stat of note: Five coaches in 18 months. The Kardashians think Pitt football needs stability.
Why they're dangerous: Talent rarely lacks at Pittsburgh and that will be the case again this year. Say what you will about Sunseri, he's a veteran QB with a talented running back to boost him. Of their 10 returning offensive lineman, the Panthers average 6-5, 318 pounds. Inexperienced? Yes. But they will attempt to steamroll opponents all season.
Media storyline: Pitt will open the season the week prior with a tuneup against Youngstown State whereas this will be the first game for UC. Few bigger measuring sticks for a season where the two teams combine for 21 new starters than national TV rivalry game on ESPN Thursday night. Welcome to 2012.
Schedule Rank: 2. Pitt won't be the best team UC plays this year (Virginia Tech), but considering the stage and timing, they represent the most anticipated. If you are fan of UC football and The Nipp, a must-have ticket.

Delaware State Hornets (FCS)
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Sept. 15
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: ESPN3
Last year: There wasn't much for the Hornets to remember in 2011. They finished 3-8 overall and didn't win one game in the MEAC. Five of their losses came by at least 17 points. That includes a 69-0 drubbing endured at South Carolina State.  
Player to watch: KR/All-purpose Travis Tarpley, Sr., led the conference in all-purpose yards per game last season. Granted, returning 6-10 kickoffs per game didn't hurt, but he also set a school record for receptions (66). Not bad for the school where former 49ers star John Taylor played.
Stat of note: The Hornets haven't had a winning season since 2007.
Why they're dangerous: In a week coming off the high of the Pittsburgh game, finding the focus to face an FCS opponent could catch the Bearcats overlooking an opponent.
Media storyline: A quick start and chance to test much-needed depth early in the season will be paramount for the Cats.
Schedule Rank: 11. The Hornets look to be better than last season and they won't be the worst team UC plays this year.

The Watch List for the 2012 Ray Guy Award given to the top punter in the country was released on Wednesday. It was the first of the annual award lists to feature a UC player, P Pat O'Donnell. He finished as a semifinalist for the award last year.

POD.jpgPOD, who could bench press half this list at once, bombed punts that changed games last year. His 76-yard rocket against N.C. State flipped field position that the Wolfpack could never dig out of in the Bearcats blowout win.

At the end of the year, O'Donnell's average of 43.8 yards per punt (min 45) left him 17th nationally. In front of him were four seniors. That leaves 13 with a higher average than O'Donnell entering this season.

Yet, the Ray Guy award doesn't look for bombing punts, necessarily. Their three criteria for judging are net yards, punts returned and punts inside the 20. Remember, the goal is not to outkick the coverage. The perfect punt would be a kick that flies plus-50 and lands just out of bounds before a returner can grab it.

O'Donnell finished with a net punting average of 43.8 yards per kick, including 26 kicks dropped inside the 20 and a league-high 17 boots of 50 yards or more. His net punting average was 38.8.

Let's look at where POD currently stacks up with the Ray Guy Award List. I've included last year's semifinalists that are back on the watch list this year. This will show what areas he would be considered a front-runner and what areas he's looking to improve.

(Stats compiled from school archives/ESPN.com/NCAA.org; W=2011 winner)

Player, School, Year                    Pts Gross Net I20% Return%  50+
Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati, Jr.       63  43.8  38.8   41%    42%     27%  
Steven Clark, Auburn, Jr.             72  40.8  38.7   46%    32%     18%
Brian Schmiedebusch, BG, Jr.    57  45.3  43.3   32%    35%     33%
Richie Leone, Houston, Jr.           51  41.1  36.2   24%    46%     23% 
Bobby Cowan, Idaho, Sr.             88  46.4  43.2   19%    19%    36%
W-Ryan Allen, La. Tech, Sr.         86 45.4   42.3   45%    33%    34%
Brad Wing, LSU, So.                    59 44.4   38.1   46%    59%    34%
Jackson Rice, Oregon, Sr.           48  45.9  38.6    35%    69%    35%
Ian Campbell, UTEP, Sr.              48  46.1   41.5   33%    52%    37%

POD Ranks: 7th Gross, 5th net, 4th I20%, 4th Return%, 6th 50+%

--- What these numbers display in relation to O'Donnell's case is that he's in the running to be a finalist if his numbers play out along the same path as last season. With the judges looking at net punting, percentage inside the 20 and return percentage, he ranks in the top five of the returning semifinalists in all three of those categories.

--- A common trend among those on this list are many have one major strength -- usually distance -- but struggle in outkicking coverage which is likely from a lack of hang time. Others are accuracy specialists without much length. O'Donnell appears to have the rare blend of both sides combining an ability to bomb it and keep the returns to a minimum.

--- While his return percentage is at the top among those who crush the ball, if he could bring it down below 40 percent into the mid 30s, he'd be a shoo-in as a finalist considering his distance. More than anything, improving the consistency of his kicks should be enough to return him to the elite punting category he ascended to last season.

--- Anybody have answers as to why Ryan Allen beat Bobby Cowan for this award last year? Is there an Idaho Vandal vendetta in the Ray Guy Award offices!?

--- Moral of the punting statistical minutia
story is that Pat O'Donnell not only belongs in the conversation with the elite punters, his numbers imply with a spike in one area he could be in the conversation as a finalist and to even win the award in a year where nine of the semifinalists from last year are returning. Likely one of the strongest fields in recent history for the position.

--- For the record, here are the others on the Watch List:
Dylan Breeding, Arkansas, Jr.
Riley Stephenson, BYU, Sr.
Darragh O'Neill, Colorado, Sr.
Pete Kontodiakos, Colorado State, Sr.
Kirby Van Der Kamp, Iowa State, So.
Ron Doherty, Kansas, Jr.
Dalton Botts, Miami, So.
Brett Maher, Nebraska, Sr.
Will Atterberry, North Texas, Sr.
Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State, Sr.
Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss, Jr.
Harrison Waid, San Jose State, So.
Jeff Locke, UCLA, Sr.
Sean Sellwood, Utah, Sr.
Tyler Bennett, Utah State, Sr.

Nothing major running through the blog today, but did want to push out some news nuggets for those of you thirsting for a UC fix.

First of all, Butch Jones spent the 8 p.m. on 700WLW last night with Lance McAlister. It was a similar rundown of questions I posed in the two-part interview with coach a few weeks back. Lance tossed a few new concepts in there, including Jones rightfully not caring what other schools are doing (ie OSU at PBS).

Here's the link to the podcast.

--- Bearcat Nation dove deep into the x and o abyss in analyzing UC's defensive strength with the emergence of the nickel back. We talked a lot about this concept last year when discussing what the Bearcats would do at the third LB position alongside JK Schaffer and Maalik Bomar. The bottom line was using a fifth corner was the proper formation a majority of the time, so any perceived lack of depth at OLB was offset by the depth at corner.

That's a generalization of the specifics in this piece, so recommend a read if you are into those types of analysis.

--- Andrea Adelson released a list of players expected to make the trip to Big East media days at the end of this month. UC will be sending Maalik Bomar, Walt Stewart and Pat O'Donnell. More could still be added to the list.

O'Donnell will make for an interesting story considering he would be competitive in the weight room with his two teammates on the trip. All he needs to do is bring back his camp stache from last year and he's an instant superstar.

--- Also, AA calls Butch Jones the top bang for your buck coach in the conference.

--- Sights and sounds from the Mick Cronin Golf Classic this past Monday at Traditions in NKY.

--- Yancy Gates with
10 points and 5 boards in 18 minutes of play for the Pistons summer league team yesterday in Orlando.

Far from the dominant showing he'll need to land an NBA gig, but a step in the right direction.

--- Number changes
for the fall roster.

--- The Bearcats came in at No. 33 in Orlando Sentinel's ranking of all 120 FBS college football teams this year. A fair assessment.

--- Randomness...

--- Dana O'Neil does it again, this time on the devolving condition of female journalists. Both men and women are at fault. Just an excellent piece.

--- RUN DMC will reunite for a performance this year. It's not here. If you know somebody in Austin, Texas, you may want to start setting up your favor now.

--- Luke Bryan is from my old newspaper stomping grounds of Albany, Ga. He sang the national anthem last night and may have written the words down on his hand. Considering the types I ran into there, the most interesting aspect of this news nugget is that apparently Bryan can read.

He has made more money in the last two years than I probably will my whole life, so, I'm sure he's deeply hurt by my joke.

--- This will be the only time it can be proven watching 'Swamp Men' enhances your life.

--- Just when you thought Cookie Monster would never let you down.

--- Wish I had more spare time this weekend to attend Bunbury. What a great event for downtown -- even if it picked the worst possible time in adding to the cluster downtown with World Choir Games and Reds-Cards occurring simultaneously.

Point being, the image of the city continues to rise exponentially. Weezer would be my top priority for viewing with Foxy Shazam a close second.



In one month, this blog will be reporting from the opening of Bearcats training camp. Boy, can't get here soon enough. In fact, tickets are now available for everyone, individual, season or mini-pack.

For now, all this talk about revenue distribution, tie-ins, alignment and financial structure makes me yearn for the days of injury updates and "best shape of my life" features.

Unfortunately, we still have a month of content to fill. The preseason predictions are beginning to roll out and soon the annual tradition of drowning in doubters will begin at UC. Watching UC outperform the pundits jaded expectations year after year doesn't even feel like a storyline anymore.

When four of the last five seasons end in 10 wins and none of those four began with a Big East media preseason prediction better than third, they are taken as seriously as weathermen.

Here's the history of the Big East preseason media poll followed by UC's actual finish.

2011: 5th/T-1st
2010: 2nd/7th
2009: 3rd/1st
2008: 5th/1st
2007: 5th/3rd

All indications are from the early polls released by Phil Steele and other of his ilk are placing UC in the 4th to 5th range. Specifically, Steele picked UC in a tie with Pitt for 4th.

So be it. As the latest wave of magazines and websites divulge their 2012 season predictions, keep all these numbers in mind and go on about your day.

In the meantime, who wants to talk about bowl tie-ins!?! Let's eat...

--- Interim commissioner Joe Bailey is unconcerned about the Big East's lack of major bowl tie-ins in his conversation with Andrea Adelson. Andrea has been on the stump for folks to see the unfair nature of the Big East possibly being left out of a future landscape.

As I've said before, it's too early to say they will be left out, as Bailey rightly states, let's take a look at revenue distribution before we start caring about what bowls the conference is connected with.

If those in charge of that distribution look at the history of the Big East lately, they'll see how well it compares. Brett McMurphy looked at the numbers behind the Top 25 BCS finishers since 2007 a while back. That was when UC came out ranked No. 16 nationally on the list.

Butch Jones and the Big East powers point to the conference's record in bowl games. Due to the anarchy that occurs from the end of the regular season through the conclusion of the national championship game, this doesn't always serve as the most accurate representation of the true talent level of a program. Motivation many times lacks, coaches are changing and the game itself is essentially a glorified exhibition.

However, it's one of the best models we have for ranking conferences against each other at neutral sites. In fact, it's the only one. Here are the last five years breakdown of teams based on the conference they will be in during the 2014 season.

2011-12 Bowl Season
Conference W-L

Big East     6-2
SEC           7-3
B1G           4-6
Big 12        7-2
ACC           2-7
Pac-12       1-5

2010-11 Bowl Season
Conference W-L

Big East     5-3
SEC           5-6
B1G           3-6
Big 12        4-4
ACC           6-5
Pac-12        2-2

2009-10 Bowl Season
Conference W-L

Big East     5-5
SEC           6-5
B1G           4-3
Big 12        3-3
ACC           3-4
Pac-12       2-5

OVERALL LAST THREE YEARS
Conference W-L
  PCT
Big East     16-10  .615
Big 12        14-9    .609
SEC           18-14  .563
ACC           11-16  .407
B1G           10-18  .357
Pac-12        5-12   .294

--- That's right, over the last
three years the future conference with the best winning percentage in bowl games is the Big East. Does this mean the Big East should supplant the SEC as the premiere conference in college football? Absolutely not. What it does expose, however, is the under-appreciation received by the conference for the way they perform on the field.

As Jones said to me the other day, the only way to fight that perception whether individually at UC or collectively as a conference is to keep winning. The (future) Big East has done that better than anybody.

--- If you were only to
look at BCS games, the future conference hasn't fared as well -- going 1-2 with Boise's victory over TCU in the 2009/10 Fiesta serving as the win. But the discussion here doesn't revolve around top-tier potential, rather overall competitiveness. From top to bottom, the Big East held its own as complete conference. That's the takeaway from these results.

--- The results of the BCS Top 25 the last five years McMurphy and CBSSports.com tabulated make for a solid method to evaluate conferences. They utilize the computer metric -- even if nobody understands it -- UC and the Big East pushed for when the playoff selection committee concept was being chosen.

There the Big East fell into a spot behind the other five but also a far distance beyond the lower-tier conferences. That's why they make the most interesting case when the billions of dollars generated by this new TV deal begin distribution.

When looking at the most even contests college football provides, though, this future conference proved it most definitely belongs.

Randomness...

--- During a few of my appearances
with Mo Egger over the past year I've been quick to rip on him for his last-place finish at my annual cornhole tournament. Well, this year's edition took place this weekend and Mo pulled off the only worst-to-first finish in the nine-year history of the event, including his team's victory over mine in the championship. It's the backyard equivalent to the Miracle on Ice. Here in this space, I withdraw any disparaging remarks made and stand corrected -- in complete shock.

--- Sex sells and men
everywhere are wondering what the heck got into their wives as 50 Shades of Grey approaches $20 million in sales and the three books of the trilogy are one, two and three on the best-seller list.

--- Apparently 133 people decided to jump off a bridge simultaneously in Russia. Nobody can confirm if it was because they heard Yakov Smirnoff was plotting another comedy tour.

--- Fred Willard is one of the most underrated comic actors of our time and finally earns some deserved respect from the LA Times.

--- Tuesday night Butch Jones will be one Lance McAlister's for the 8 p.m. hour on 700 WLW.

--- Great reaction from fans,
player and umps after this lightning strike in Texas.

--- Happy 36th birthday to Fred Savage, who will always be a 13-year-old kid to nearly everyone.



If you are reading this from the burn unit of the hospital, sorry about your 4th of July experience. If not, then congrats, you survived the most dangerous holiday of the year! The only day when recreational explosions in backyards are encouraged.

When is National Shoot Off Your Gun In The Street Day? I'll be sure to gather the family around the porch.

Of course, at least I didn't gather an entire city along the banks of the ocean and accidentally shoot off an 18-minute fireworks show in 15 seconds. Stay Classy.

Let's eat...

--- Congratulations out to James White. The high-flying former Bearcat received a one-year deal with the New York Knicks yesterday. According to ESPNNewYork it's worth $1.4 million, just above the veteran minimum.

He spent the last two years playing at the highest level of Italian basketball. He tied for the league lead in points per game in 2010-11 (21.1) and was in the top three this past year (17.3).

Any mention of White means I immediately must post this video (scroll to 4:50 mark):



White's been known as a dunker his whole life and even Bob Huggins when discussing White's signing yesterday said White could win the NBA dunk contest right now. Judging by this video, he's not wrong.

However, he's become a more complete player the last two years in the Italian league. ESPNNewYork uses the Gerald Green analogy when describing what the Knicks hope to get out of the former Bearcat. Green played key minutes off the bench for the Nets last year while developing into a player whose capable to start. Green averaged 25 minutes per game and 12.9 points.

White was drafted in the second round in 2006, spent two years in the league playing in 10 games, then bolted for Europe.

--- Quick football note: UCATS members have a head start on buying individual game tickets for next season between now and when they go on sale to the general public on July 9. If you are a UCATS member you've got this weekend to get your act together.

--- The outrage and anger over the announced Orange Bowl deal and realization of the "Big 5 tie-ins" surfaced this week.

Here is a story from Andrea Adelson discussing the (lack of) change in the new playoff system. She discusses the concept of the Big East being outside of the major BCS bowl tie-ins.

The current tie-ins are as such:

National Semifinal: No. 1 vs No. 4
National Semifinal: No. 2 vs No. 3
Champions Bowl: SEC vs Big 12
Orange Bowl: ACC vs ND/At-large
Rose Bowl: B1G vs PAC-12

Yes, I understand the problem with holding no guarantees the Big East will be represented in one of these games or the other "major" bowls. The money from a BE school appearing can be significant. That benefits the conference and funnels down to everyone.

Yet, in this changing landscape, the way we look at every bowl should be challenged. Taking the old powers and plopping those on top of the new setup doesn't work. What do those "BCS" bowls mean anymore if they aren't hosting a semifinal? Very little. Heck, the SEC and Big 12 created their own major bowl.

The Big East needs to secure a bowl tie-in, but because it doesn't come from one of the former bowl powers doesn't jeopardize anything. When the Orange Bowl isn't hosting a national semifinal, what is it? Just another bowl. Still, the big money -- the billion-dollar deal for the national championships -- won't be disseminated by virtue of who plays in the other BCS games. How that distributes exactly is yet to be seen, but a fair, transparent plan has been at the top of the priority list of those making the decisions. Let's hope that happens.

There's no reason to push the panic button as much as everyone may believe that's necessary. Whatever happens, don't place the old measurements on the new model.

--- Along these same lines, Matt Hinton asks the question perhaps the ACC and Orange Bowl should be asking itself after this 12-year agreement.

Randomness...

--- Unfortunate
headline of the day.

--- Save a life, get fired. Ugh. Nice, Florida. Nice.

--- Zombie theme parks. As if Detroit wasn't scary enough.

--- God Bless America is not the easiest of songs to belt out, but can we check that this man wasn't strangled trying to rip off the final note?

--- Giving the peace sign is, in fact, not peaceful at all for Stephen Garcia.

--- Only one song seems to fit the temperatures out there right now. Happy Thursday everybody.



Lessons Learned

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It's called the college life and it's where you can learn some tough and valuable lessons about truth and consequences. It's where you wait for the NBA draft and they tell you the truth about you, and you're faced with the challenge of accepting it and using it to your benefit.

This is the lesson Yancy Gates learned last week and hopefully every other University of Cincinnati athlete who has a desire to compete at the next level of sports. You won't accidentally make it to the pros. You won't stumble into a job; you won't even get there because you have a logo that people love on your jersey. You will only get there by what you have done and how long you have done it. According to reports Yancy knew he wasn't going to get drafted last Thursday in part because there were some concerns about his weight and the ability to keep it down. Others were reportedly concerned about his worth ethic with respect to its consistency. Either way Yancy had a chance, and has a chance to prove the doubters wrong. 

This is that life lesson where the hangers on can't help, your parents can't help and your alma mater can't help. It's your call; your decision and your question to answer: how bad do you want it? If this is what you really want, how much are you going to commit to achieve it? LeBron James said he looked in the mirror and took self inventory of King James and his honesty revealed he didn't do all that he could have to help his team win. That was the first growth spurt but the second one and the most important one was what he did about it. He trained harder, talked to people like Oscar Robertson for wisdom and insight and committed fully to doing everything he possibly could to achieve the desired results.

This is the point where Yancy stands in his life and his basketball career; it's his decision, his commitment and his plan that will guide where he lands. I believe this wake up call will give him the fuel he needs to reach his dream and achieve that which he says he desires. We can watch, wait and even cheer but the results will speak for themselves. They always do...

Here's wishing him all the best; and that his life lesson is transferrable to every player who dreams of making it to the top. Rest assured the pros are watching you as much as you're watching them. The question is what will they see when they look at you?

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat
Much has happened since we last chatted here. Hope everyone enjoyed their brief hiatus from the Breakfast while I took a quick getaway into the eye of the storm that blew from Cincinnati to the coast faster than Mary Wineberg.

Without beginning story time with Uncle Paul, let's just say by dumb luck I narrowly avoided driving directly into last Friday night's storm while vacationing in the DC-Baltimore area. The next day 1.3 million homes were without power. Hope everyone is back in Thomas Edison's good graces and not dealing with too much damage.

Enough rambling, let's eat...

--- Hope everyone took the time to read the Nate Kramer story I posted last Thursday. I don't normally push stories on people, but his is so inspirational and moved me so profoundly that I can't say enough about the former UC swimmer. I hope he knows now that all of Bearcat Nation is behind him.

And if you can at all, please, please donate to the Nate Kramer Medical Fund at any US Bank. And if you want to keep updated on Nate's situation or leave kind words, be sure to visit his carepage here.

--- One development I wanted to touch on was Yancy Gates going undrafted last week. Gates apparently showed up at the Portsmouth pre-draft camp weighing 287 pounds. That number alone likely pushed him out of the two-round event.

Here is a story from Bill Koch on Gates disappointment not being selected.

He doesn't fall off the radar of the NBA, though. Remember, one of the top stories of last season was undrafted Harvard grad Jeremy Lin.

There are a number of players who went undrafted and moved on to productive NBA careers. Most experienced some significant development in the years after the draft. Yancy finding his fitness and drive could be his key.

Take RealClearSports list of the top undrafted players in recent NBA history for example:

Udonis Haslem -- After four years at Florida, his potential in the eyes of NBA scouts lifted and he eventually weighed over 300 pounds. He popped around overseas before dropping 70 pounds and being picked up by the Heat. Now he owns a ring and played a major role in acquiring it.

Brad Miller
-- Went undrafted out of Purdue, but eventually grinded his way Europe and found his way onto the Hornets roster. Became an All-Star.

Ben Wallace -- Was overlooked because he was only 6-9 and played on the D-II level. He is a four-time NBA defensive player of the year. Defense and rebounding can go a long way.

Bruce Bowen -- GMs don't draft defense. Bowen lives as the poster child of how playing defense can make you a ton of money in the league.

These four all connect the closest relation to a possible Gates ascension, in my eyes. Not more than Udonis Haslem. After four years at Florida he was overweight and undersized, once he trimmed to his proper playing weight, he became the warrior on the Heat. Yancy could easily follow this blueprint.

The common theme of these four is defensive development and realizing physical abilities. All four of these guys were undrafted, particularly because defense is undervalued. Rebounding and defense have to be Yancy's calling card if he wants to latch on. Like almost everyone on the RealClear list, he'll probably bounce around between Europe, the D-League and other spots, but making it to the NBA doesn't come without precedence. Many have done it. Many have thrived.

--- Life can change in two tenths of a second, as Josh Schneider found out on Sunday. He came that close to earning a berth in the London Olympics. A great run for Schneider, who finished .18 behind the needed second-place position in the 50-meter freestyle in fourth place on Sunday.

There is no shame in drawing that close to the Olympics and Schneider continues to be one of the great representatives of UC athletics anywhere.

--- Bearcats Nation continued
its countdown of the top moments from the Football/Basketball seasons with RDAIV taking a kickoff to the house against Vandy. Indeed, a special moment and one that placed an exclamation point on a great bowl trip for players, coaches and fans to Memphis.

--- Two news nuggets from Mick Cronin.
The first, he is designated $5,000 to American Cancer Society through the Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge.

"I chose the American Cancer Society's Coaches vs. Cancer as my charity because I strongly believe in doing everything possible to fight back against this terrible disease.  Cancer touches everyone, including my family and friends," Cronin said. "The Coaches vs. Cancer program gives me the opportunity to help fulfill the American Cancer Society's mission of creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays.  I am happy that I am able to designate this gift of $5,000 to the Society through the Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge."

Two, Cronin tweeted out that he drained a hole-in-one at a Louisville Country Club. I will be requesting a witness signature.

Remember, his Bearcats Classic Golf Tournament will be held July 9 at Traditions in NKY. You can join in and make him prove the validity of said hole-in-one in person.

--- I'm a bit late relaying this,
but Cronin also added to pieces to his staff with assistant coach Antwon Jackson, most recently at UMass and strength/conditioning coach Mike Rehfeldt, who was recommended by Marvin Lewis as an assistant with the Bengals. 

Here was what Mick has to say about the two additions:
 

"Antwon is exactly what I look for in an assistant coach. He works extremely hard," Cronin said.  "I've seen what he has been a part of at UMass and also William and Mary, rebuilding programs with a hard-working mentality, and I know he understands what it takes to be successful in college basketball. That shares our belief that having the right attitude is imperative to success. He will help us on the floor, in the locker room and also in the key area of recruiting. Antwon has built great relationships and I am confident he will be able to help us as a recruiter.

"Mike is also a great addition to our staff. He comes highly recommended from Marvin Lewis who I admire as a leader and a coach. Mike has worked in the professional ranks and knows the commitment it takes to perform at that level. He will be able to relay that to our players. Bearcats basketball has a long tradition of developing the bodies of our players, increasing their athleticism, and creating a standard of mental and physical toughness. Mike knows how important his role will be in our program and he cannot wait to get started."

--- College football pundits nationwide were predicting Boise State wouldn't withdraw from the MWC and the latest possible doom and gloom of another disastrous hit to the Big East.

They were wrong. Off the ledge, folks. Boise will join the BE as planned. And the conference says it was never concerned. Waiting to the last second probably raised an eyebrow or two, but what would the summer news cycle be without the media digging up a few stories it both creates and debunks.

--- Dan Hoard writes about new UC WR and former minor league baseball player Braxton Lane. An intriguing prospect amid a position group full of them. I could make a living this year, just writing a story a week about a different wide receiver. And that's before anyone has emerged on the field.

Take a look at them:

Kenbrell Thompkins: Transfer in final year to make an impression on the NFL.

Anthony McClung: Best numbers on the team and quietly developing into the team's top offensive weapon.

Alex Chisum: Next Armon Binns? Nobody showed greater potential last season.

Chris Moore: Have you seen his resume? Coming off injury redshirt season as accomplished on HS level as any young player

Braxton Lane: At one point was choosing between Florida, Georgia, Auburn and Oregon.

DyJuan Lewis: Maybe top pure athlete on the team.

Danny Milligan:
Local boy made good. A contribution from him would be huge local storyline.

Damon Julian:
Don't count out the JuCo transfer who comes with high expectations, as well.

Others: Shakim Alonzo caught a TD pass in the Big 33 game and plenty of talent fills out the rest of the position.

--- Some randomness...

--- Don't worry about USA Basketball. Injuries? Pretty sure we'll be all right.

--- What? Scientology is filled with crazy people? When did this happen?

--- Sad to see eight sports being cut at the University of Maryland. Let's hope this doesn't become a trend.

--- Zach Galifianakis exec produced this doc called Craigslist Joe. Looks damn cool. Here's the trailer.

--- Music videos with puppets!

--- Because Ray Charles was the man. Have a great Tuesday everybody.