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September 2012 Archives

Victory Bell version No. 117

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While the diehards and long-time UC football historians will savor any win over Miami University of Oxford of former Redskins, newer Bearcat fans may question the existence of this game.

That's the scary part.

You could argue with UC's recent successes and with Miami's struggle for notoriety since the departure of Ben Roethlisberger, that the game has lost it's luster.  When the teams were more evenly matched or when Miami would consistently give UC fits, the appeal of the game was greater.

Personally, I'm not too far removed from Big Ben's domination of the Bearcats or watching "Touchdown Travis " Prentice run all over UC at Nippert in a 41-0 thrashing to appreciate a solid win over Miami.

However, when you're trying to generate national attention, there is no upside to the game when the only major story that could result from it is if the Redhawks pull the upset.

Yes, this is getting to be and could be a "sticky" issue in the future.  What UC must guard against is complacency.  Actually, a few views of the Delaware State video should suffice.

On the "historical connection" level, the last time UC beat Virginia Tech before last Saturday's dramatic Munchie Legaux-to-Damon Julian finish was 1995.  The Bearcats had played Kansas, Kansas State and Virginia Tech back-to-back-to-back that year.  They had chances to beat the Jayhawks and Wildcats and did knock off the Hokies 16-0.

Despite that confidence and momentum, the next week UC went to Oxford and lost 23-16 to Miami when Ty King ran back a kickoff in the game's final minute.

So, I warn of overconfidence and I warn of overlooking a Miami team that scored 56 points against Terry Bowden's Akron Zips.  The Redhawks have some playmakers and they would love to burst UC's bubble and break the current six-game skid they've had in Victory Bell games.


WHEN DOES THE BELL TOLL?
  Usually non-stop once a winner has been determined.
VICTORY BELL GAMETIME:  Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.
WHERE:  The glorious and hopefully packed Nippert Stadium
THE SERIES:  Miami still leads 59-50-7
LAST TIME:  Bearcats won 27-0 in Oxford

UC offense vs. Miami defense


Miami gave up 56 points to Ohio State, 39 to Boise State and 49 in last week's win over the Akron Zips.  UC's offense has the capability to score like that, particularly when there's no turnovers.  While his accuracy could improve, Munchie Legaux clearly has the confidence you need to lead big scoring drives and make big plays.  A lot of that is having the respect of the huddle and you have to think Legaux does.  A game like the one at FedEx Field should give several Bearcats a lot of confidence and comfort.  As long as it's kept it check, it's all good.

I think Kenbrell Thompkins and Damon Julian might be a little much for Miami to handle (by the way, how to you not play Julian at this point?).  With George Winn, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Travis Kelce, I think UC just has too many weapons to contain.

Safety Pat Hinkel does have three interceptions for Miami, so it may be wise to be knowledgeable of his presence.  Their sack leader is Mwanza Wamulumba who sounds like he's right out of "Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory".  Considering they played without Sean Hooey against Virginia Tech on the line, I would feel good about UC's protection.

Bottom line:  UC's offensive depth should be too much for the Redhawks

UC defense vs. Miami offense

All in all, defensive coordinator John Jancek had a gem of a game plan against Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech.  This week, Zac Dysert of Miami presents a more difficult skill set in my opinion.  He's 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds and your prototypical big quarterback that scouts are perpetually infatuated with.  He was 34-49 for 516 yards and six touchdowns against Akron and ran for 108 yards on the ground. Those are noteworthy stats regardless of the competition.  His favorite targets are 6-foot-4 Andy Cruse out of Turpin High School and long threat Dawan Scott.  I don't know the status of Drew Frey for this game, but UC's secondary  will most certainly get a workout.

Miami's chief runner is Jamire Westbrook out of Kings High School, but Dysert actually leads the team in rushing.  Oddly enough, coach Don Treadwell tends to throw it more at Miami, when his offenses here at UC were routinely conservative under low-key Mark Dantonio.

Clearly, the key is stopping Dysert and giving him a steady diet of Walter Stewart, Dan Giordano or whomever can split the Redhawks line to introduce Mr. Dysert to the fine granules of Nippert's field turf.  UC's defensive backs will also have to stay with Andy Cruse who often capitalizes on size mismatches.

The Edge:  If Dysert gets a rhythm, this could be a long, frustrating game. Underestimating Miami in any form on offense would be a dreadful mistake. Based on the Hokies win, the defense is playing aggressively enough to hold Miami down.  On the other hand, don't expect a shutout.

Special note of interest:  Former UC coach Brian Kelly passed up on Zac Dysert to take Brendon Kay out of Bay City, Michigan.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Pat O'Donnell is still the key with his punts and kickoffs.  However, I would guess the UC "fake" package may be out if the opposition notices No. 11, Brendon Kay trotting out to hold.
In placekicking, Tony Miliano's back home where he's more comfortable.  Miami's Kaleb Patterson is 6-8 on field goals if you're scoring at home.  In the return game, UC gets the edge with Ralph David Abernathy IV and Anthony McClung.

Nod:  UC

THE CALL?

Dan Hoard and Jim Kelly as always.  As for the game, I think Miami's going to come out and be a little more of a thorn in UC's side than normal.  That said, I don't think they have enough weapons to sustain and I would figure the Bearcats to gradually pull away.  Again, discounting Miami would be dangerous.  They've recruited a ton of Tri-State local athletes who would take great pleasure in punching the Bearcats in the mouth--especially if they were NOT recruited by UC.  They have not won this game since 2005 and I can assure you the worst sound you'll ever hear is that bell ringing on a departing bus heading toward Route 27.  If there is such a thing as a "trap game"; this would be one.   Just as their coaches will tell them, the Bearcats should play all games as if it the national title was on the line.

Besides,UC is still 10 straight wins away from taking a lead in the series.

Growth Spurt!

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It was a game Tony Pike could win; Zach Collaros would win but we didn't know if Munchie Legaux could win...until now. On the road, albeit a home game, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats were tested in all phases of the game because special teams is a source of pride for Virginia Tech on par with offense and defense. 

While we have seen comebacks and excitement we really had no idea how Munchie would play with the game on the line, on the road and pressure in his face. He stood compose, sensing he needed to make a play and did what smart quarterbacks do; let your playmakers make plays. Damon Julian saw the ball and then, saw the ball into his hands to give this new crop of Bearcats a big win in more ways than one. They grew up on that one play in ways that are indescribable but enjoyable as a fan. They realized their coach, Butch Jones, and his staff can game plan against big name programs. They recognize they can match up with most teams in the country (SEC notwithstanding) and in the clutch they can keep their composure. 

Give the offensive line credit and the defense as well; but you have to enjoy seeing Legaux as much as anyone because this teams with its offensive weapons will only go as far as he does. With expectations in place, the shadow of Colloras, and a diminishing power conference allegedly known as the Big East, this quarterback needs to make a statement that the Bearcats are still a team that deserves respect. After yesterdays win at FedEx Field in Washington D.C.  respect was earned but now must be maintained. It is indeed a long season and sticking to the game plan, not believing the hype is a recipe for continued success.

So yes $3.5 million was made not only for football but non revenue generating sports like Lacrosse; yes UC got a big win against the ACC who some say is a much better conference, but more important than that UC got a quarterback who had a growth spurt and has proven he has the skills and the will to win games and win them down the stretch. 

I hope he continues to improve and his confidence grows as well. As long as he has an appetite for studying film, preparing to play and leading his teammates, we will have the Munchies for Legaux believing he can win games regardless of how much time is left on the clock.

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat.

A Dream Finish For Legaux And Bearcats

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The clock read 1:43, the end zone was 85 yards away, and the Bearcats trailed Virginia Tech 24-20.  Not an ideal set of circumstances unless you're a quarterback with something to prove.

Munchie vs Va Tech (440x293).jpg

"You can't ask for a better situation than that," Munchie Legaux told me after the game.  "Down by four, no timeouts - that's what you dream of as a little boy playing in the backyard.  Five, four, three..."

"That's what quarterbacks dream of," said Walter Stewart.  "Being down on the road with two minutes left and you've got to make a play."

The first play of the drive was a 15-yard completion to tight end Travis Kelce taking roughly 10 seconds off the clock.

"Munchie was very calm and very relaxed," said Damon Julien.  "Coach puts us in adverse situations in practice, so we were ready to come out and execute."

After back to back incompletions, a 13-yard scramble by Legaux gave the Bearcats a first down at their 43 yard line with 1:14 to go and the clock running.

"I though he was exceptionally poised all game," said head coach Butch Jones.  "He just had that look in his eye. He had that moxie - that alpha male that we talk about that we want out of our quarterback."

A 4-yard run by Legaux was followed by a 14-yard strike to Anthony McClung, putting the ball at the Virginia Tech 39 yard line with :38 left.

"This is what we do," said Ralph David Abernathy IV.  "Every day Coach Jones and the staff prepare us for this.  We learn how to deal with adversity every day at practice and today I think we showed people that we can do anything when we put our minds to it."

An incomplete pass for Kenbrell Thompkins left :26 to go.  An overthrow for Anthony McClung reduced the time to :20 remaining.

It was third-and-10 at the Hokies 39 yard line. 

"I was talking to Munchie before the game and I said, 'This is your time man.  This is your stage.'" said Stewart.  "He stepped up when he needed to."

After taking a shotgun snap, Legaux dropped back to the 47 yard line and released the ball a split second before being drilled by Hokies defensive end James Gayle.  The pass was intended for Damon Julien who had dropped a possible touchdown pass earlier in the fourth quarter.

"I was a little upset," said Julien.  "The defensive back tipped it and then I tipped it and dropped it.  I hoped that Munchie would come to me again and that's what he did."

"He trusts his wide receivers." said Thompkins.  "Even when we make a bad play, he'll come up to us on the sideline and say, 'I'm coming back to you.'"

In this case, Julien took advantage of his second chance by making a lunging, fingertip catch while sliding across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown with :13 remaining (you can hear the radio call here). 

"I had a couple of big plays in junior college, but this is by far the biggest for me and on the biggest stage," said Julien.  "I'm very grateful for this opportunity."

"Damon Julien man," said Thompkins.  "Great guy, great athlete, and tremendously strong hands."

Julien TD (440x244).jpg

Consider it a belated birthday present for Munchie Legaux who turned 21 on Thursday.

"My teammates came up to me and told me that they would have my back no matter what," said Legaux.  "Mistakes, great balls, bad balls - they have my back.  They trust me and I trust those guys."

"Our kids have great belief in our program and each other and I think that showed," said Coach Jones.

"Munchie keeps showing people what kind of player that he is," said Abernathy.  "Every Saturday he steps up and makes plays.  That's our quarterback.  I'm proud of him."

I'd love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Cliff's Notes: UC vs. Virginia Tech

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For those who haven't been paying close enough attention this week, I don't condone it, but here is a helpful cheat sheat so you can be an informed fan heading into Saturday's game against Virginia Tech.

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md. (grass, outdoors)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU

Forecast: Temperature in 70s at kickoff, no rain expected

2012 records: Bearcats 2-0, 1-0, Hokies 3-1, 1-0

Tickets: Plenty of seats still available. FedEx seats about 86k, less than half sold.

What to wear: If you are going, wear black. 

Past results: Virginia Tech holds a 5-4 advantage in the series with the last coming in the 2009 Orange Bowl, a 20-7 VT win.

Need to know: This season, Virginia Tech has proven susceptible to the run. They are 90th in the FBS against the rush and were gouged for 254 rushing yards in their loss at Pitt. Conversely, the Bearcats are 12th in FBS in rushing yards per game. If the Bearcats can be successful in the running game, they can keep the VT offense off the field and control the game.

virginia-tech-logan-thomas-287x300.jpgWho to know: VT quarterback Logan Thomas. He's built like a defensive lineman at 6-6, 260, but he can sling it. He's experienced problems with accuracy, only hitting 51.7 percent of his passes. The Hokies used him more in the running game last week in a win against Bowling Green. He can hurt you both ways. Forcing Thomas to make tough throws down the field can ultimately lead to turnovers. He tossed three picks in their loss to Pittsburgh.

Defining matchup: DTs John Williams and Adam Dempsey vs. VT interior OL. The Hokies want to run the ball. Hokies center Andrew Mills (6-4, 304) and RG Michael Via (6-7, 304) are massive humans. UC will need to hold its own at the point of attack to slow the VT running game and force Logan Thomas to the air. Do that and the odds flip in UC's favor. .

Injuries of note: Drew Frey and Alex Chisum sat out against Delaware State, but are 100 percent for this one.

Delving deeper: Butch Jones came away so impressed by the performance of senior WR Damon Julian against Delaware State, he put Alex Chisum's starting job up for grabs. Julian caught four passes for 62 yards and a TD. He's a more physical receiver than Chisum, but this competition could be what the sophomore who broke out last season needed to jumpstart his year.

Connections: Ten players remain from the UC team that lost to Virginia Tech in the 2009 Orange Bowl.

By the numbers: The last year the Hokies failed to block a punt in a season was 1992. They've already returned one punt 94 yards for a score this season. Containing the VT special teams will be critical.

By the numbers, Part II: Four different players have led the Hokies in rushing through four games this season. They utilize a RB by committee and like to utilize Thomas in the running game as well. 

Quotent Quotables: Munchie Legaux, who turned the ball over four times against Delaware State on .what he needs to correct from that game. "Just ball security. We have to do a better job of protecting the ball. It starts with me."


Looking ahead: This is the first of 10 consecutive weeks of games, the next being Oct. 6 for Homecoming against Miami.

Hype video: No official hype video this week, but we do have this floating around YouTube to get the juices flowing.



Bearcats Breakfast 9.27.12

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This week's game popped a natural thought in my head, we hear so much about the power of the ACC and with the changing landscape of the college football their relationship with the Big East deserves headlines.

In most all of them the ACC comes out smelling like roses and the Big East like soil. Yes, off the field that's hard to deny. Big TV deal, $50 million exit fee, jacking Syracuse and Pitt. Sure, sure.

But, there's no denying what's occurred on the field. The ACC has not been relevant in years. Yet living off hype and outdated reputation they maintain a air of superiority.

UC owns an opportunity to take down one of their top tier teams Saturday. Virginia Tech has been the class of the conference for the last decade. Eight consecutive 10-win seasons will do that.

Where else can you start other than the ACC being 2-13 in BCS bowl games. The faint whistle you hear while you read this is West Virginia scoring another TD on Clemson.

Over the last seven years, the Big East is 4-3 in BCS bowls including 2-1 against the ACC champion. The lone was actually UC in the 2008 Orange Bowl -- one 10 players on the current UC team hope to avenge, as Bill Koch wrote. 

Here's the recent results between the conferences in the regular season:

2012
NC State 10, UConn 7
Maryland 36, Temple 27
Pitt 35, Va. Tech 17
UConn 24, Maryland 21
Louisville 39, UNC 34

TOTAL: Big East 3, ACC 2.

2011
Syracuse 36, Wake Forest 29
UNC 24, Rutgers 22
WVU 37, Maryland 31
UC 44, NC State 14
UNC 14, Louisville 7
Miami 6, USF 3

TOTAL: Big East 3, ACC 3

2010
NC State 30, UC 19
WVU 31, Maryland 17
Miami 31, Pitt 3
UNC 17, Rutgers 13
USF 23, Miami 20

TOTAL: ACC 3, Big East 2

2009
UNC 12, UConn 10
USF 17, FSU 7
Miami 31, USF 10

TOTAL: ACC 2, Big East 1

--- Understood the configuration of these conferences changed and will continue to change, but the bias toward the ACC over the Big East didn't begin with the Cuse/Pitt jump.

--- So, during the last four years the ACC holds a 10-9 advantage during the regular season. Not exactly a resounding statement in either direction. With neither side owning a recent history of sniffing the national championship -- UC in 2009 would be the closest either side came -- you have two conferences as evenly matched as possible.

Over the period of the last five years, in those conferences, no two teams have been more consistent than UC and Va. Tech.

The Bearcats with 10-win seasons in four of the five and VT in all five.

--- I asked Butch Jones to weigh in on what he thinks the difference is between the ACC and Big East. Not shockingly, he agreed with the numbers.

"You know I don't think there is much difference at all, I think most of it is made in the media and the perception," he said. "But I think both are great conferences, you know we have some great games between the BIG EAST and the ACC, not just this year but over a course of time. They are two very good football conferences, two very proud football conferences." 

--- The players acknowledge the perception existing about the ACC vs. the Big East. For a school already fighting perception issues within its own conference, constantly fighting for respect and recognition, games like this mean more.

"With conference realignment next year, we want to make sure the Big East is still represented well," OL Austen Bujnoch said. "This year, especially, we've been going back and forth. This is definitely key because we have Pittsburgh and Syracuse going there next year. This is definitely a conference rivalry thing."

--- Let's eat...

--- Predictions are
beginning to roll in. Matt Fortuna at ESPN goes with UC. Kirk Herbstreit calls for the Bearcats as well. Herbie call it an upset. While many Bearcats fans might not agree with that assessment, they are not favored by the oddsmakers (6.5). Disclaimer: Lines for informational/recreational use only.

Matt Rybaltowski of CBSSports.com also likes the Bearcats by a point.

--- Red pants on black jersey with black helmets reportedly the uni forecast for Saturday.

---  Butch Jones blog looks at Bearcats in the NFL from Week 3.

--- Down the Drive cites offensive explosiveness as a reason the Cats can beat VT.

Randomness...

--- Was up watching NFL Turning Point on NBC Sports Network last night. Want to know how badly they are hurting for true sports content? They were promoting the heck out of Towson-James Madison this weekend. If that isn't a chip at the Big East TV bargaining table I don't know what is.

--- What we all need this morning, a technical breakdown of the November Rain video.

--- Apparently Michael Jordan
got into a dance-off with Scottie Pippen. That ranks among the top 10 favorite sentences I've ever written on this blog.

--- Not sure what Tiny Fey will be doing with her new four-year deal at NBCUniversal, but I'm sure it will be hilarious.

--- Just discovered Grace Potter yesterday. She's part of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, but here she is earlier this month with my dude Trey Anastasio from Phish. Have a great day.



Special teams especially concerning this week for Bearcats

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Playing on special teams sounds more like a downgrade than point of pride for a football player. Few spend formative years in their backyard imagining a critical special teams tackle or blocking a kick.

Those select few who did simulate punt return technique in the neighborhood, however, probably ended up at Virginia Tech. No coach, no program, more associates itself with special teams than the Hokies.

When referring to coach Frank Beamer's Bearmerball, that means blocked punts, kickoff returns and defensive touchdowns. In 26 years at the helm in Blacksbug, Va., his team has blocked at least one punt every season.

The last time the Hokies didn't, Bill Clinton was still the governor of Arkansas.

Virginia Tech owns the longest FBS streak of not allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown at 237 consecutive games. The next closest is TCU at 116.

Punt returner Kyshoen Jarrett already broke off a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown this season against Pitt.
POD.jpg
Butch Jones talks regularly about special teams representing the talent level of a program. Eight consecutive 10-win seasons for Virginia Tech represents the poster child for that theory.

"They have game changers on special teams," Jones said. "You look at their punt return team with all of their wall returns. They've done it a number of years ... but I think it's the depth of their program and where they are at and the caliber of players they have involved in their special teams."

As Cincinnati prepares to take on the Hokies at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Landover, Md., the oft-forgotten unit shuffles into the spotlight. For Jones, that means a need for dramatic improvement.

"We still have a long way to go," Jones said. "I've not been pleased with it. Again that's been a source of emphasis, which it's been every week, but especially this week."

Emphasis begins with the punt team. Thanks to his 94-yard touchdown return, Jarrett leads college football in average return yardage at 35.5 per. Even taking away his TD, he's averaging better than 20 yards on his other four returns this season.

The unique wall formation VT employs creates a challenge. RB George Winn played on every special teams unit last season, but trimmed to only punt and kickoff this season due to an increased workload in the backfield. Jones calls him the team's best special teams player.

"They do a lot of great things with their punt return team as far as their wall goes," Winn said. "I'm pretty excited for that challenge."

Jones knows to improve on his group allowing an average of 11 yards on three punt returns this season (98th in FBS), he'll need more than Winn making plays.

"We're looking for that level of consistency," he said. "We're looking for more players to step up. We need some other individuals."

Chief among them will be punter Pat O'Donnell. On the Ray Guy Award Watch list before the season, he's seen little opportunity to show off his skill due to the efficiency of the UC offense. He's punted just seven times for an average of 41.7 yards.

There will be increased pressure to not only uncork the punt quickly, but do so accurately.

"They show a lot of pressure in the fronts," O'Donnell said. "They also run a wall return which is dangerous so this week is pretty big on kick placement, keeping it toward the sideline."

O'Donnell's been pummeling the ball on kickoffs, allowing only four of his 12 kickoffs this year to be returned. Considering the four returned average nearly 25 yards (103rd in FBS), powering into the back of the end zone gains added importance.

Whether punt, field goal or kickoff, more pressure will be placed on special teams Saturday than any game this season. For a group Jones demanded more out of through two games, their response to the challenge could change the game.

It's happened before. Just check the BeamerBall archives.




Tuesday lunch: Mind of Munchie edition

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First things first, solid lunch today. City BBQ broke out the baked potato and chicken along with the home run banana pudding for the Butch Jones luncheon. A gutsy call, but one that paid off. Now that we got that out of the way, let's talk football.

One of the primary themes coming out of Tuesday was the mindset of Munchie Legaux. He made mistakes with the ball against Delaware State after an explosive opener against Pittsburgh. Many may be wondering how the QB responded to the adversity.

Don't count Butch Jones among them.
MunchieLegaux.jpg
"I have seen him more determined than ever," Jones said. "I've liked his focus. He's taking coaching and doing everything that we ask of him."

More to the point, he's even doing what the Bearcats don't ask of him. On Monday, as the coaching staff gathered for their meeting, Legaux walked in, pulled up a chair and whipped out his notebook.

"I'm looking out of the corner of my eye he's got his notepad open," Jones said. "He's got staff meeting, dated and he's taking notes."

Legaux peeked his head into meetings before, but never sat down in an observatory role.

"They was kind of surprised," Legaux said. "But they liked it. They liked to see me in there. I just wanted to see what those guys were talking about, the gameplan, how those guys feel."

This comes only one week after he sat down one-on-one with Jones to review the video of what went wrong against Delaware State.

Questions can be asked about Legaux's accuracy and decision-making, but nobody inside the program are questioning his dedication to improving. Ball security sits atop his list of priorities this week as UC attempts to prove the six turnovers against DSU was an aberration.

"He told me some things I needed corrected," Legaux said. "He said he's seeing some great things out there we just need to correct the little mistakes and we'll be OK."

Position battle: One game for Damon Julian and he's officially pushing sophomore WR Alex Chisum for a starting spot. Chisum missed the game against DSU with a minor injury and is not 100 percent. The same can't be said about his security as a starter.

"You remember Wally Pipp, right?" Jones said. "Alex Chisum knows all too well about the Wally Pipp story."

For those of you who don't know, Wally Pipp was the starting first baseman who got injured and Lou Gehrig took his spot. He never gave it back starting 2,130 consecutive games. Now go back to being ashamed of yourself for not knowing that.

Chisum maybe needed a fire lit under him after breaking onto the scene last year. Regardless of whether he needed a competition or not, he's got one. The depth chart placed and "or" between the two names for the first time this season.

"Whoever has the best week of practice will be the individual who starts," Jones said. "Damon made the most of his opportunity. Everything is production."

Butch nugget:
Jones pointed out that UC only has one offensive penalty this season. Impressive.

Unique non-conference games:
Despite being played in Virginia Tech's backyard, this game technically serves as a home game for the Bearcats. UC will be the home team and have the end zones painted with Bearcats logos.

Reports out this weekend were that 38,000 tickets have been sold to the game at this point. FedEx Field capacity is about 91k.

While this will be viewed as more of a home game for VT, remember Blacksburg is still a five-hour drive from Landover, Md. This won't exactly be Lane Stadium during Enter Sandman.



Perception is reality: Despite the loss to Pitt, this remains the marquee game on UC's non-conference slate. A win can go a long way toward winning on the field not only this year but for years to come.

Of course, exposing UC on a national stage goes beyond wins and losses.

"Anytime you play on national TV it's an opportunity to sell your football program," Jones said. "I think we've benefited here as much as anyone from playing on national television and taking advantage of the four-hour commercial for your institution, for your football program. Last time I checked our admissions are at an all-time high. Our recruiting has really skyrocketed. our fan base is growing each and every day. That's all byproducts of playing on national television."

Jokes and jokes and jokes and jokes: VT quarterback Logan Thomas comes with a build unlike most in college football. At 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, he's taller and weighs nearly as much all of UC's starting defensive linemen.

Finding a way to simulate in practice his effect in the running game where he had 15 rushes for 65 yards last week is difficult.

Playing the role of Thomas on scout team this week will be 6-3, 204-pound freshman Bennie Coney.

"We've asked him to go in the weight room in one week and drink a lot of muscle milk and Gatorade products, we've asked him to put about 50 pounds on," Jones joked.

Other side of the tracks: At Virginia Tech, coach Frank Beamer spoke highly of the Bearcats talent, calling them the "most athletic team we've faced."

Here's a piece from the Virginian-Pilot speaking on the Hokies take against UC.

Big Hair, big ballads: In honor of Power Ballad Tuesday inside the Bearcats sports information office as I crank this out, only seems fair to conclude the Tuesday lunch with one of the great big hair ballads of all time.

Chewing gum. Sporting Oakleys. Wearing Denim. Damn Yankees, bring it home boys.



Volleyball notebook: Team adjusting to new coach

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An offseason of transition and brutal non-conference slate produced a slow start, but Molly Alvey and the Bearcats still feel confident entering Big East play.

By Ashley Davis

Special to GoBearcats.com

After long-time coach Reed Sunahara resigned in January, the remaining players of the Bearcats volleyball team made it a point to stay bonded. Momentum from the Big East tournament championship needed to carry over with new coach Molly Alvey taking over the program.

"Our main focus was staying together as a team and having the same goal: to win, no matter what coach we had," senior Emily Hayden said.

With Alvey, the Bearcats women's volleyball team hasn't seen success carry over. They are currently 3-11 overall and opened the season losing five in a row. They've endured a difficult adjustment period to the new coaching style and struggled to find wins at the same time.

"The newness and things you don't typically think about (such as) gym jargon, communication styles has played a factor," Alvey said. "But, what goes hand-in-hand with that is the level of competition we've played."

The Bearcats have played six teams in the Top 25, including Illinois twice, a team in the national championship last year. Alvey called it maybe the toughest non-conference schedule in the country.

Conference play: The Bearcats started conference play this weekend with games against Notre Dame and DePaul. They hope Big East play is what is needed to produce more wins. UC split the weekend slate, falling to the Irish, 3-2, and topping DePaul, 3-1.

"We have three different seasons: pre-season, conference play, and post-season," Hayden said. "Big East play is going to be my favorite because (we're) playing rivals."

Alvey said despite the slow start, her team is playing good volleyball right now.

"We're pretty set with the lineup and normal substitutions," Alvey said. "We'll definitely have a few more adjustments by the end of conference play that will give us a different look."

Scary situation in Texas: The team was preparing to play Central Florida in the first game of the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational in Austin, Texas on Sept. 14 when news of a bomb threat forced them to leave the campus.

The team had to skip their practice and hung out at the hotel until all cleared. They ended up playing the game, beating UCF three sets to none.

"We were going into practice when they told us to evacuate," Alvey said. "They told us to leave the building, pushed us onto the street, and then off campus. We didn't know what was going on until we got back to the hotel. It was crazy."



Bearcats need special delivery at FedEx Field

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Here's a crucial game for both teams before we hit October pumpkin season.  This is the odd "home game"  we've known about for a number of years that has finally arrived.

Not meaning to step on any toes, but speaking as a long-time UC fan and alum, this game was sold.  UC gave up the right to play at Nippert (or likely Paul Brown Stadium) for cash.  The school needed cash, they got it and what's done is done.

Hopefully, the cash was used wisely as it's certainly hard to come by these days.

This is all pre-Butch Jones, so it's been a known factor for years and I'm sure Coach will have his men prepared.  (Perhaps more so than the last time UC met Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.)

For the record, approximate driving distance from your normal tailgate spots in Corryville to Landover, Maryland is nine hours and 15 minutes for the "home" Bearcats.  The "visiting" Hokies will travel four hours and 55 minutes from the hills of Blacksburg.

Still, Virginia Tech typically travels well and geographically Virginia is in much closer proximity to D.C. and the surrounding Maryland area than the Queen City.

Should the Bearcats ride the Dan Hoard win streak at FedEx Field (announced the Bengals win over the Redskins Sunday) then everything should be OK.

One more pivotal question....

If Ohio is indeed the "swing state" for the presidential election, will we see President Obama or Governor Romney on hand in a Bearcat jersey?

To the match-up now:

WHEN: Saturday at 3:30
WHERE: The aforementioned FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
SERIES: Virginia Tech leads 5-4
LAST TIME: Hokies beat UC in the Orange Bowl 20-7 January 1, 2009.
RECORDS:  Virginia Tech (3-1) Cincinnati (2-0)
WHERE DO I WATCH IT:  Anywhere that brings you ESPNU in living color.

UC offense vs. Virginia Tech defense

The Hokies shut out Bowling Green last week, allowed Austin Peay seven, Georgia Tech 17 and then had the mysterious 35-17 loss to Pitt.   The logical thinking is UC will score somewhere between what Pitt and Georgia Tech did.  If they have miscues like they did against Delaware State, things might not go so well.  Pitt won with Rushel Shell gaining 157 yards. While in a spread, UC's bread and butter has been running the ball.  If George Winn can hover around or over the 100-yard mark again, UC should get enough yards from Munchie Legaux and Ralph David Abernathy IV to be successful.  Passing-wise, Leguax's overall numbers were good, but he'll not be able to have the turnovers he did last game.

Linebacker Jack Tyler will be eying the Bearcat runners as he's the Hokies top tackler. Trying to chase down Legaux will be Virginia Tech sack leaders Tyrel Wilson and James Gayle. Munchie's elusiveness will be crucial in this one.

UC will also have to be consistent.  While the teams are different, Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard marched down the field in UC's first possession in the 2009 Orange Bowl then never scored again.  Virginia Tech will not sweat a deficit.

The pick:  Bearcats should move the ball.  If they regain their confidence in the redzone, all will be well.

UC defense vs. Virginia Tech offense

Stop. The. Run. Stop the run. I repeat, stop the run.  In particular, the 6-foot-6 260-pound, Dante Culpepper-like quarterback Logan Thomas.   He throws OK, but that's not his game. He is a threat running the football.  Think Travis Kelce at quarterback (by the way, remember his Wildcat touchdowns?).  Thomas' completion percentage is just a tad over 50 percent, so  he's not going to pick you apart throwing.  When he does, the Hokies have good-sized receivers in Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts.  However, an "old school" coach like Frank Beamer will also emphasize the run and Virginia Tech is 6-0 recently when gaining 200 or more yards on the ground.

Walter Stewart, Dan Giordano, Greg Blair, Malik Bomar and company have to play some "smashmouth" football.  Getting a taller Drew Frey back at safety will also be a plus. Of that group I just named, Virginia Tech's Thomas outweighs Blair, Bomar, Frey and Stewart and is equal to Giordano. Of UC's usual defensive lineman, only Adam Dempsey, Jordan Stepp and John Williams carry more poundage than Thomas.

The lowdown:  If UC can tackle Thomas on the lowdown and get a little help from the mythical "Fumblelina" the game could be controlled.  Obviously, if the Hokies control the line of scrimmage, they'll likely control the game.

Special Teams


For years, "Beamer Ball" at Virginia Tech has been based on special teams success. Punt returner Kyshoen Jarrett has already had a 94-yard return for a score.  The Virginia Tech force is also pretty good at blocking kicks, so snaps, holds and loft are going to be crucial to the UC kicking game. Virginia Tech's Cody Journell's long field goal this season has just been 41 yards,so that's something that could be a factor if it's a close game. Tony Miliano is 3-3 for UC with a long of 46.

Nod:  It's a foreign field for both, but the Hokies played there last year with Boise State and will have the advantage of more familiarity and more physical fan support. Best bet for UC? Score touchdowns.

Intangibles

As just mentioned, Virginia Tech played at FedEx Field a year ago and their fans are more likely to make the pilgrimage since it's a more manageable drive.  Plus, a Saturday in Blacksburg WITHOUT a football game?  What do you do? UC and their fans also have to get over the Hokies loss to Pitt. While UC dominated Pitt, they stumbled and were not as efficient against a lesser Delaware State team.  They actually need to take the attitude Pitt had when they stormed over the Hokies. The Bearcats need to play as spirited as an 0-2 team looking to prove people wrong instead of a 2-0 team that could let it's guard down.  That's where the coaches come in and I'm sure Butch Jones and staff will be in their face the rest of the week. Their is no home field advantage in this "home" game, so UC must seize the moment and take over the neutral site.

Next up: A REAL home game as UC protects the Victory Bell against the Miami Redhawks Oct. 6.


Bearcats Breakfast 9.24.12

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Hope everybody enjoyed their weekend free of UC football because the run of 10 consecutive games to close the season begins now.

Where most teams have four games of footage to judge their team by right now the verdict is still out on the Bearcats. Of course, we'll learn more about them this week than in any game this season.

A bit of the luster has been taken off of the Virginia Tech game at FedEx Field -- now set for 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU -- because of the Hokies loss at Pittsburgh, but that may have been the wakeup call the VT needed. This team was ranked in the Top 25 for a reason. They are still searching for that defense which entered the season with so much hype and Logan Thomas still battle inaccuracy, but they are packed with playmakers.

The Hokies shut out Bowling Green, 37-0, Saturday piling up 246 yards on the ground.

Many can debate how much this game will matter in the big picture of winning a Big East title. The momentum and confidence could be worth a win or two, but in terms of actually accomplishing the championship goal, it means little.

In terms of exposure and prestige, this game means more than any. No opponent will own a bigger name or more respect outside of maybe Louisville if they keep winning. Butch Jones says many times it's all about recruiting. Games like this, specifically, winning games like this, scores huge in high schoolers living rooms.

Let's eat...

--- Hope everybody enjoyed the basketball interlude chatting with Mick Cronin last week. ICYMI, I broke the conversation into two parts. Here's Part I. And here's Part II. 

If you weren't already excited for hoops season, you should be now. This team will be as fun to watch as any in UC history.

--- Also, pumped to announce two new members of the Bearcats Blog team, Joseph Gryniewski and Ashley Davis. Both are at the tail of their UC careers and will be keeping all of you updated on the Olympic sports happening around campus.

There are so many great stories lying out there I wish I had time to get to, but with football and basketball consuming so much time and you folks foaming at the mouth for more info from those, there's not enough hours in the day.

Joe and Ashley will solve that and I'm pumped to have both of them on board.

Joe had this update on men's soccer last week. Inspired by his prose, the soccer team went out and beat Pitt, 1-0, in their Big East opener behind John Manga's first career goal.

--- While we are talking dazzling prose
, Bill Koch with this fantastic piece on Dominique Battle. His story keeps rolling on as he utilizes his sixth-year of eligibility. He's one of the few connections all the way back to the Brian Kelly years.

I've spoken with Dom many times and always found him an absolute delight and one of the great kids in the program. Pumped to see him back on the field.

With his football acumen, he can really benefit UC in the secondary.

--- The upper tier of the Big East increased its stock the last few weeks. Between Louisville beating North Carolina last week and Rutgers going to Arkansas and running away with a victory, a clear upper echelon has been created.

The ESPN Power Rankings place Rutgers at 1, with Louisville and UC right behind them.

BTW, the Rut now cracks the Top 25 at 23. Louisville sits at 19. A win over the Hokies and UC cracks the poll or darn close, methinks.

UC's trip to Virginia Tech will determine which side of the conference line the Bearcats currently fall on. I'd prefer the term measuring stick only be associated with 1960s math classes, but I think we have one of those games on our hands here.

--- USF has to fall last in the world in recruiting stars: wins ratio. Does a more-hyped team disappoint more consistently than the Bulls?

For what it's worth, Ball State does have a decent team this year, but you can't be a senior-laden team like the Bulls with Big East title hopes and lose in David Letterman's backyard.

--- In that same respect, the recent results should raise UC's concerns traveling to a dangerous Toledo team. #MACtion has taken over college football this year.

Thus far, they own six wins over BCS conference schools:

Ohio 24, Penn State 14.
Ball State 41, Indiana 39
Central Michigan 42, Iowa 41
Western Michigan 30, UConn 24
Ball State 31, USF 27
N. Illinois 30, Kansas 23

Plus, Iowa narrowly beat N. Illinois and Toledo nearly toppled Arizona in the desert.

--- Some randomness...

--- Zubaz!

--- Don't rob a business in Seattle, the Good Samaritans of the city are all hopped up on Starbucks and ready to take you down.

--- Mad Men went into the Emmy's with the most nominations, but came out with a Wily Taveras-like 0-for-17.

--- Sometimes, we become a bit numb to the money given out in sports, but take in the fact Brandt Snedeker won $11.4 million winning the Tour Championship on Sunday.

--- Would you rather see a
regular concert if you went to see a band or the lead singer have a meltdown on stage. There's a piece of me that wouldn't mind witnessing the latter.

--- The cast of Full House reunited for a 25-year anniversary celebration. (Damn I'm getting old). Of course, the Olsen Twins were too good to join in. Remarkably, Kimmy Gibbler didn't have anything going on.

--- In honor of the Reds big clinching weekend, here's this year's winning song by local band Foxy Shazam. This song will always remind me of this season.




Offseason conversation with Mick Cronin, Part II

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Mick2.jpg
We take a break from the all football, all the time blog standard to interject a little basketball checkup. With this being the final bye week of the season and 10 consecutive weeks of opponent analysis and unearthing of unnecessary, obscure statistics ahead, figured I might take this brief reprieve to take the temperature of UC basketball one month before practice opens.

Plus, sitting down in the offseason with Mick Cronin might be one of the great pasttimes of covering UC athletics. He'll always allow something interesting and give an unfiltered perspective of what's happening around him. And right now -- there's plenty.

Notre Dame defection, release of a brutal schedule, arrival of 7-footers and, of course, learning to live life after sinking a hole-in-one at a prestigious Louisville golf club with a Bearcats logo ball.

In the first part we delved into the wild world of scheduling and how Cronin evaluated this year's as one of the toughest in UC basketball history.

For Part II, we take a retrospective look at the Crosstown Shootout and how it changed daily life for Cronin, working as a single-parent basketball coach, as well as a closer view at the 2012-13 Bearcats and the surprising areas Cronin's not concerned about.

Despite the Sweet 16 and the Big East Tournament final, last season will be known as the year of the Crosstown Shootout brawl to many. It served as the fulcrum of the program's season dramatically shifting from disaster to success amidst the turmoil of suspensions and negative publicity.

Cronin's postgame press conference went down as probably the most memorable media session of the year across college basketball.

The coach says what happened Dec. 10, 2011 and consequential attitude shift among his players didn't change him or his program one bit. Such is not to say there aren't a few differences.


"I get a lot of nice comments from Xavier fans now," he said. "They seem to be a lot nicer to me and complimentary. Other than that, I don't know. At the end of the day in my business you got to win. You can sit there and say did it really help as much as going to the Big East championship and Sweet 16?"

Cronin's never watched the video of his press conference following the game. He has no desire to. Well, that and ...

"My daughter the other day showed me how to do something (online) -- which was quite embarrassing. She's about to turn 6. Someone would have to navigate that for me if I really wanted to. I'd be 50-50 to be able to try to find that."

Sure, Cronin will be approached when he's out to lunch or dinner by folks who tell him they appreciated his post-brawl words. But in the business world, few bring it up. That's perfectly all right with him. Gaining notoriety never fit his agenda.

"I'm in the business of trying to help my kids grow up," he said. "Personally, the thing that pleases me the most, Yancy's got a good job he's already putting money in the bank. Dion's playing. I just talked to friend of mine Jamaal Warren's got a new job, he's got his act together. That's the stuff, for me, I feel like I do for a living. I don't worry about that, though. That's not something I think about. You've been around me enough, I'm not interested in being a celebrity. That's not my M.O."

Cronin went on to state that he's done trying to be everything to everybody. You won't find him at every social gathering in town. He believes he owns two jobs, the UC basketball coach and being a single parent.

He talked about the difficulty of raising his daughter against the backdrop of college athletics. Finding the balance isn't always easy, but he's dedicated to it.


"Imagine being a major college basketball coach and a single parent," he said. "I don't have a nanny 50 percent of the time. Some weeks more some weeks less, depending on my schedule. I have my daughter. I'm doing her hair, I'm giving her a bath. I sit up and read with her. All of the above, me and her, that's it. That's what I do with my free time. If you try to be everything to everybody you are going to end up without your job, in my opinion, or you will run yourself into the ground.

"You read about these coaches, Urban Meyer and others. That's not going to be me. My daughter's not writing me letters about how she wishes I was around more. She actually tells me take me to Aunt Kelly's, I've had enough of you. That's what she tells me. Yeah, I get that a lot."

As anybody whose been around a 6-year-old can attest, all activities are done strictly for fun. The interesting aspect of these two jobs for Cronin is the one helps carry over to the other. It's amazing the lessons kids can help adults learn instead of vice versa.

All the time with his daughter reminds him how much fun this needs to be for the guys to play college basketball. In stressful times like following the Xavier game, that can be forgotten.


"After the fight, what did I do if anything with the team, yeah, after everybody got done talking with the team, the athletic director, president, all things everybody had to do for me, then we talked. I said, 'All right, it's over and I don't want to hear anybody mention it the rest of the year. We all know we are good guys. We are not going to sneak into arenas. We are going to have fun and we are going to let everybody know we are having fun.'

"So, if you noticed anything different in our team that I'll keep the rest of my career in coaching it's mandatory smiling, mandatory hugging after big plays, high-5ing and all that type of stuff. Making sure ... I'm not letting people take the fun out of this for you."

Shifting more toward on-the-court expectations for next year, the question many outside the program are wondering is how UC will replace Yancy Gates' production in the middle. Remaining to pick up the pieces are Cheikh Mbodj, Kelvin Gaines and 7-foot-1 David Nyarsuk.

Would it be fair to call interior presence Cronin's biggest concern entering the season? Nope. He doesn't see it as an issue at all.

"No, not with David. Cheikh is a different player. Kelvin is a different player. We got to do individuals until late May because we were on quarters. Then we got the new rules of eight weeks in the summer, then we started early in August. Nobody has had more time than us. We have had our teams longer than other people. We've been in the gym and with our guys, because we had a lot of returning guys around. And younger guys to get better. It's been a big advantage. My biggest concern is backup point guard. Definitely not the five spot. I know we are three-deep there"

Mbodj has been the beneficiary of Cronin's offseason focus. This year the primary objective has been trimming body fat with new strength and conditioning coach Mike Rehfeldt.

"Everybody is becoming more dedicated, body fat down on everybody," Cronin said. "I can guarantee you when people come out to see us, the first time they come out to see us they will think Cheikh Mbodj is a transfer."

Mbodj is down 20 pounds.

"But his body fat is more importantly down 10. Jermaine Sanders is taking off dunking on people."

The entire team will need to be in better shape to handle the run-and-gun style Cronin plans to employ, rotating 10 players in and out of the lineup to wear down opponents.


"The key is to be two-deep at every position where you will have no fall off and you can maintain the pace of play. And you can take care of the ball and you can defend playing 10 into your bench and there is no fall off. Where our 10 or 11 are better than your 6 or 7."

Back to that mention of the backup point guard spot as his biggest concern. He says he focuses much of his time on Ge'Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Davis III. Cashmere Wright continues to put himself in great shape, but with the increased full-court pressure and stress on his knees, securing a capable backup must happen fast.


"Keeping Cash healthy my main thing and developing G. Last year Dion was security blanket for me. I tell our guys, do you want to play or do you want to really play? I got to be able to put you in the game on the road with seven minutes left in a tie game, Pittsburgh. If I can do that and you are going to take care of the ball, play D and be in the right spot, that's a lot for a point guard. In that scenario you got to be able to take care of the ball."

The smile running across his face when discussing this group was hard to miss. With Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker leading the fitness standard by example he knows work ethic and focus won't be a problem with this group. Makes life easy.

"It's cool on our team to get in better shape and work on your game because that's how our veteran players are. Our team right now our best players are about winning and becoming better players. If you are one of them other guys they are pulling you in the right direction. If I could coach this group of guys I'd coach forever."


Catching up: Men's soccer bouncing back

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The UC men's soccer team opened with a slow start but are gaining steam as Big East play opens this weekend. 

Joseph Gryniewski

Special to GoBearcats.com

The University of Cincinnati men's soccer team responded well to season start that included five consecutive matches without a win by pulling out two victories over the weekend. The Bearcats own a 3-4-1 record heading into a tough match with Big East rival Pittsburgh on Saturday. Coach Hylton Dayes credits the players ability to stay optimistic despite the team's early struggles as a major reason for their turnaround.

"They haven't been hanging their heads," he said. "They've been working so hard, but hadn't been getting the results we needed. So it felt great to get those wins, and I felt so happy for the guys."

UC beat Towson on Friday, 1-0, and Gardner-Webb by the same score in overtime Sunday.The slow start provided them with the test they needed to get prepared for conference play.

"We needed that kind of challenge to compete in Big East play," Dayes said.

--- Jacob Martinez made an instant impact in the opening half of his first season. The freshman netted the overtime game-winner against Gardner-Webb over the weekend.

For a team that scored only three times in the first six matches, Dayes needs Martinez to be a major part of the scoring effort as the season progresses.

"Jacob is a guy that is going to score goals for us going forward," Dayes said. "Until this weekend he had been out all year, but Jacob is the type of player that will score plenty more before it is said and done."

--- With the team headed into Big East play this week, Dayes knows what challenges lie ahead and how the team will achieve success against conference foes.

"The challenge of the Big East is that every game is a tough game," he said. "You really have to strive for consistency, because you can play your best, and still find ways to lose. Hopefully the games we have played will have prepared us for a quality opponent like Pitt on the road."

Even though Dayes feels like the team will need to rely on the game tape and the scouting reports to prepare for an unfamiliar Pittsburgh team, he feels as though it might be an advantage saying, "they don't know us either."

--- Injuries hampered the team through the early portion of the season and continue to set them back as Big East play begins.

Emmanuel Appiah and Leon Powell have missed the first eight matches of the season. When either returns is still unknown and hanging over the team.

"Our guys are still day-to-day," Dayes said. "We are going to have to go with who we have, and I'm not sure we are going to be getting anyone back soon.

Dayes understands that the team cannot be worried with injuries going into such a crucial stretch of their schedule.

"We are going to miss those guys, but at the end of the day we are going to have to go with who is out there, hopefully those guys can stay healthy, and we will get good results on the road," he said.

--- The next two weeks will be crucial for the team as they travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday to start Big East play, followed by a three game home stand featuring conference foes Syracuse and South Florida. After that, the team will head to New York to face currently undefeated Saint John's.

Offseason conversation with Mick Cronin, Part I

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Cronin.jpgWe take a break from the all football, all the time blog standard to interject a little basketball checkup. With this being the final bye week of the season and 10 consecutive weeks of opponent analysis and unearthing of unnecessary, obscure statistics ahead, figured I might take this brief reprieve to take the temperature of UC basketball one month before practice opens.

Plus, sitting down in the offseason with Mick Cronin might be one of the great pasttimes of covering UC athletics. He'll always allow something interesting and give an unfiltered perspective of what's happening around him. And right now -- there's plenty.

Notre Dame defection, release of a brutal schedule, arrival of 7-footers and, of course, learning to live life after sinking a hole-in-one at a prestigious Louisville golf club with a Bearcats logo ball.

For Part I, we'll focus on scheduling, which has become more like choreographing an intricate ballet than lining up basketball games these days. Neutral-site TV extravaganzas, aircraft carriers, disappearance of home-and-home and national bias leave UC in a unique position balancing non-conference with one final year of the current Big East setup.

For those unfamiliar with the schedule, here is the link.

The highlights are a Las Vegas Tournament around Thanksgiving featuring UNLV, Oregon and Iowa State, home game against Alabama in the Big East/SEC Challenge, sneaky difficult trip to play Marshall in Charleston, WV, the media spotlight of the Crosstown Classic and a visit from preseason Top 25 New Mexico.

Oh yeah, then the Big East run with arguably the toughest four double-up opponents in the league.

You'd have a difficult time finding opposition to this being the most difficult schedule in Cincinnati basketball history. After two years of coming under fire for schedule strength, Cronin will sit on the opposite end of the spectrum this year.

One of the biggest gets in the process was locking in a home-and-home with New Mexico, expected to be around the Top 25 in most polls. UC will return the favor to The Pit -- one of the toughest places in the country to play -- next year.

Finding the match didn't come easy.

"A team like New Mexico is hard because there's so many teams that think they're too good to play you. You gotta kinda find another Top 25 team -- which we both are -- that doesn't get enough respect from some teams that maybe get overrated and think they're too good to play you. So right now, UNLV is another one but we could end up playing them. That's kinda how our tournament came together. You know, Iowa State was really good last year, UNLV and Oregon so, you gotta kinda find teams. Because people say 'Why don't you play Kansas home and home?', well because they don't wanna play us home and home."

Cronin weighed other options, but a piece of the puzzle wouldn't fit. It's remarkable how few like teams exist in the vast structure of college hoops. Everyone believes they are better than they actually are and feel unwilling to prove their worth -- at least not without ESPN stepping in.

"Gonzaga's a (similar) team like that but it's a long travel. Do you really wanna fight that travel?  There's other teams that will call us, then it's too late. Yeah, it would've been great but our schedule's done. Somebody calls that we like and it would be a great game maybe but you're already playing Alabama that day in the Big East/SEC Challenge so we can't do it. So there's not a lot of teams out there in the same boat as you talking about finding good, quality non-league games -- people that are willing to play home and home. Very few, it's hard. You just gotta keep digging and you cant be afraid. I mean, nobody wants to go to New Mexico because they sell out The Pit and it's a huge home-court advantage and nobody wants to go so you gotta be willing to do that."

In Mick's eyes, the most underrated game of all those on the schedule this year will be Marshall. UC fans should be familiar with how this can turn out after the Herd beat the Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena last year. Dennis Tinnon, who averaged a double-double last year for Marshall was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA -- he finished with 14 points and 15 boards against UC last year.

CroninGates.jpgIt's one of those games nobody will properly appreciate the win and many will hold a loss against UC.

"People don't realize how tough of a game Marshall at Marshall is going to be. People have no idea. They should. And the fact that their best player got granted a sixth-year of eligibility, that's gonna be a brutal game. We need to try to travel fans to Marshall as much as we can.  That's not an easy game."

The other anticipated premier game on the slate is the Big East/SEC Challenge. UC will host Alabama, who should be lingering around the Top 25, if not in it by Dec. 1.

Cronin made no secret of his desire to be matched up with Kentucky in the event, providing national and regional flair. It never happened. Instead, UK ended up playing at Notre Dame.

The coach is happy with Alabama, but knows what the UK game would have meant to his team and the fan base.

"Oh I tried as hard as I could," Cronin said.

What's their conference's reasoning behind not wanting to do it?

"They don't give you reasons," he said.


This year still sets up to be the perfect storm with all but WVU back in basketball and the increased difficulty of the non-league schedule. Cronin made a point in recent years that his team benefited physically, mentally and emotionally from an easier run through the non-conference. Their play down the stretch the past two years validated the argument.

Time will tell if it's too much.

"You look at Rutgers got everybody back and they're gonna have a great year. Then our other double-ups are Pitt, Notre Dame and UConn. So if Rutgers has the year I think they're gonna have, I think our double-ups will all be against teams in the top eight or nine of the league. So, arguably, this could be the toughest schedule top to bottom, aside from a few bye games, that's ever been played here in a regular season in the history of Cincinnati basketball. If all four double-ups end up against teams that all end up in the top 10 of the Big East, that alone is enough."


Is there a way to fix the schedule imbalance, double-up issues?

"It's the way it's gonna be in every league. There's too many teams. You got leagues set up for two divisions in football where they can play seven games and there's eight teams in their division. Everything's set up for football so you're thinking along the lines of what would be best for basketball, but that's not how conferences are formed."

The double-ups are supposed to contain two top-tier teams and two bottom-tier teams. Cronin has a tough time deciphering where his bottom-tier teams are coming from.

"I look at our double-ups and think, did somebody not know that Rutgers started three freshmen guards all year last year and sat out a McDonalds All-American transfer? Did somebody not know that? Because I'm looking for who is our bottom tier team? It can't be them."

Pittsburgh finished last year in the bottom tier. So, I suppose UConn could be there next season with all the turmoil surrounding their program, but...

"Wow, they got pretty good players on their team. I don't know, you just, you never know because you don't know who's gonna be better. Two years ago we were picked 12th and it took everything I could not to laugh at the Big East media day and get up and walk out and say this a joke. When we finished 5th and could've easily finished 3rd, you know, if we could make free-throws. So that's why you just don't know. Like I'm saying, I think Rutgers will be really good and I think they won't be picked high but they're a top eight team. But I could be wrong, it could be somebody else I just think the teams with good solid returning players are gonna win."


Cronin went on to point out the chance the conference moves to a 20-team schedule with six double-ups when the turnover begins next season. With TV dictating many of those matchups, he envisions even more imbalance with the better programs drawing the short straw.

"As long as you're a better team, its gonna make it harder. They do double-ups because that's how TV wants double-ups."

I was curious about one final scheduling question in the midst of the changes in the conference, how open will Cronin be to scheduling Pitt, WVU, Syracuse or Notre Dame once they are gone from the Big East? Is there a thought from the conference to exclude them?

"When it comes to scheduling, I have the same answer for everyone - I'm always gonna do what's in the best interest of Cincinnati -- the University of Cincinnati men's basketball program. If we think it benefits us and our program, we'll do it. That's our business. We're trying to promote it, we're trying to grow it, we're trying to develop it, we're trying to do what's in the best interest of our business.  So you know, we don't do things for other people. If it's not good for us and our best interest and it helps us, then -- you wouldn't do it for your company. This is just how we operate. So you know, we're not gonna do it for fun.  What would make it in our best intersect? National television, you know, great exposure game like New Mexico."

Bearcats Breakfast 9.19.12

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With all this focus on the offense, six turnovers and development of Munchie Legaux one significant storyline fell through the cracks over the first two weeks.

That would be the dominance of the Bearcats defense.

Over two games Cincinnati is yet to allow a touchdown in the first three quarters. The two scores allowed came in the fourth with UC leading by 31 against Pitt and 20 against Delaware State.

The Cats are currently sixth in the country in points allowed per game (8.5). While we are far too early into the year to be making sweeping generalizations about UC as a top 10 defense, the foundation has been set.

"We are not making mistakes, we are not beating ourselves by and large," defensive coordinator Jon Jancek said. "For the most part we've played pretty clean football. We've communicated well playing good, team defense."

Through two games, UC's 8.67 tackles for loss per game still exceeds the pace of last year's 8.62 per game which led the nation.

More than making splash plays in the backfield, the Bearcats kept explosive plays against them to a minimum. They rank in the top third of the country in plays of 10+ and 20+ yards allowed per game.

The rock has been the defensive backfield containing most deep passing plays. Between Cam Cheatham, Deven Drane and safeties Drew Frey, Dominique Battle and Arryn Chenault, the secondary performed well, according to Jancek.

"There's things we need to continue to work on but for the most part we've held up fine in our back end," he said. "Most of (Pittsburgh's) yardage came on a screen and a fluke play with Tino (Sunseri) there, that was 100 yards of offense racked up against the throw game."

The pass defense will be tested against QB Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech. He's thrown for at least 212 yards in all three games. He's averaging 235 passing yards a game. His first sign of weakness came Saturday against Pitt when he uncorked three interceptions in the loss.

A few other notes and quotes from a conversation with Jancek yesterday:

--- In discussing safety Arryn Chenault, who grabbed his first career interception Saturday, there's a hope he could be breaking through. This is his first season as a starter and hadn't played significant snaps on defense before.

"He's got more of a presence back there now," Jancek said. "Before he was always kind of just listening, now he's taking charge."

The interception against Delaware St. marked his most significant impact as a Bearcat. Jancek's seen one big play turn into many before and hopes that's the trend unfolding with the Fairfield product.

"The light can go on, a guy finally has some success," Jancek said. "Finally all his hard works pays off and comes to fruition in one play. Any time you have an interception that really boosts your confidence, I'm hoping that Arryn really takes off here."

--- These days, the stress around defensive practices centers on physicality. With a veteran group -- particularly in the secondary -- knowledge of the system and understanding roles evolved into a strength.

Next comes intimidation and efficiency.

"We've come a long way in terms of communication and getting everybody on the same page," Jancek said. "Overall, being more disruptive on first down and violence when it comes to tackling and block destruction, those are things we really need to improve on. We need to improve our physicality."

--- Quick note on the stat line of Walter Stewart. People might point to the lack of sacks or tackles for loss against Delaware State after his remarkable opener against Pittsburgh, but Jancek points out Stewart was asked to contribute in alternate ways against the Hornets.

Delaware State's plan was to throw quickly to neutralize the outside pass rush and consequently, Jancek moved Stewart around more and sent Stewart out in coverage where he shined using his history as a linebacker to his advantage.

"Statistically nobody really gets to see that," Jancek said. "But he really did some good things for us as far as coverage. Walter's a football player. He's got good instincts, you can drop him in coverage, rush him, he's got a great skill set for a variety of things you ask him to do."

Let's eat...

--- It's getting real over in Tommy G's video suite. Last weekend they strapped the GoPro camera to a cheerleader to give a rare perspective of the game.

Here's the cool results.

--- Ever want to a great way to kill time? Ask UC baseball coach Brian Cleary to tell stories about being a coach with Team Great Britain. He's doing it again at the World Baseball Classic and writing a blog for the site along the way. Great stuff.

--- Behind the scenes footage and highlights from the win over DSU.

--- Andrea Adelson touches on UC's sense of urgency at the bye week.

--- CBSSports.com RapidReporters
discuss Walter Stewart as an NFL prospect on their watch list.

--- The Eagles officially placed Jason Kelce on IR as he had surgery on his torn MCL and will have his partially torn ACL taken care of in 3-4 weeks.

Then he came home and broke out this hilarious tweet.

--- Randomness...

--- Lindsay Lohan arrested again? Shocking development. In related news, the sun continues to rise in the East.

--- Alex Morgan says she receives marriage proposals on Twitter almost every day. My bad.

--- Not sure what I would do if a
cheetah jumped on the roof of my safari jeep, but be calm probably wouldn't top the list.

--- Mr. Belding is in professional wrestling.

--- SportsPickle with a list of 10 excuses people make for their failed athletic career. I've said at least three.

--- Mumford and Sons go
with the live version for this video. Wish all bands did this.




Bearcats Breakfast 9.17.12

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Two days later, the Bearcats win against Delaware State feels more like a blessing in disguise than it did in the moment.

Keeping a young team on edge about their improvement is necessary. Coaches will be pounding them the next two weeks to play better and take care of the football. I wrote a bit about that in my postgame column. Here's the link in case you missed it.

Two weeks of stewing over the performance and preparing for a game against Virginia Tech could create a perfect storm to pull off a win in Landover.

We shall see. Certainly, that game looks much more winnable today than it did Friday. Still trying to wrap my brain around how Pitt plays like it does the first two weeks and dismantles the Hokies.

Not sure if that result plays out as good or bad for UC in the long run, but giving more credence to the Pitt win doesn't hurt. Beat them both and nobody needs to worry about what it means.

Let's eat...

--- S Drew Frey and WR Alex Chisum were held out Saturday's game due to undisclosed injuries. Sitting was announced as precautionary. Sounds like the injuries aren't serious but they wanted to be sure both are ready to go against Virginia Tech. Chisum was even dressed to play, but never touched the field.

--- With every injury comes and opportunity. Damon Julian falls into that list from Saturday. Julian made two particularly nice plays filling in for Chisum. By the time all was said and done, he pulled off the trifecta: First career starter, first career reception, first career touchdown.

He showed off physicality in grinding his way to a touchdown and ran a great route down the sideline hauling in the most impressive pass and catch of the night.

He finished leading the team in receiving with four receptions for 62 yards. Finding out he'd be playing a significant role was a "spur of the moment type of thing," but he didn't look out of place.

Julian is a senior who transferred in from Los Angeles Pierce CC last season but didn't record any statistics playing in just three games.

He may be in line for many more snaps after what he showed against Delaware State. It's been a difficult journey attempting to prove he belongs and Julian certainly relishes the chance he got Saturday.

"It's been tough like every other journey in my life," he said. "At the same time it's a humbling experience once I get one play or two plays or just an opportunity to do anything I try to make the best of anything."

--- There's been much discussion in this space about what will become of the RB rotation and if two or even three backs will featured. How will the rotation work? Well, George Winn has officially bull-rushed his way to the lead.

He carried 24 times for 147 yards against Delaware State after a strong opener against Pittsburgh. Winn earned the right to not only hold onto his starting position, but rarely be spelled by Jameel Poteat and RDAIV. Abernathy is used in so many other way, it's easy to get the ball in his hands 8-12 times a game. Poteat can be inserted to allow the occasional breather, but the offense looks headed in the direction where Winn is the starter and this isn't much of a rotation as much as spelling Winn to make sure he stays fresh.

All that said, Jones still hasn't seen enough out of the running game.

"(Winn) was consistent," Jones said. "What you saw with our offense, we didn't have the big plays that you need. There were a couple times we had some long runs where we had the drop down safety and all we had to do was make one guy miss. We need more big plays in our offense."

--- No, the turnovers from Munchie Legaux weren't a great development. Yes, he forced some throws, but he made a number of shorter throws right on the money that he drew heat for missing in the opener. He wasn't perfect, a few pitch-and-catch throws still short-hopped receivers or flew out of reach, but the accuracy looked better.

The 20 of 27 performance ups his completion percentage to 61.8 on the season. If he can hold that number, UC will win more than its fair share.

--- Got to give credit
to the student section for bringing it again. Great crowd of students really brought a ton of energy from that corner of Nippert.

--- Another week and another band member fell running down the steps. Luckily, it wasn't the tuba player. I say if the streak reaches three its time to consider retiring or reformatting the tradition.

--- UC receiving votes in the AP poll this week. The Bearcats received five votes to land them at 34th, one spot behind Virginia Tech.

--- Game time for UC-Virginia Tech
still not known as they fall into the six-day TV window. We will know following next Saturday's games. It will either be 3:30 p.m. or a night game.

--- Big week for the Big East. They finish 3-0 against the ACC with Pitt beating Virginia Tech, UConn topping Maryland and Louisville holding on against North Carolina.

Overall, the conference went 6-1.

Wins like those are huge for conference perception, especially given the current landscape of the sport. The fact ACC is viewed in a more favorable light when it comes to play on the football field right now is comical.

--- Big day for UC alums in the NFL.
Another nice game for Armon Binns, who hauled in five receptions for 66 yards, including his first NFL pop. He came up woozy after receiving a big hit from D'Qwell Jackson.

Binns manned up, though, and came right back in a few plays later.

Bad news out of Philadelphia as Jason Kelce went out with an injury and reports indicate he's out for the year. Kelce rode into his team's home opener in the back of a fire truck with no shirt on, by the way. Awesome.
celekleap.jpg
On the bright side from Philly, Brent Celek racked up eight receptions, 157 yards and a TD. Oh, and he did this to Ed Reed.----> 

--- Isaiah Pead struggling
for playing time in St. Louis. Steven Jackson was benched, but Pead didn't see any snaps at RB. he returned one kickoff for 12 yards.

Some randomness...

--- Somehow, Bobby Valentine
still has a job. Gives help to failing, inept employees everywhere.

--- Proven theory: Monkeys=ratings. Also proven, monkey rankings also net a spot in randomness.

--- This is the Taj Mahal
of paper airplanes flown onto the field at Miller Park. I once went to a Montreal Expos game and all the fans brought paper and tried to fly them onto the field from the upper deck. There was more cheering for those that came close than the actual baseball team.

Probably explains the Washington Nationals.




Bearcats derive humility, teachable moments from victory

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Cincinnati moves to 2-0 with a win against Delaware State, but the manner in which the win came provided motivational material for the Bearcats.

CINCINNATI - As the Bearcats football team flooded between cheerleaders to victory corner in front of the school marching band, the fight song played underneath the glare of a 23-7 Cincinnati victory over Delaware State beaming off the scoreboard.

The moment of celebration which motivates early-morning workouts and extra reps on the bench press all offseason came for one of seven possible times this season.

In the corner of Nippert Stadium UC helmets bobbed up and down along with the beat, but the effort looked more like a crew of teenagers dragged caroling by their parents through the neighborhood instead of a team celebrating victory.

There were few smiles. Even fewer bro-hugs. Not even a Butch Jones Bearcats patented chest bump rose in the air.

Not on this night. Not following a game where the golden rule of the program was violated - six times.

"Not up to our standard," Jones said in the opening seconds of his postgame press conference. "It starts first and foremost, I think you all know, we are going to take care of the football here."

Indeed, everyone knows. Not a training camp practice went by without Jones repeating his mantra of tucking and protecting the football over the loud speakers every 10 minutes.

"Chin, chin, chin, chin, chin," is likely still bouncing off trees in West Harrison, Ind.

The bad news of the night came in the form of six turnovers - two interceptions and two fumbles from Munchie Legaux with two other fumbles by Anthony McClung and Travis Kelce. The sloppy offense at one point saw four of five drives end in turnover and only scored three points in the second half against an FCS team.

Jones will be quick to point out the shrinking gap between FCS and FBS, but make no mistake the Bearcats athletically overmatched the Hornets. See George Winn barreling for 147 yards on 24 carries behind an offensive line pushing three to five yards every snap for proof.

In the world of education, these would be called teachable moments. That brings the silver lining of the six-turnover cloud. A UC team riding high off a 34-10 opening-night win against Pitt received a taste of humility and Jones added a game worth of ammunition to fuel the two weeks of preparation for Virginia Tech. And it all comes with a shiny 2-0 record next to their name in the standings.

"The positive is, we are 2-0 and won the football game," Jones said. "I think it makes everyone have a gut-check of how they are preparing, how they are living their life ... it gives us a lot of teaching points with a lot of young players."

First among them will be Legaux, who saw poor decisions mar a strong first four drives. The struggles with pitch-and-catch completions didn't show up as UC ran up to a 20-0 advantage in the first half. Players were hit in stride and he successfully used his legs when necessary.

But, a fumble on a handoff exchange and forced pass into traffic let two drives die inside the 10. The final stat sheet doesn't look bad for the quarterback in his fifth career start - 20 of 27, 208 yards passing, eight carries for 25 yards rushing. Yet, this wasn't a step forward in a development Jones expected to unfurl with growing pains.

The struggles didn't frustrate Legaux, though. They motivated him.

His first order of business, even in the 10 minutes following the game was to inform Jones he's ready to come in and watch film with him. He typically would watch film with the offensive staff and players, but he requested a personal session with the head coach.

Jones called Legaux's four turnovers "very disturbing," but when teachable moments aren't given by coaches, rather demanded by players, the sting of disturbing wears off fast.

"I told him I am going to come watch film with him," Legaux said. "I felt today we were real sloppy and I know coach Jones took that personal and guys on this team took that personal so I want to go sit down with him and see the things he sees and correct them going into next week."

Losing the turnover battle by four rarely equals a victory. Luckily for UC, on this night it did. For now, that's all that matters.

"We played a sloppy game," Legaux said. "We are glad it was now instead of later. We don't want to go into the Big East turning the ball over six times in one game. We'll never win a game like that."

The good news for Jones and the Bearcats, the focused fallout from this game means UC doesn't plan on having to prove that theory correct.

Cliff's Notes: Delaware State at UC

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For those who haven't been paying close enough attention this week, I don't condone it, but here is a helpful cheat sheat so you can be an informed fan heading into Saturday's game against Delaware State.

Where: Nippert Stadium

When: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3

Forecast: Temperature in 60s at kickoff, no rain expected

2012 records: Bearcats 1-0, 1-0, Panthers 1-1, 0-0

Tickets: Plenty of seats still available, purchase here. Student tickets have sold out and moved into student overflow.

What to wear: No crowd color mandate for this game.

Past results: This marks the first meeting between the two programs.

Need to know: The Bearcats are the better team. Start there. Their talent far outweighs this FCS school. Not to say an FCS school can't spring a surprise (cough*Youngstown State*cough), but that seems highly unlikely. The Hornets lost by 24 points last week to Delaware, not exactly a world-beater.

Walt.jpegWho to know: Hornets QB Nick Elko. He threw for 353 yards last week against Delaware and he's the one weapon who could damage UC. Butch Jones compared his quick release to Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. Now, he made sure to say he wasn't comparing him as the same quarterback. Still, slowing down Elko's arm will be the key to ending the Hornets night early.

Defining matchup: DE Walter Stewart vs. Delaware St. line. After his dominating showing against Pitt, better believe teams will start scheming for Stewart. That could man halfback or tight end chips, but Stewart will need to find a way. If he consistently penetrates the pocket as he did last week he can put a stick in the spokes of the entire Hornets attack.

Injuries of note: Icing on the cake of the win against Pitt was no major injuries came out of it. Outside of the standard bumps and bruises, the team is as healthy as could be expected.

Delving deeper: Central Michigan transfer DT John Williams has been a blessing for the UC program. He arrived as a grad student and filled depth at a thin position along with Camaron Beard and Jordan Stepp. He finished the Pitt game with a career-high 1.5 sacks, adding two TFL.

Connections: Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian was a member of the Delaware State staff for all of three days back in 2004. Unfortunately for the Hornets, the up-and-coming OC was offered a job by the Chicago Bears on Day 3.

By the numbers: The Bearcats led the nation last year with 8.62 tackles for loss per game. They blew past that pace in Game 1. UC threw Pitt down 10 times behind the line of scrimmage in that game.

By the numbers, Part II: The last time Delaware State played an FCS school, they traveled to Michigan in 2008. It didn't go well. They fell, 63-6.

Quotent Quotables: Ralph David Abernathy IV, who combined rushing, receiving and returns for 115 total yards against Pitt on what position he most enjoys: "Running back probably, because that is what I have always been doing. Taking the handoff is an the opportunity to just do what I do with the ball. Being versatile just gets me the opportunity to get the ball in so many different ways."


Looking ahead: A huge showcase for UC football looms after a bye week next week. They will travel to Landover, Md. to take on No. 13 Virginia Tech.

Hype video: Video Shane keeps cranking out the hits. This time he breaks out the Call to Arms for the student section.


Bearcats Breakfast 9.13.12

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Hope everybody caught my piece on OC Mike Bajakian yesterday. Really think the job he's done here the last few years has been remarkable and without the relationship/trust he developed with Butch Jones, reformatting this offense as they have would have been much more difficult.

One extra I came across that I wasn't able to stuff into the story. Actually, Bajakian is familiar with this week's opponent, Delaware State. Turns out he coached there for three days. Yep, he showed up to take a job there and on Day 3, the Chicago Bears called.

"Unbeknownst to me I had been recommended to (Bears coach) Lovie Smith and (Bears GM) Jerry Angelo," Bajakian said. "Sitting at my desk at Delaware State ... Mr. Angelo asked me how quick I could move, I said my bags are in the car. Secretary asked if I could make a flight by 5 o'clock today. I jumped in my car and drove to the airport."


Thus, the Bajakian era at Delaware State ended. Somehow think he made the right decision.

Let's eat...

--- So, Notre Dame will be
taking its talents to the ACC. Immediate reaction from most fans is fright and disgust at another step in the downward spiral of the Big East.

I'm here to tell you that was not the case yesterday. Far from it.

Actually, Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel is here to tell you that and he holds more clout in his pinky finger than I do in my entire body. Read this story, then continue.

Here's what you need to know -- did the Big East lose a quality basketball program yesterday? Sure it did. Did you want to lose them? No. The Irish and Mike Brey have turned into one of the consistent top tier programs in the conference.

Does the league and BE tournament look any stronger or weaker with ND in it or Memphis/Temple in it? Probably worth debating. Let's be clear, there's still no shortage of basketball talent in the conference and it remains one of the best hoops conferences in the country and on some years will be the best. This not debatable.

Louisville, Villanova, Georgetown, UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, Temple, Marquette, St. John's, USF. Enjoy.

In the broader picture, this move by Notre Dame improves the Big East's football picture. All this conference needs to survive is stability. It owns the coast-to-coast TV attraction desired. The key is not losing anymore key institutions on the football field. ND's move means the ACC won't be plucking anyone else and it very much appears the Big 12 is content with its current structure.

Stability at last gives this Big East model its chance to survive and thrive as many inside and outside the conference believe it will under the new TV deal emerging in the next few months.

And a point I have been harping on since the beginning that Wetzel reiterates in his piece -- will an undefeated Big East team end up in the four-team playoff? Yep.

At the end of the day, that's all you need to stay relevant. Well, that and a massive TV deal.

Turn that frown upside down, UC fans. 

--- Most importantly, this
news elicited the Tweet of the Month from ESPN's Rick Reilly.

--- As Bill Koch found in speaking with Whit Babcock, there is no sense of panic. Nor should there be.

--- Opinions aren't all the same on the severity of the move, Dana O'Neil of ESPN claims this solidifies the ACC as the top basketball conference in the country and increases instability in the Big East. Sure, institutions like Louisville, Rutgers and UConn might secretly desire to head elsewhere -- who wouldn't be intrigued by $20 million payouts -- but there is nowhere to go.

The ACC probably does take the title of best hoops league, but it will be close. And, ultimately, as we've learned the last three years, basketball means next to nothing in the big picture. Football moves forward on a more stable course.

--- ND AD Jack Swarbrick
explains his move and says he doesn't view it as a negative impact for the Big East. Granted, he kind of has to say that.

--- ESPN spoke with media rights experts about how the move would affect the contract negotiations. Answer: Not at all.

--- From the fairly absurd media observation department, my alma mater of Ohio U. was mentioned among possible teams who could slide in to fill a void. Listen, I love my Bobcats and if TV deals were based on party school rankings, this would be a slam dunk, but that talk should end there.

--- Perhaps the bigger news coming out of Thursday for the stability of the Big East revolved around news breaking Jim Calhoun will retire from UConn.

UConn is the most traditional power left in the new Big East. Can they stay strong without him? He built the Huskies. He is the Huskies.

Can they land a high-profile coach? Seems like a no-brainer, but have you been to Storrs?

Matt Norlander wonders about the future of UConn hoops here.

As friend of the blog Troy Machir of NBC Sports points out, UConn fans just love that guy.

--- At least the Bearcats can know they sent him out the right way.



--- Walter Stewart's draft stock is on the rise, from Evan Hilbert at CBSSports.com.

--- Wanted to address a comment made by Jones following the win against Pittsburgh. CBJ mentioned Munchie Legaux needed to improve on what he calls "pitch-and-catch passes."

Without doubt, too many short to intermediate passes weren't completed against Pittsburgh as Legaux finished 14 of 28. Legaux was victimized by a few drops, but just as many were inaccurate.

How do you fix this? Is it fixable or will it be a fact UC fans will have to deal with this year?

I asked Munchie and Bajakian their thoughts on the pitch-and-catch fix.

"A lot of it is technique, a lot is experience," Bajakian said. "Getting used to those game-speed reps, different scenarios and situations."

Munchie took on a similar mindset that time will cure those ailments.

"
The biggest key with that is just knowing your receivers and repetition, practice," he said. "You can't just go out and do it, it has to happen in practice. Pitch and catch is just routes on air, you and the receiver. I throw the ball he catches it, as simple as that, you have to know repeating it over and over. Knowing where the receiver is going to be at, where he wants the ball and he has to know how I am throwing the ball on time, on rhythm."

He sees it as an easy fix. Time will tell.

"I want to say it was just first-game anxiety," Legaux said. "We'll get that taken care of this week in practice and hopefully we won't have those problems this game."


--- Time for some randomness...

--- The iPhone 5 announcement came yesterday. No word yet on if it can remote navigate the Mars rover yet.

--- Huge fan of Donald Glover on Community, cool to see he's developing his own sitcom.

--- When I first heard Bullet with Butterfly Wings by Smashing Pumpkins I thought, 'You know what, I bet that lead singer will open a tea shop one day."

--- Since I just mentioned it,
might as well throw it on here. For all those of you needing to rage this Thursday. Have a great day.

OC Mike Bajakian: 'The Master Professor'

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Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is beginning his sixth year in the position under Butch Jones and their relationship has been at the core of an offensive reconstruction unveiled to rave reviews against Pitt.

CINCINNATI -- At his core, Bearcats offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian will always be a math teacher. Spending two years teaching high school never quite washes away even followed by 16 years of NFL and college coaching experience.

On the field, in the meeting room, the math teacher break out anywhere.
Bajakian.jpg
"Even in the quarterback room at times he'll step back and teach us an equation," QB Munchie Legaux said.

Like any good student, Legaux remembers the principle: F=mv2.

That's force equals mass times velocity squared. When calculating how to run over an opponent, these basic math and physics principles prove speed can overcome size. No opponent is too big to be pancaked.

"I always joke about vector analysis, results and forces," Bajakian said.

No, from the skinny frame and glasses to the math standup, Bajakian doesn't fight the image. In a room stuffed with bench press records and testosterone, he can't hide his personality.

"He's kind of like the master professor," Butch Jones said.

Jones knows better than anybody and that's why Bajakian sat as his offensive coordinator every season he's been a head coach - three at Central Michigan and now three at Cincinnati. The intense, football fire of Jones mesh with the professor's calculated approach to offensive football.

Thumbnail image for Butch Jones fist pump.jpg"We are a good balancing act on each other," said Jones, who offers periodic suggestions during the game but for the most part lets Bajakian call his plays. "I will come in with some ideas. He'll say, OK, if we are going to put something in we are going to have to take something out. Because we both believe in running an execution-based system and not a designer offense."

The result has been an offense that finished in the top quarter of college football four of his five seasons as an OC with Jones. Only once in the last five years have they been outside the top 40 nationally in points scored.

In no year has his presence and relationship with Jones been more important than this one. They lost Isaiah Pead, DJ Woods, starters on the offensive line and, most importantly, took on an inexperienced quarterback project for the first time in their tenure.

An offensive philosophy based on pinpointing playmakers was forced to search for new ones.

Yet, without Dan LeFevour or Zach Collaros leading the way, a fresh offensive group debuted Thursday functioning with explosiveness and versatility. UC averaged 7.86 yards per play, good for sixth in the country and a number that would have led college football a year ago. Six different players popped gains of 20 yards or more.

Behind Legaux, Ralph David Abernathy, George Winn and Kenbrell Thompkins was an offensive mind constructing the latest incarnation of this philosophy.

"He's a guru at what he does," said Legaux, who became the first UC quarterback in modern history to throw for 200 yards and rush for 100. "He knows offense, he knows football in and out. If I have a question he can answer whether it is fronts, coverages, quarterback play, he's willing to help me out with any situation."

Bajakian saw the offense he constructed with Jones evolve from what it started as six years ago - primarily due to six years spent featuring different personnel. At the base, he says, playing with great effort and great tempo will be what he hangs his hat on.

Those principles drew Bajakian and Jones to each other when they first met at high school camps in Michigan when Jones was an offensive coordinator at Central Michigan and Bajakian was an assistant under Lloyd Carr with the Wolverines.

Bajakian would go on to spend two years winning an NFC Championship with the Chicago Bears as an offensive quality control coach under Lovie Smith, but eventually matriculated back to Jones. Their relationship has been at the base of what's made his career -- and the UC offense - ascend.

"I knew he was a fiery coach, detail-oriented, football junkie, we had kind of hit it off from the start," Bajakian said.

He views himself in that same fashion - maybe minus the same type of vocal, outward fire. Without the continuity of Jones and Bajakian, along with longtime assistants like Don Mahoney (offensive line) and T.J. Weist (receivers), this new offense wouldn't enjoy the rapid turnaround showcased Thursday against Pitt.

"Even though our players haven't played a lot," Jones said, "they have been in the program so they understand the terminology, they understand the standard and expectations and the manner in which we are going to conduct our business day to day."

And they understand, in the offensive meeting room, never be surprised when "the master professor" tosses an equation on the board.

Tuesday lunch: Stay focused edition

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In the wake of the 34-10 drubbing of Pitt with FCS Delaware State on the horizon, the atmosphere could hold in the volatile state of relaxation around UC football. Butch Jones and his staff are doing their best to avoid such a letdown this week.

That was one of the key themes during Tuesday's Bearcats luncheon and press conference.

"Always a concern," Jones said. "When our players started watching (the Delaware State) film they could see the areas they could hurt us. It's an overall maturity. This is going to be a test of our leadership."

The primary concern for UC regarding Delaware State is their redshirt senior quarterback Nick Elko. He's thrown for an average of 227 yards per game and hit on 64 percent of his passes. He can clearly sling it, though the Hornets run game has been virtually non-existent.

Jones said his quick release reminds him of Teddy Bridgewater, but he wasn't making an overall comparison between the two.

"It's a quarterback-oriented offense and it starts with him," Jones said. "They do a great job schematically and creating one-on-one matchups for their best players to go in space."

At the end of the day, the Hornets are an FCS opponent who will be overmatched against UC. Treating them like one in relation to effort will be on the top of the coaches mind.

--- Bit of news committed when Jones said WR Dyjuan Lewis has been medically cleared and will rejoin the team. He suffered an injury in the spring. The doctors said at the time of his injury he would likely miss the regular season but to Lewis credit he battled through.

"He's worked exceptionally hard," Jones said. "His attitude has been tremendous, he's been doing well in the classroom and he's really handled his business. We'll start getting him game-ready. I don't know if he'll see any reps this Saturday but that was great news for us today."

Lewis was one of the most highly-touted recruits of the Jones tenure. He entered UC with much more hype than his teammate at Indianapolis Pike, Anthony McClung. Production and injuries sent both careers in different directions, but the athletic ability is there for Lewis to make an impact.

--- The impact of the NFL players
in the league clearly filters down to the current crop at UC. Derek Wolfe's first sack came Sunday and Jones spoke about how seeing the ascension of a player like that brought out the awakening for a guy like Walter Stewart.

There are now 16 former UC players on NFL rosters and practice squads. All serving as the symbol of what hard work can deliver.

"Last year was monumental for him and seeing if you really buy into the standard of the football program you see what happens with Derek Wolfe and John Hughes and Rob Trigg and Monte Taylor," Jones said. "He saw it, as a coach you can talk about it, you can lecture about it, but it is like raising your own kids. Until they really see it happen before their eyes ..."

Jones tweeted this weekend about the pride of witnessing Wolfe's development. He's truly become a symbol of the type of player Jones wants his program to represent. 

"I talked to Derek Wolfe two days ago, you see him play Sunday Night Football and Cris Collinsworth said the reason he got drafted so high was his effort, his intensity and just his overall demeanor to get to the football," Jones said. "Well, that is something we work on every day."

--- In the same respect, Jones admitted he's looking for a little bit more from Brandon Mills, so he's set up a cone 30 yards down the field Mills will have to sprint to at the conclusion of every play.

Mills contributed two tackles Thursday, but was pushing the backfield on a number of occasions.

--- The tempo wasn't
good enough in Jones' eyes on Thursday. The Bearcats ran a total of 59 plays which is far below the goal.

"We have to take tremendous strides with that it gets back to that overall consistency," Jones said. "We'd like to be in that 70 to 80 play range to keep our defense off the field."

The Bearcats offense shouldn't be classified as a traditional spread, rather the focus for OC Mike Bajakian and Jones is always on uptempo more than pass-oriented.

"We are a pro-style, uptempo, no-huddle offense," Jones said. "Running game we have an I-back mentality. Spread offense you think of finesse, we are not going to do anything that's finesse."

--- Nugget of information gathered from AD Whit Babcock, who said student tickets for Saturday's 7 p.m. game are already sold out and they are into the student overflow. Can't deny the students are as behind this team as any in recent memory.

--- Have to point out
a congrats to former Bearcats star Armon Binns on his first career reception last night. In fact, he finished with four receptions for 28 yards starting opposite AJ Green.

--- In case you wanted
to watch the entire Jones press conference, here is the video.

--- All this Wolfe talk
made me want to post his draft and highlight video from April. Have a great day.

First nightcap of the year

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Game one for the Bearcats may have everyone resting comfortably, but that's something any good college coach worries about.  Though UC systematically dismantled Pitt 34-10 in a game that never felt close, Butch Jones will likely build up Delaware State as a Louisiana-Monroe-type that came to Arkansas's home field and sent the Hogs back to the trough weeping.

Just as Nick Saban scowled at the media this past week when someone belittled Western Kentucky playing Alabama, someone will likely tread on the topic this week of, "why play Delaware State?"

It will not be me.

Numerous seasons of sideline reporting has seen me shot down like a "Call of Duty" figure more times than I can recall.  I still have the "verbal shrapnel".

What it basically amounts to is you can schedule a few appetizers before your conference season to give your team confidence, or you can load up on Top 25 teams.  Usually, the weaker teams load up because it all comes down to revenue.  If you're team has a shot, you might take the old Kansas State method to bowl games with "cupcakes" served before the main portion.

Somewhere in the middle is the right answer.  You do need to schedule some "lighter" opponents, but you also need to be tested. With what UC has this year, plus the Virginia Tech game qualifies as "somewhere in the middle" with me.

Here's the skinny this week:


WHERE:  Back at "The Nipp".  Fill'er up.
KICKOFF:  7 p.m. Pull down the tent and shut down the grill in time to watch UC's special teams either boot it or return it.
THE SERIES: Likely a first, wouldn't you think? No trophy involved.
NICKNAME CHALLENGE:  Delaware State is the Hornets.  Win yourself a pre-game bet.

UC offense vs. Delaware State defense


The big question is can George Winn rip through the line for a first play score "Isaiah Pead-style" again?  And, if he does, will he be disciplined for hurling the ball into the student section again? I put the first question at 70 percent.  The second, I would say 0 percent.  He likely got chewed out for chucking the ball, but it did have Chapman-like velocity, didn't it?

Delaware State has a defensive back named Terrick Colston who had 12 tackles and won some honor for his play in the Hornets' win over VMI.  I would venture to say if Colston has 12 tackles against UC, that's a good sign as the Bearcats would have penetrated the secondary in one form or another.  It's usually not a good sign when a DB is the team tackling leader.  Plus, the Hornets were stung by the in-state rival power that is the Delaware Blue Hens last week.  If the Hens put 38 on the toteboard, realistic minds have to think that UC could put a 50-spot up if they wanted to.

This looks like a game where you'll see multiple backs and receivers and I would think Brendon Kay might come in for more than the "victory formation".  That's why these games are good, because you need to develop your bench and no one learns a thing from watching. Kids play sports to play, there's plenty of time as an adult to watch all you want.

Obvious advantage: UC

UC defense vs. Delaware State offense

The pleasant surprise for me against Pitt was the play of the defense.  I worried about the losses of Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer.  After watching Walter Stewart dominate, John Williams contribute and Greg Blair show no love for his home city, I'm feeling a lot better.  Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and Nick Temple all were near the ball also.  In this contest, the secondary will likely get a workout and  scouts might get a better handle on what Drew Frey can do.  Delaware State quarterback Nick Elko threw the ball 50 times last week and 38 the week before.  Don't look for the Hornets to "establish the run".  Their best runner is Malcolm Williams, but he's not in the same category of Pitt's Ray Graham or even Isaac Bennett.  Elko's "go to" receiver is Justin Wilson who caught nine passes for 93 yards against Delaware.  Again, he's not in the category of Pitt's Mike Shanahan or Devin Street or Cameron Saddler.

The pick: UC

Special teams

Tony Miliano made his field goals and Patrick O'Donnell's punting average was good vs. Pitt.  In this game, Miliano could be limited to extra points and if it goes well, a back-up kicker might get in the scorebook.  Likewise, for O'Donnell-if it's a good game, he'll be holding for extra points more than anything.  Delaware State has a German punter who's 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds.  His name is Marco Kano and I would expect to hear his name repeatedly Saturday night.

Advantage: UC

Intangibles

This is the equivalent of an NFL preseason game.  That's not meant as a shot, it's simply the truth. Delaware State's home opener was played in front of less than 3,000 fans.  UC's student section alone should cover that.  It's chance for them to play a big opponent and UC to get their back-ups in.  While that might sound like boasting, this program is only about 20 years removed from being in that same position.  Worse off for Delaware State, their next game is against Florida A&M and it's Band Day.  I don't know how well the Hornets race onto the field with their instruments and perform, but have you ever seen Florida A&M's band? They're probably the most athletic and entertaining in the college game today.

So....

The outcome is not in question. The bigger question might be what quarter the Bearcats reach the half-century mark.

Bearcats Breakfast 9.10.12

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Nothing refreshes life better than a full football weekend in Cincinnati. Something about casting chores aside and delving into the abyss of the games makes me want to hug strangers.

It concludes tonight when Armon Binns makes his professional active debut for the Bengals at the Ravens.

Exciting moment last night when Derek Wolfe notched his first career sack in Game 1 against the Steelers. He tossed down Ben Roethlisberger with a great stunt from the DT position while also adding another tackle for loss. He moved inside and outside all game and was as disruptive as any player on that defense not named Von Miller.

Looking at it, a question can be posed if Cincinnati is becoming D-line U? Take a look around the NFL right now? Trent Cole. Connor Barwin. Derek Wolfe. John Hughes saw time for the Browns yesterday in his first game.

My gut tells me Walter Stewart will be joining them next season.

A legacy is brewing.

Let's eat...

--- In the Morning After on Friday I mentioned the fact Munchie Legaux passed for more than 200 yards and rushed more than 100. As far back as I was willing to trace I couldnt' find a QB to do that at UC since 2004.

UC SID Ryan Koslen dug the rest of the way for me and found Munchie to be the first UC quarterback in the modern earn to throw for 200 and rush for 100 in the same game.

How's that for a debut? First game as the team's official stater and he accomplishes a feat no other UC quarterback has done.

As far as around college football the first two weeks, only these four QBs accomplished the task in a game:

Braxton Miller (Ohio State) vs. Miami (Ohio): 207/161
Denard Robinson (Michigan) vs. Air Force: 208/218
Cody Fajardo (Nevada) vs. USF: 271/134
Jake Medlock (FIU) vs. Akron: 209/141
Munchie Legaux (UC) vs. Pitt: 207/117

The good news, two of those teams who already allowed a 200/100 remain on UC's schedule this year.

--- Down the Drive mentions
that not only the yards were impressive about Munchie, but also the decision-making he displayed.

--- I mentioned Stewart earlier and more weeks like his opener will move him up draft boards everywhere. Stewart was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after his 9 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 2 sacks and FF.

His 3.5 TFL ties him for second in the country in average. Remember, that was a category Wolfe owned last year when he ended the season with 21.5, finishing fifth in the country.

To think Stewart will keep up the pace would crazy, but certainly a great way to start his senior year and well-deserved honor.

--- Amazing what happens
when the games start. For maybe the 10th straight year it seems, UC moved up the power rankings once the games started.

In this case, the Bearcats jump from fifth to second in Andrea Adelson's Big East Power Rankings at ESPN.

At CBSSports.com they didn't have the heart to jump UC over USF for No. 2.

--- Bill Koch wrote about the breakout star from Thursday's game -- RDAIV. The multiple ways in which Mike Bajakian used Abernathy highlighted a great gameplan from the OC. I think he comes away as the most underappreciated star of the night.

Despite losing so many key components to last year's offense, he had that attack humming and hitting open spots from the opening snap. He scouted and found his talent while finding ways to get them involved at their strength.

The less is more approach with Munchie's running game played out perfectly. Personally, I'd like to see a few more runs, but who am I to question the output. Bajakian backed up his ranking from ESPN as the best OC in the Big East.

--- Catching up with Saturday's opponent Delaware State, they lost to the Delaware Blue Hens -- the artist formerly known as the Fighting Flaccos -- 38-14 on Saturday. They beat VMI in Week 1.

--- ESPN loved showing this video of the UC player taking a digger coming down the steps. I like the way he kept "playing" through the adversity. A true fighter's spirit.

--- AA pointed out the poor weekend for the Big East. Perception in non-conference has been the biggest problem for the conference in its battle to stay relevant. Weekends like this one don't help. While the conference fared well in bowl games over the years, struggling against other conferences and losing to teams like NC State and Maryland are a step in the wrong direction.

The BE starts 0-2 against the ACC.

--- Virginia Tech sits on the horizon on Sept. 29 and while they are 2-0, they looked beatable. The Hokies ended up beating Austin Peay 42-7, but were up only 7-0 with six minutes left in the second quarter.

VT's defense will be strong, but they are looking for consistency offensively. Of course, they play Pitt this weekend, so help is on the way.

--- Love the behind the scenes look at the Pitt game from ButchJonesblog. Like this line from Butch, "this team doesn't play with emotion, it plays with passion and energy."

There is very much a difference between being emotional and being passionate/energetic. It showed between how UC handled situations compared to how Pitt did.

Perhaps the best news of all, Get the Dub is back.



--- Randomness...

--- The art of the trending wedding. Sad the #WurthmanWedding that owned my timeline a few months back didn't get a mention.

--- Every time I look at pictures from the Hubble telescope I start thinking very deep thoughts.

--- This story comes from Florida? Really, so hard to believe. #Sarcasm

--- If a bison is standing on your walking path -- find another walking path.

--- Attempting to rank the top 25 Seinfeld episodes as Paste did only ends in argument. It's too subjective. But if you try to contend the Yada-Yada tops The Contest, I have a hard time even debating you.

--- Eddie Vedder hopped
on stage with Bruce Springsteen in Chicago. That sentence makes me want to cry tears of joy. Here they are singing My Hometown. Have a great day.



The Morning After: UC 34, Pitt 10

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Blackout.jpgWell worth the wait. That's only way to describe what happened on the field, along the sidelines and in the seats Thursday night.

Cincinnati put what it's all about as a city and university on display for a national audience. A.J. Green, Jay Bruce stood next to UC recruits, more than 8,000 students transformed Nippert Stadium into a national treasure and UC outclassed a despised rival.

Every facet of the program contributed to a night that should make anybody associated with  the university flash a wide smile.

Butch Jones put it best in the postgame:

"You know what I said about being a chamber of commerce night this is what it's about," Jones said. "If I'm a high school player or coach I'd be darned if I am going to send my kids anywhere else but to stay home and represent our home institution. That is what a hometown crowd is supposed to be, that is big-time college football environment and atmosphere. I'm really indebted to our fans, our administration for the gameday activities to our fans for coming out and supporting us today, they were a 12th man today." 


College football always comes down to recruiting and UC's recruiting promotion that ran for four hours last night should be viewed as the big winner.

The Bearcats have proven they can produce this atmosphere, but the next step for Jones and this program is to prove they can provide this atmosphere on a weekly basis. Some environments are loud, full and raucous regardless of opponent.

A similar crowd for Delaware State would be Jones' vision for the future of the program.

"And as we grow and elevate this program, that needs to become a norm here at Nippert," he said. "That is a challenge to everyone out there we need you Saturday night out here, this isn't a one game thing."

--- Munchie Legaux brings a scary dynamic to the quarterback position. He didn't run often, but when he did the home run was always in play.

One of the biggest differences between last season and this one for Munchie was the urgency with which he got upfield when he decided to run. There was no hesitation in his decision to keep it, he tucked and sprinted. With that speed, he went from scrambling to thinking end zone in a hurry.

He threw for 204 yards and ran for 117. Dating back to 2004 (as far back as I could find records online), no quarterback has thrown for 200 yards and ran for 100 in a game for UC.

Take who most consider the top dual-threat QB in the country in Denard Robinson. How many times last year did he throw for 200 and run for 100? Just twice. This doesn't happen all the time, folks. Say what you will about some of the missed throws and 14 of 28, when a player can offer that kind of versatility and explosion in the offense becomes exponentially more difficult to defend.

What made him so effective? Less is more.

Credit offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. He wasn't running the zone read between the tackles as Collaros-Pead perfected last season. Munchie, for the most part, was a pocket passer. Only sporadically was his number called in the run game to the point where Pitt could hardly have been expecting it.

Here were his six runs: 26, 22, 3, -15, 77, 7.

He didn't run once until the drive that began with 5:49 left in the second quarter where he reeled off four consecutive runs. Now, two were scrambles, one designed and the third a sack which counted against his rushing total.

The three big hits were essentially responsible for 14 points.

Legaux graded himself out as a C+. Humble, modest and wrong. Legaux deserves a grade knocking on the door of an A. The area for improvement was obvious, the easy passes need to be completed more often. At least two very catchable drops kept his completion percentage at 50 percent, not where he'd like it to be, but those are areas where Legaux will look to improve as the year progresses.

The poise he showed multiple times throwing UC out of their own end zone looked like a confident starting quarterback, not a backup filling in.

"He has taken great strides and I thought we saw that today," Jones said. "There are still some things that we have to do that we call pitch and catch and we still dropped a couple of passes. Munchie has to do a better job of not over-striding. But I think he managed the offense really well. He was poised, calm and collected, and that is what we have come to expect from our quarterbacks."

--- I often referred to last year's team as The Turnover Margin Express as they made one of the most remarkable flips in recent college football history in the category from 2010 to 2011.

In 2010 they ranked 119th out of 120 FBS teams in turnover margin (-15) then in 2011 ranked tied-7th in the country at plus-12.

The trend continued Thursday with two turnovers and zero giveaways. That may be the most critical result of Legaux's performance was he proved a reliable caretaker. Almost no terrible decisions -- outside of one near pick-6.

--- Walter Stewart's early campaign for Big East Defensive Player of the Year is off to a great start. He poured in nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.

He looked like a guy who will be playing on Sundays next year.

Stewart stood on the sidelines for quite a few plays, as well. UC made sure not to wear him out and at one point he even had to head to the locker room for fluids. The rotation with Brandon Mills, Dan Giordano and Silverberry Mouhon worked well.

"We knew we could roll a lot of guys," Stewart said. "This is a different year for us because we have so many guys that can play. We kind of expected being able to roll guys in and just make plays. It's what we do."

--- Legaux joked with Anthony McClung last week about how he would never have been caught during his long run against West Virginia last year if McClung hadn't tripped him.

He knew he had no excuse for being caught by the safety near the end zone during his 77-yard run in the third quarter.

"Coach is going to rip me, but yeah, I felt I got kind of winded at the end," he said. "I don't have that (McClung) excuse, I am going to hear it from the guys in the team meeting tomorrow that I got caught."

He'll definitely hear it from Ralph David Abernathy whose been dying for revenge.

"They always got on me for the kicker catching me against Syracuse so I think I am going to give it to Munchie for a couple weeks," he said. 


--- Two years in a row the first play from scrimmage goes for a touchdown. Last year it was Pead going 40 yards against Austin Peay, this year Winn sprinting 58 up the middle against Pitt.

That play served as more than just one score in regards to the confidence and mentality of the UC offense.

"
Just a relief came off our shoulders," Legaux said. "I felt like we went up from there on, we didn't look back after that first play. After that we felt more comfortable; we felt we could go out there and get more."


Here's Dan Hoard's call on 700WLW.

--- Full list of Bengals, Reds players I spotted on the sideline: AJ Green, Armon Binns, Andrew Hawkins, Adam Jones, Kevin Huber, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Mike Leake.

--- Few things guarantee universal applause like skydivers landing in a stadium carrying a giant American flag and one of the home institution.

--- Game highlights link here. Love the end zone angle on Munchie's 77-yard run.

--- For those of you who didn't see the Take the Field Video, here it is:
 

 


These are not your 2011 Bearcats

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The 2012 version of the Cincinnati Bearcats were not like the 2011 version. What we learned Thursday is that's in no way a dooming statement.

CINCINNATI - Over the slow drip of the college football offseason in Clifton, the narrative bouncing off the walls of campus dorms and projecting from iPads inside Varsity Village played on repeat.

Isaiah Pead's burst now resides in St. Louis. Derek Wolfe's tenacity terrorizes at Mile High. JK Schaffer's consistency now benefits Greg Schiano.

So many pieces at the foundation of what delivered three championships in four seasons departed, there was no way for the 2011 Bearcats to give an encore performance.

That theme played out Thursday inside a blacked-out Nippert Stadium. Indeed, these weren't the 2011 Bearcats. What we learned during the 34-10 demoralization of Pittsburgh was not being like the 2011 Bearcats shouldn't serve as a distress signal.

In great college football programs, this rotation plays out. Personalities and playmakers leave. Teams change. They adapt.

Too often different becomes intertwined with bad.

The 2012 Bearcats looked different than the 2011 version. They are supposed to. In this case, different didn''t mean worse. Not in the least.

No, the defensive line didn't bully the pocket into submission per standard from Wolfe and John Hughes. Instead, the edges folded like crepe paper against the corner rushes of Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano.

No, there were no ankle-breaking cuts made a staple by Pead. There was an electric burst from Ralph David Abernathy IV and bruising consistency of George Winn.

No, a shifty, scrappy fourth-and-1 run like those patented by Zach Collaros during countless wins didn't occur. Rather, the home-run speed of Munchie Legaux displayed a new dynamic unseen from the quarterback position during UC's football renaissance.

Yes, these weren't the 2011 Bearcats. And yes, that's nothing to fear.

"It's a different feeling out there," said Stewart, who set a career high with 3.5 tackles for loss, dropping Tino Sunseri for two sacks. "This being my last year, finally being the senior that is out front and having to get everybody going and being a part of a final season this did feel special."

Stewart reeled off the names of teammates he never played next to like reciting his alphabet. Trenier Orr, John Williams, Adam Dempsey. His list went on.

This defense used new pieces unknown to even the 33,862 who shook Nippert. More than known stars whose numbers were worn by those watching them, this edition thrived on depth.

"We may not have the most dynamic one or two individuals," Jones said. "But I think as a group we always talk about the power of the unit in a football program by position and our kids up front did a great job."

Cincinnati was branded as a collection of unknown quantities without superstar pizazz. A team with only one player ranked in the ESPN Big East Top 25 players (Stewart at 15). Subsequently banned to the standard mid-pack position always designated for UC in the preseason polls.

Only, as proven every year from Eugene, Ore., to Miami, Fla., stars are born in college football annually. Such is the beauty of the game. Such has become the beauty of this program.

The torch passes from Dominick Goodman to Mardy Gilyard to Isaiah Pead to Ralph David Abernathy IV. A program that demands greatness receives it no matter whose wearing the laundry. There were questions if the tradition would continue with this group.

In front of nation, many were answered.

"We knew what we had," said Abernathy IV, the brightest new star after nine touches, 91 yards and two touchdowns. "We showed we have the ability to be a pretty explosive offense."

And more explosive from a variety of angles. Consider the leading rusher was the quarterback, leading receiver a running back and leading passer used to be a wide receiver (H/t Bearcats Blog for the nugget).

Three backs logged 20-yard runs and Legaux threw for 200 yards and ran for 100.

"He showed the world what kind of quarterback he can be," Abernathy IV said. "I look forward to seeing what he plans on doing."

For as many ways as the Bearcats were different on this night, one common thread to the 2011 version connected. It was on ESPN's national Thursday night stage last season when eyes opened wide in a statement blowout to realize this team may own what it takes to win another Big East title.

A 34-10 final echoes the same sentiment.

There are many ways to build a championship. UC laid the foundation for a new one Thursday night while delivering a clear message: Change is good; don't be scared of different.

Cliff's Notes: Pitt at UC

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Listen, I'm not the professor who will fail you for not paying attention until two days before the exam. I know your work ethic lags. I know you didn't want to buy the books. It's OK, I've decided to give you the cheat sheat before the test.

For those of you who have been drawing pictures of a half-man, half-animal community picnic, here is everything you need to know to be an intelligent fan for tonight's opener against Pitt. Be an intelligent fan.

Remember the motto tonight:

Be Loud. Be Proud. Read the blog. Wear Black.

Here's all you need to know:

Where: Nippert Stadium

When: Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN

Forecast: 81 degrees at kickoff, no rain expected
2011 records - Bearcats 10-3, 5-2, Panthers 6-7, 4-3

Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Dec. 4, 2010: Pitt 28, @Cincinnati 10; Nov. 5, 2011: Cincinnati 26, @Pitt 23.

Need to know: Pulling any conclusions about this opener from last year's game would be a waste of time. Pittsburgh changed coaches -- again -- and the four top playmakers for the Bearcats have moved on to the NFL. A new era of UC and Pitt football ushers in as the rivalry between the two ushers out. Panic mode has struck around the Pittsburgh fan base since they suffered their first loss to an FCS team when Youngstown State came into Heinz Field and waxed them 31-17. Pitt is reeling while UC is wondering if it will receive a similar disappointing performance with its new cast of characters. A total of 65 first- and second-year players will suit for the Bearcats.
 
Thumbnail image for Munchie.jpgWho to know: Bearcats QB Munchie Legaux. He served an appetizer of what he can offer last year, but 2012 is the main course. He appears more confident and has been given the approval of the coaching staff to lead the team this year. In offense more suited to his dual-threat strengths and one he owns a better understanding of he should be improved. Maybe the difference between middle of the pack in the Big East and another league championship will be how much he has improved.

Defining matchup: DTs Camaron Beard-Jordan Stepp vs. Pitt O-line. UC will be outsized up the middle as stalwarts of the strong 2011 defense, Derek Wolfe (Denver Broncos) and John Hughes (Cleveland Browns), are gone. Pitt comes in averaging 6-5, 317 up front with a stable of talented running backs behind them. If UC can force the game to move to the air, it will play into their hands with an experienced backfield.

Injuries of note: Ray Graham. He tore his ACL last year and played in Week 1, but he looked like a player who tore his ACL in Week 1. He lacked the same explosion that made him the top back in the conference. Will he look better in Week 2? Will the Panthers turn to highly-touted freshman Russel Shell?

Insider trading: Few know the name Dan Sprague or Sam Longo, but they will go a long way to deciding the outcome tonight. Sprague will take over at center and Longo right guard as first-year starters. With Munchie Legaux and the running backs behind him looking to exploit a Pitt defense that allowed 204 rushing yards by Youngstown State, those two will need big debuts.

Connections: Jameel Poteat originally committed to Pittsburgh and hails from the Pittsburgh area. He eventually ditched the Panthers for UC and will now face his former team on national television as a primary ball-carrier for the first time. UC is expected to split the carries three ways between starter George Winn, Poteat and speedy Ralph David Abernathy IV.

By the numbers: Pittsburgh loves to run the ball against the Bearcats. The last two meetings between the teams they have rushed 84 times for 451 yards at a 5.4-yard average.

By the numbers, Part II: Six teams lost to FCS teams last year. The next week, they went a collective 0-6.

They said it: OL Austen Bujnoch on the big ESPN stage and the constant battle for respect they fight nationally -- "Sold out Nippert Statidum, Blackout crowd, it gives a little extra juice to you. We defintiely have to show ESPN and the country that we deserve some respect."

Looking ahead: A win here could go a long way, sans the Sept. 29 game against Virginia Tech, UC will be heavily favored in every other game until conference play resumes. The possibility of this young team gaining confidence and entering a game against Louisville 5-1 or 6-0 would become a very realistic possibility.

Hype video: Much love to #VideoShane in the multimedia suite on this one. Here is the movie trailer for tonight's game. Enjoy gameday, everyone.





The final River City Rivalry?

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Is it?

Who knows?

Pitt's jumped ship to the ACC along with Syracuse so their programs can experience March Madness in the historic venue known as the Greensboro Coliseum (not quite the goose bumps of Madison Square Garden).

I overheard Whit Babcock tell Bill Koch that he's not opposed to playing Pitt again due to the proximity, but you never know what can transpire in the world of college athletics.

Honestly, it'll be hard to top the Pike to Binns catch from 2008, so I won't personally lose a lot of sleep over not playing the Panthers. If they think they're serving their audience by playing in a southern conference, so be it.  Ditto for West Virginia sending the Mountaineer folks out west in Conestoga wagons and such for their Big 12 games.

Trust me, both Panther and Mountaineer fans will miss the ol' Nipp.  Somehow, the world will continue to spin on it's axis.

Now, in the words of the immortal Bobby Knight, back to THE GAME:

WHERE:  Come on!
SERIES: Panthers up 8-3
LAST GAME: Good guys won 26-23 on a Tony Miliano field goal.
KICKOFF:  8 p.m. on ESPN or whenever Holtz and the always unbiased Mark May and company toss it to Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and former Bengal David Pollack.
USELESS STAT OF THE NIGHT:  Pitt is 7-10 on Thursday nights. I bet Johnny Majors never played on Thursday night.

UC offense vs. Pitt defense

The obvious knee-jerk reaction is that Pitt's defense gave up 31 to Youngstown State. However, six Panthers were suspended for that one and I'm told at least one of those youngsters would easily have helped the defensive effort. On the other hand, the Penguins aren't exactly mentioned in the same breath with the Alabama, USC, Oregon, Boise State, etc. The Pitt "D" also has the reality of playing two games in six days which is not real good in terms of recovery time.

The other question mark is UC's offense.  Does Munchie Legaux pick up where he left off or has he improved his game management skills?  Also, is Munchie "managing the game" or will he be allowed to freelance in a bind?  At running back, who steps forward?  George Winn? Jameel Poteat? Ralph David Abernathy IV? Or, will it be someone less publicized?  What I do know is the receivers are solid with Kenbrell Thompkins, Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum. So are the back-ups and so is future NFL player Travis Kelce at tight end.  If Munchie can get some throws off, UC has guys that can catch it and that will then open up whatever runner steps up.

What does Scott think?

I know.  Who cares.  But, these things are good for debate and firing people up, so I give you my unscientific opinion of having watched every football contest here since 1994 and a good many before that.   UC has some new lineman, but tempo has been practiced so much that I expect the offense to not be far off of where it was at the end of last year.  Keep in mind, it's the first game as colleges have no exhibitions.  Temper your expectations. EDGE: UC

Pitt offense vs. UC defense

Regardless of not being able to foil the Penguins, Pitt still has a senior quarterback in Tino Sunseri, two lanky receivers in 6-foot-5 Mike Shanahan and 6-foot-4 Devin Street, a senior tight end in Hubie Graham and senior running back Ray Graham.  Graham can run.  How he runs a year after his injury is another thing.  Often times the player is better the second year after an injury.  As for Shanahan and Street, they are a concern as beyond Drew Frey, most of the Bearcat DBs are 6-foot or under.

UC also has a new mix of defensive linemen and linebackers.  I'm interested to watch Walter Stewart at defensive end and Greg Blair at linebacker.  Others, like Dan Giordano, Jordan Stepp and Maalik  Bomar will be solid.  On the other hand, the losses of Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer are significant.

Where you going Scott?  Since it's game one, I think the Pitt offense has something to prove and the UC defense will be a work in progress.  Hopefully, it progresses quickly.  EDGE: Pitt

Special teams

Pitt returner Cameron Saddler is related to Greg Blair.  I don't know if Greg is on the coverage teams, but that could be an interesting encounter on the turf.   Kevin Harper has a leg as he nailed a 52-yarder in last year's game. But, he also missed a 50-yarder.  Tony Miliano booted four treys at Heinz Field in 2011 and I think he'll improve as UC's recent kickers have with time. In the punt game, it's hard not to go with Patrick O'Donnell. The Bearcats' key returner is obviously Ralph David Abernathy IV who last hit paydirt in the Liberty Bowl.  Anthony McClung is no slouch either.  EDGE: UC

Intangibles

(No that's not a lunchbox product or Super Hero movie.)  Pitt is unlikely to follow up the Youngstown State game with a dud.  Put that out of your mind.  UC needs to treat it as it is--a key league game. Also, it's an ESPN opener and a team will feed off of it's fans.  It used to be the kids weren't in school this early, but now they are.  Will the semester system benefit the noisy, closed-end horseshoe section?  EDGE:  I think it will.

The call

I don't give scores, just gut reactions.  Just as Pitt couldn't fall out of the gate at Heinz Field (but did) UC can't and won't keep their fans up late on Thursday without reason to celebrate.

Bearcats Breakfast 9.5.12

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Tomorrow is gameday, people. It's getting real.

If you have the fever, remember tickets still available to be a part of the Blackout. I know this sounds hokey, but there really are few things like a night game on national TV at Nippert.

I thought the NC State game last year was one of the cooler games I've experienced anywhere. Here's a reminder in case you forgot.



Almost there.

Let's eat...

--- When looking at the matchups to watch Thursday, the best place to start would be up front. Anybody who watched Youngstown State rack up 204 yards on 46 rushes understands the Panthers can be had in the running game.

Pitt doesn't start a single senior on defense and ran out five freshmen and sophomores Saturday.

Can this reformed Bearcats offensive line enforce the will up front? With new starters at center (Dan Sprague), right guard (expected to be Sam Longo) and Eric Lefeld moving from right tackle to left tackle Cincinnati will learn if how quick this group can come together.

They'll need to pick up the extra slack as the running game adjusts to not having Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead running the zone read behind them.

--- Pitt doesn't mess around when recruiting offensive linemen. They need to be big and could all possibly smuggling young adults inside their bodies. These guys are massive.

Here is the Bearcats O-line measurements:

Lefeld (6-6, 287)
Bujnoch (6-5, 285)
Sprague (6-3, 283)
Longo (6-5, 286)
Hooey (6-9, 295)
AVERAGE: 6-5.6, 287.2

These guys are built for speed and blocking in space. The Panthers are built for tearing Heinz Field to shreds. Here are their measurements:

LT Cory King (6-6, 325)
LG Chris Jacobson (6-3, 295)
C Ryan Turnley (6-6, 320)
RG Ryan Schlieper (6-5, 310)
RT Matt Rotherham (6-6, 335)
AVERAGE: 6-5.2, 317

Approximately a 30-pound difference player for player up front. More importantly, the Panthers line up across from a UC defensive front undersized after losing Derek Wolfe and John Hughes to the NFL.

In the middle, starters Camaron Beard (6-5, 275) and Jordan Stepp (6-1, 268) will be severely outsized giving up 50 pounds in some spots. Not allowing Pittsburgh to grind down the middle of the defensive line will be key and UC will rely on transfer DT John Williams (6-0, 283) to help absorb the blow.

Now, the Panthers offensive line may be big, but they sure weren't very affective against YSU and need polish -- a lot of polish, as Down the Drive points out in this film review.

If UC can keep the Panthers from averaging four yards per carry, they will win this game. If the game plan shifts to Tino Sunseri attempting to throw on the UC secondary that's when Pittsburgh is playing the game the Bearcats want.

--- Filed under stating the obvious, dateline Pittsburgh: Nowhere to go but up.

--- Nobody wants to claim Pitt these days.

--- Wrapping it up quickly, since we are one day away from the final River City Rivalry in the foreseeable future, I can't miss another opportunity to post this. Enjoy.


Blair Switch Project

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As I often labor on most Labor Days, I stopped by practice Monday afternoon to get the lowdown on the Bearcats as they prepare for Pitt Thursday.

My interview request was for Greg Blair, the senior linebacker from Pittsburgh.  It's been documented before, but if you missed it, Greg is the younger brother of former Pitt basketball center Dejuan Blair, a "beast in the Big East" in his own right.

I've assured UC's Ryan Koslen that I wouldn't bait Greg Blair for any bulletin board material for Pitt, but I can tell you there are different factions of his family that will be on hand pulling for different teams. Dejuan is now a San Antonio Spur and Greg tells me his brother will be cheering for him Thursday night.

It's also interesting to know that Greg and Dejuan played on the same high school basketball team that won state titles. D.J. Kennedy of St. John's (son of former Bearcat David "Puffy" Kennedy) was also on that team.  Blair is also related to Pitt's Cameron Saddler.

So, Richard Dawson has long passed, but there could be a little "Family Feud" action at "The Nipp" on Thursday.  Here's Greg:


Tuesday lunch: Week of the unknown

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The first press luncheon of the year came this afternoon at UC. City BBQ came strong for the media with a corn pudding, BBQ sandwich, beans, bread pudding combo. After tossing in some lemonade on top I can call the day a success.

Oh, there was some discussion of this Thursday night game as well. I'll move forward with more on what was said by Butch Jones and players had to say. But, listen, if you are looking for more culinary updates, I'd be happy to share later.

As for interesting nuggets that came without BBQ sauce, Butch Jones reiterated how little he's judging Pitt by what occurred Saturday against Youngstown State.

For those who missed it, the mighty Penguins went into Heinz Field and put a 31-17 stomping on the Panthers.

"Last week was last week," Jones said. "All I know is I know what they have."

For the moment, they have problems. They also have a mammoth offensive line and RB Ray Graham. Jones ran through the list of disruptive front seven, experienced QB, depth at safety, athletic wide receivers and special teams capabilities. He promptly added a statement consistent with most college football coaches two days from their first game:

"I think about, worry about, anything and everything," Jones said.

The bottom line is, despite any result that happens Thursday, there's plenty to worry about. Not because failure is imminent, rather, because the same way everyone sat shocked at the result Pittsburgh poured out Saturday, so to could anybody be surprised at how UC plays Thursday. With 65 second- and third-year players making out the roster nobody really knows what to expect.

"First game is the unknowns," Jones said. "You try to prepare for anything and everything but you really never know until the lights come on. We'll find out more about our identity, I'll know exaclty where we are at as a football team Thursday night in our postgame press conference."

--- Enjoyed this quote from Jones when asked if he would have preferred to play a game Saturday.

"Absolutely. Saturday was one of the most miserable days I've had. I didn't know what to do with myself. My wife made me go back to work. Especially when you play a conference game, you'd like to get some of those unknowns answered."

--- Discussion turned to this
being the final game in the foreseeable future for the River City Rivalry against Pittsburgh. The Panthers, of course, move to the ACC next year.

Jones stated there is no current conversation about adding Pitt to the non-conference schedule, but expected it to come up as a topic of conversation when future opponents are put together in the future.

Jones admitted being sad to see it end.

"I think it's two very similar institutions, two similar universities, two similar cities," he said. "It's a great rivalry with the Pirates and Reds, Steelers and the Bengals, Bearcats and the Panthers. It's healthy."

--- As for tickets, the game is on a better pace than they were for N.C. State at this point last year. The game is not yet sold out, thanks in large part to the fine folks at Pitt being unable to sell their allotment. Still, should be a pretty large crowd with more than 8,000 students tickets out for the Blackout.

--- Much focus will be on Munchie Legaux. Last year, Legaux said he almost "pulled a Willy Beamon" from Any Given Sunday against West Virginia. For those not familiar with the Jamie Foxx character, he'd lose his lunch before every game.

Yikes.

The week leading up to this first career start at Rutgers provided more nervous moments for Legaux, who struggled on a day UC only mustered three points.

Nerves still exist this week as he opens his first season as the designated starter, leader. The anxiety scale tips nowhere near what he endured last season.

"I'm a little bit nervous now, after the first snap I'll be all right," Legaux said. "With the Rutgers game i was just nervous, first time stepping out there college football this not high school anymore. this is a different ballgame. Thursday night I'll be nervous on the first play after that snap and clear and I'll go out there and play ball."

Playing ball as the fill-in starter and playing ball as the man presents a different challenge in Jones' eyes. He often spoke about Zach Collaros needing to learn to be a starting quarterback in 2010. The same concept exists for Legaux this year even though he started three games to conclude last season.

"There's a difference when you go from being the backup quarterback to being a starting quarterback," Jones said. "The whole magnitude in terms of what you study, the way you live day to day, the way you have to bring it every day in practice, the way a team prepares for you, the way you got to lead. There's a lot of burdens on that and a lot of challenges. There's going to be growing pains. Munchie's done a good job dealing with that."

The experience and knowledge of the final three will be beneficial and give reason for optimism, but the residing theme of the week also circulates around UC's most visible figure. 

"I like what I've seen from spring football and throughout training camp," Jones said, "but you really never know."

--- Random note: Came across former OL Alex Hoffman in the hallway at UC. I nearly didn't recognize Hoff. He says he dropped 70 pounds since his injury last season and was downright svelte. He's at 238 pounds and working for UC as a GA on the academics side while finishing his MBA.

Can't believe he just dropped 70 pounds like that. I've been trying to trim five pounds for the last year ...

--- For those of you looking to see the entire Jones presser, here is the link.

Legaux Savors Meeting With Brees

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When the New Orleans Saints practiced in Cincinnati for two days last week to avoid problems caused by Hurricane Isaac, the visit had an unexpected benefit for UC quarterback Munchie Legaux.

"I was watching film in meetings and Coach Jones came in all fired up and said, 'What are you doing today?'" Legaux recalled with a grin.  "I told him what I was doing after practice and he said, 'No you're not.  After practice you're going to meet Drew Brees.'  I wasn't going to turn that down."

"He was smiling and saying, 'I met Drew Brees...I met Drew Brees.'" said wide receiver Anthony McClung.  "He said he was a cool, laid-back guy so I guess they're similar to each other because Munchie is the same way."

Brees (337x440).jpg

Head Coach Butch Jones arranged the meeting through a contact on the Saints coaching staff.

"I'm very thankful to the coaches there that they would allow Munchie to be able to spend some time with him and talk about work ethic and leadership," said Coach Jones.  "But also, just to talk about New Orleans too."

"I introduced myself to him and said that I was from New Orleans and he asked me about my family and if they were OK," said Legaux.

"That was very comforting to him with the hurricane going through New Orleans," said Coach Jones.

Munchie was in eighth grade when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005.  His family evacuated to Houston for a roughly two months, and they returned there last week when Hurricane Isaac approached.     

"I have an aunt there and my family stayed there for four or five days," said Legaux.  "When they got back to New Orleans the power was back on, and they called me to let me know that everything was OK.  They'll be here on Wednesday for the Pitt game."

Legaux throw (293x440).jpg

While the Legaux family will be in the stands at Nippert Stadium, Munchie says that Brees will be a spectator too.

"He told me he would be watching the game on Thursday," said Legaux.  "He said that he and his offensive lineman were going to check me out."

Brees also gave Munchie some friendly advice as the Bearcat quarterback gets ready for the first game of his junior season.

"He told me to enjoy the college life," said Legaux.  "Enjoy the fans, the Saturday games, the college atmosphere, the stadiums, the cheerleaders - everything.  He told me to go out and enjoy myself.  I appreciated that he took the time to sit down and talk to me.  For him to spend maybe 10 minutes with me and just to see how I'm doing - I knocked one thing off of my bucket list.

"I'm a huge Saints fan and he's done so much for New Orleans.  He brought us our first championship.  Drew Brees has the key to the city."

And a grateful admirer in Clifton.

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 at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Bearcats Breakfast 9.3.12

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Every Bearcats player and coach I spoke with last week admitted, obviously, they'd be watching the Pitt-Youngstown State game Saturday night.

Remarkably, their tongues all had been successfully rolled back inside of their mouths after witnessing one of the shockers of the season as the Penguins stuck it to the Panthers, 31-17.

We all had that one, right?

First thought: What does this mean for the Bearcats?

One, Pitt is clearly further off than anybody thought in their first game under Paul Chryst. He suspended seven players, Ray Graham looked like a guy coming off knee surgery and their rush defense retreated more than Arthur, King of the Britans.

Oh, by the way, Chryst has five days to fix those problems, as Dejan Kovacevic points out in this great look at the Pitt debacle.

Two, however, means a combination of angry, frustrated, inspired Panthers with a chip on their shoulder will enter Nippert Stadium determined to alter the reputation cast out Saturday.

Would a team of 65 first- and second-year players for UC who without doubt all stood shocked watching that game develop revert to overconfidence having seen the YSU romp?

For what it's worth, senior LB Maalik Bomar wasn't buying that theory.

"I don't want to take any opponent lightly," he said. "They are going to line up and give their all. We have to give our all. I don't want to leave anybody under the radar so we are going to get after it."

Bomar says the Bearcats arrived Sunday with no change in their approach, they taped up and were all business. Butch Jones didn't witness complacency and didn't feel a need to preach against it despite the surprising result.

"I know this, I know what type of Pittsburgh football team we are going to face coming in here a hungry football team, well coached with tied for the most talent in the Big East conference," he said. "Our players know what they are up against. They know what Ray Graham and Bennett and the great freshman tailback that they have, they know their offensive line, defensive line is going to challenge us. Their secondary is as good as any team we'll see all year. They are a good football team; things like that happen. That's why you play the game. We know what we are going to get."

Just what are they going to get, though?

The mentality of a team demoralized against an inferior opponent should extract an emotional response. Historically, however, how have teams taken down by FBS teams responded the following week? Do they concede to their losing ways or tend to strike back with a better performance.

Well here is a look at the 12 FBS teams that lost to FCS teams over the last two years with how they fared the following week. 

2010                                             --- NEXT GAME
South Dakota def. Minnesota          --- L (32-21) vs. No. 18 USC
James Madison def. Virginia Tech    --- W (49-27) vs. ECU
North Dakota State def. Kansas      --- W (28-25) vs. No. No. 15 Georgia Tech
UC Davis def. San Jose State           --- L (35-13) @ No. 21 Nevada
Jacksonville State. def. Mississippi   --- W (27-13) @ Tulane
Gardner-Webb def. Akron               --- L (47-10) @ Kentucky

2011                                             --- NEXT GAME
Sacramento State def. Oregon State --- L (35-0) @ No. 8 Wisconsin
Richmond def. Duke                        --- L (44-13) vs. No. 6 Stanford
Southern Utah def. UNLV                --- L (37-0) @Nevada
Indiana St. def. Western Kentucky  --- L (26-22) vs. Arkansas State
North Dakota St. def. Minnesota      ---   L (58-0) @Michigan
SHSU def. New Mexico                     --- L (42-28) vs. New Mexico State

--- Over the past two years,
teams who lost to FCS foes are 3-9 the next week. Those that had to hit the road after the loss were 1-5 with only a Mississippi win over lowly Tulane in 2010 avoiding the sweep.

--- Of last year's six, only WKU played within single digits of their opponent.

--- Obviously, for the most part, these were bad teams in the first place. That's why they were susceptible to losing these game. Yet, in 2010, the results showed more of the cornered animal response. Virginia Tech went to win the rest of the games in their regular season and go undefeated in conference after losing to James Madison.

Kansas struck back with a big win at home against then No. 15 Georgia Tech.

--- Precedence exists
for a team to make huge strides following an embarrassing loss.

--- Maybe Minnesota should just stop scheduling FCS opponents.

--- Let's eat...

--- Posted a statistical analysis
of what we should expect out of Munchie Legaux this season.

Enjoyed talking with him about if he views himself as a dual-threat QB and if he takes offense to being placed in that category. We tend to place quarterbacks in the dual-threat category and it places an assumption that they aren't great in the pocket. Exceptions exist, but Legaux views himself as a QB built to stand in the pocket and make big throws. He's pass first, run second.

--- Seen stories like this before, but always worth pointing out as the Birmingham Business Journal does, which college football teams deliver the most bang for their buck.

--- Nugget obtained from strong UC football SID Ryan Koslen yesterday: UC has 15 players, three head coaches and 10 assistants in the NFL.

Here's your official list of players following final cuts:

Armon Binns, Bengals
Connor Barwin, Texans
Brent Celek, Eagles
Trent Cole, Eagles
Kevin Huber, Bengals
John Hughes, Browns
Jason Kelce, Eagles
Jeff Linkenbach, Colts
Ricardo Mathews, Colts
Haruki Nakamura, Panthers
Isaiah Pead, Rams
Adrien Robinson, Giants,
JK Schaffer, Buccaneers
Brandon Underwood, Packers
Mike Windt, Chargers
Derek Wolfe, Broncos

--- Great to see Schaffer land on the Buccanneers practice squad after being surprisingly cut by Jacksonville on Friday. I'd place a friendly wager down right now he's making a contribution for Tampa by the end of the year.

--- Louisville rolled UK yesterday. That's good news for the Big East and UC -- for now. You'll want the opportunity for a quality win against a Top 25 team in the conference slate. Anything good for the profile of the conference at this point is great for UC.

Impressive stat of the day: Teddy Bridgewater ended up 19 of 21 for 232 yards.

--- Andrea Adelson at ESPN with what we learned about the Big East in the opening weekend.

--- CBSSports.com's RapidReports with the ugly reaction from Pitt.

--- Syracuse -- Good News: Ryan Nassib looks fantastic. Bad news: That defense looked slower than patrons exiting Dinosaur BBQ.

--- Randomness...

--- Jay-Z mimicked Rocky at the Made In America festival, then joined Pearl Jam on stage for 99 Problems to conclude the weekend. Sean Casey tweeted that he was there ready to rock out to PJ. Question: Could you imagine a person you'd more like to attend a PJ concert with? You know the Mayor is loving every minute of it.

--- I'd probably react this way if Bobby Valentine tried to slap my butt, too, but in the baseball context this reaction from Alfredo Aceves is, in fact, very, very bad for the future of Bobby V in Beantown.

--- What Alabama is doing in football right now is downright absurd.

--- Four more days.
That's why today I roll with The Four Tops, who are straight jammin in those mustard suits. Enjoy the day everybody.



By the numbers: Realistic stat potential for Munchie Legaux

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After hearing his name assured as the winner of the QB competition, Munchie Legaux admitted he walked with a different stride. He stretched a wider smile.

"I did," he said. "I walked with my chest up, little bit more chin up. I am the guy now, no more peeking over."

Munchie Legaux.jpgThe Bearcats walk with same confidence wondering what "the guy" can bring. Without doubt, it will be something different.

Legaux's dual-threat capability brings an extra dimension to the UC offensive attack. in the recent run of UC QBs, none owned the pure breakaway speed of Legaux.

Ben Mauk, Gino Guidugli, Tony Pike. Nobody confused them with RGIII. Zach Collaros would be considered an above-average scrambler and utilized excellent vision on the zone-read, but Legaux would leave him in the dust in a footrace. Of course, from Legaux's perspective, the same would be the case for the majority of the teammates he'll throw to this season.

"I'd be top three," he said of a hypothetical 40-yard dash with his receivers.

In the game of quarterbacking, the phrase dual-threat can be viewed as a dirty word. The assumed ceiling for dual-threat QBs stretches across the senior year. Sure, the NFL accepts dual-threat quarterbacks -- they turn all but a select few into receivers. Coming out of high school, these prospects are tossed into the pocket passer/dual-threat categories but some are more defined by the moniker than others.

Legaux won't accept any label.

"I view myself as a quarterback," he said. "I wouldn't say I'm a dual threat, I wouldn't say I'm a pro style because I'm in the spread offense. If we played in a pro-style offense, I'd play a pro style. If we played the triple option, I'd play the triple option, whatever they need me to do, I'll do. But, I'm a quarterback.

"I am going to go through my progressions, read the defense. If nothing is there then I am going to run. If we have a designed run then I am going to use my legs. They can say I'm a dual threat, I'm a run first, whatever they want to say but at heart I'm a quarterback and I'm going to use my arm first and my legs second."


Finding a balance between run and pass will be a dynamic worth watching with Legaux and go a long way to defining the effectiveness of this offense. He showed during his four-game stint with the Bearcats at the end of last season how his legs can break down a defense.

The question becomes what type of production should be realistically expected out of Legaux?

For a place to start, let's look at the top dual-threat quarterbacks returning to college football this season and the numbers they put up last year. A few like Michigan's Denard Robinson and Kansas State's Collin Klein don't allow an accurate representation because of the shear quantity of runs. By all accounts of what we witnessed last year from Legaux, it would be unrealistic to expect him to run as much as he passes.

In fact, if you extrapolate out his numbers from the four games at the end of the season, they play out like this:

Average per game: 27.3 pass attempts for 172 yards; 8.2 rushes for 36.8 yards.
Full season: 354 attempts for 2,236 yards; 107 rushes for 477.8 yards.

Keep in mind college statistics are compiled differently than the pros. In college, sacks of the quarterback are deducted from the rushing totals. Hence, why some of the rush yards per game numbers seem skewed to below what would be expected.

If Legaux were to wind up among the top dual-threat quarterbacks who still do a majority of their damage through the air, here are the quarterbacks he should post his statistics up against with their stats from last year.

Player,School:         Attpts-PssYds/Gm  Rush-RushYds/Gm
Teddy Bridgewater, Lou       296-163.8     89-5.08
EJ Manuel, FSU                    311-222.2    109-13.0
Tajh Boyd, Clemson             499-273.4    142-15.5
Cody Fajardo, Nevada         218-170.7    128-69.4
Logan Thomas, VT               391-215.2    153-33.5
BJ Daniels, USF                   365-236.7     133-53.6
James Franklin, Mizzou       377-220.9     217-75.5

13-game extrapolation
Munchie Legaux, UC            354-172.0    107-36.8

Considering Legaux slipped into the Zach Collaros offense last year, I'd expect this season to feature more opportunities for Legaux to use his legs in space. Instead of 3.5 pass attempts for every rush, more in the area of 3.0 passes per rush seems like an ideal point. That's about the average for most of these.

Should Legaux be comparing his numbers to those of the top returning dual-threat quarterbacks? Maybe not yet. But that doesn't change these as goal statistics. He should be better. How much better will determine how close he comes to these stats. Looking at what they've done we can derive a general projection of what would constitute numbers Legaux should be reaching on a weekly basis if the UC offense is to thrive with a dual-threat QB.

With more rushing attempts, his rushing numbers per game should increase. Reaching a 50 rushing yards per game average, as Daniels, Franklin and Fajardo did last year doesn't seem completely unrealistic. The passing numbers will be those to watch, though. If his completion percentage increases as the team hopes it will with better knowledge of the system and catering to his strengths, that should equal 25-30 extra yards per game.

Where does that leave us?

Legaux could realistically throw for 200 and rush for 50 yards a game -- throwing three times for every pass. Certainly an attainable goal. If that happens, the Bearcats offense will be humming and UC will be winning its fair share.

Break those out over a 13-game season and you would have a season where Legaux passed for 2,600 yards and ran for 650.

Six quarterbacks in college football last year averaged at least 200 yards passing and 50 yards rushing a game. A step up of improvement leaves him in that type of company.

What would Munchie say is he finished the year averaging 200 yards passing and 50 rushing?

"I would say I should have done better," Legaux said. "That is not acceptable enough. I got to push harder than that. I got to help my team out more; I got to bring more to the table."

If Legaux brings more to the table, by the end of this season, the Bearcats will be bringing another trophy to Nippert Stadium.

Orr Soars As Bearcats Approach Opener

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There are 65 first- or second-year players on Cincinnati's roster this year.  At times, they are bound to be a little overwhelmed.

"It's like sipping water through a fire hose - everything is flying at you," said head coach Butch Jones.

But several of the least experienced Bearcats will have to play significant roles this year, including cornerback and punt returner Trenier Orr (#2).

Trenier Orr.jpg

"We expect a lot of our redshirt freshman to play, but if you asked me to pick out one who has stood out above and beyond everyone else, it's Trenier Orr," said Coach Jones.  "He's having a spectacular camp and is pushing Cam Cheatham, Devin Drane, and Dominique Battle each and every day.  It's been great to see."

Ironically, one of the reasons why Orr chose Cincinnati over Illinois and Colorado State is that he didn't think he would have to wait until this year to see action.

"I felt like there was an opportunity to come in and play right away, but Coach Jones thought it was best for me to redshirt and now I understand," Orr told me.  "Last year was rough.  No freshman wants to redshirt but now that I look back on film, I wasn't ready.  I know that I wasn't ready.  I look at my progress now and everything is so much quicker."

Orr needed the redshirt season because he was primarily an offensive player at Ocoee High School near Orlando, Florida. 

"I played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety, cornerback, and they gave me a couple of snaps at tight end," said Orr.  "I kind of had the mindset of a receiver because growing up, I usually played receiver.  In my senior year, I barely played defensive back because they had me moving around everywhere."

After practicing at cornerback for a year at Cincinnati, Orr says he is comfortable at the position.

"Everything has gotten better - my footwork and my technique," said Orr.  "I can say that I'm a defensive back now."

"The big thing now is the little nuances and technical details required to play the corner position," said Coach Jones.  "Trenier has the athletic ability and the competitive nature that you want, and we're very excited about him." 

Orr appears to be one of Cincinnati's top three cornerbacks to begin the season, and the coaching staff has targeted him at practice to get him ready to play a key role.

"In our first scrimmage in spring ball, I had four fades thrown on me to test my mental toughness," said Orr.  "Coach Jones said that he was going to come at me in every practice to make me tough.  I got beat sometimes, but I learned to snap-and-clear and do my thing."

"We've told our older wide outs that 'You've got a freshman out there on an island and you need to go after him and take advantage of the situation.'" said Coach Jones.  "I tell you what, he's held his own and more."

"He's a great talent," said defensive coordinator Jon Jancek.  "He hasn't played in a game yet, so we're excited to see what he can do.  He makes freshman mistakes still and has to mature, but with his talent and intangibles, he can be as good as he wants to be."

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