October 2013 Archives

Kenyon Martin was inducted into the UC Hall of Fame Monday. He not only defined an era, but in his induction defines the way Bearcats fans should treat it. 

CINCINNATI -- What was the memory for you? 

The turnaround jump shot? 

The triple-double with 13 blocks against Memphis? Tossing the Bearcats on his back down 10 under four minutes against DePaul? 

The absurd 3.5 blocks per game his senior season? 

Was it the injury? Witnessing the evolution of a superstar? 

Being named consensus National Player of the Year? Selection atop the NBA Draft? 

Was it the style? 

Was it the shimmy? 


Depending on age, appreciation and seat location the specific memory from fan to fan differs dramatically. 

For those die-hards who still line the front rows of Fifth Third Arena and refer to it as The Shoe, remembering particular portions of Kenyon Martin fade into a grander picture.  

Kenyon Martin more than defined a team, a personality of Bearcats basketball. He defined the Bob Huggins Era. From Corie Blount to Danny Fortson, Bobby Brannen to Pete Mickeal, Steve Logan to Jason Maxiell, many players typified the attitude embodied over a span of 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. 

All follow in line behind Martin. 

His rise from raw to revered over a four-year span illustrated the brilliance, effectiveness of hard work and Huggins philosophy. Martin fittingly for those clubs made his name on defense and did so better than any to wear red and black. Despite the anchor of Conference USA, Martin belonged second to none on the national landscape, exactly like the UC program in those days. 

"For me to come from where I was my freshman year to being able to develop my game into becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA is a great honor to the work Coach Huggins put into me and the time that he stayed on me academically and athletically," Martin said. "I didn't have a father figure so without him none of this would be possible." 

His senior year tournament run tragically never came, but his place as the face of Huggins brand of Cincinnati basketball remains cemented for ever. His induction into the UC Hall of Fame Monday night assured as much. 

A deeper reality follows his return to campus and physical re-connection with the university and basketball program, though.

Kenyon not only defined the Huggins Era, but now in his induction defines the way Bearcats fans should treat it. 

Too often a line in the sand had been drawn between those days and today's Bearcats. Fans, coaches, boosters, administration needed to take sides and separate the two. Or just separate from it. 

That's what Kenyon did. He picked sides and made disparaging remarks about the school in frustration of the dissolution of a brand he represented. That was then, this is now. 

"Things (with the university) over the years have been a little rocky," Martin said at his induction. "I made some statements a few years ago that I couldn't take back, but at the time that's how I felt. But I'm still a Bearcat at heart. Thanks for this honor and this is not the last you will see of me." 

Everyone made remarks they couldn't take back in the years since. All felt the need to take a stand in their direction of choice. 

But here stands Kenyon Martin, back for the first time since 2000, in the middle of a circle of players wearing the C-Paw holding the same aspirations he once did as a lanky, unsure center from Dallas, Texas in 1997. 

To deny the ascension of UC basketball under Mick Cronin - the man who helped bring Martin to Cincinnati - would mean living in a past nobody worries about anymore. Not Huggins, who proudly looked on at Martin's ceremony Monday. Not Martin, who admits he's always watching and will always be a Bearcat.

So should all UC fans who stood at Martin's Senior Day and picked up their jaws after every block Martin snatched out of the air like a rebound. 

Perhaps asserting Martin's return and induction connects two eras and officially buries any old dissension could be considered overly philosophical and unnecessary. Maybe. The amped atmospheres at Fifth Third the last few years of conference play and success in the NCAA tournament insist as much. Probably. 

But the man who stood as the symbol of all considered great about the Huggins Era should stand now as a symbol of all that is great about this one. And the need to embrace it. 

Connecting tradition with a blossoming future like Martin did Monday sets an example. One that could allow a new set of signature moments for fans to choose from. 

I want to hear from you! Send any comments, questions, suggestions or Kenyon memories to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 


Sean Kilpatrick spent his summer playing for Team USA at the World University Games, but returned with much more than just a free trip to Kazan, Russia. 

CINCINNATI -- Some realities can't be taught in Cincinnati. 

On campus Sean Kilpatrick stops for fans saying hello and thank you for returning for one more year. In practice, he plays the role of leader amidst a team ballooning with following underclassmen. In games this past year, he fought double and triple teams by players unfit for one-on-one. 

In Kazan, Russia, however, Kilpatrick dribbled a basketball amid a sprawling landscape of great basketball players. There, at the World University Games, he was just another guy. One of hundreds, thousands.

Some realities can only be taught in Russia. 

Kilpatrick may be the big man on campus but in a worldwide snapshot of basketball he desires to infiltrate, he's far from where he needs to be. Opening a senior season leading the Bearcats on Saturday, he takes the reins with a newly acquired perspective only sold overseas. 

"It really humbled me a lot more," Kilpatrick said. "Due to the fact I know where my game can take me, but also I have a lot more to learn. Being here with coach knowing I'm one of the leaders now on this team, that is a huge step for me. Now I'm just really ready to take what I learned with Team USA and bring it back to the UC Bearcats." 

Lessons began with poise and patience. Playing among so many talented players Kilpatrick took away recognition forcing the offensive fire in any game will only rack up missed shots and contested jumpers. Allowing the game to flow to him and involve everyone else becomes more important than how many 3-pointers he can hoist. 

Kilpatrick now claims close friendships with players like Doug McDemott of Creighton, who ousted his Bearcats in last year's NCAA tournament, as well Spencer Dinwiddie, of Colorado. Those along with nine more of the country's best made the trek to Russia for the WUG. Only, the collection of Team USA players ended up finishing fifth. 

Aspirations for a professional career only need one trip through all those potential competitors for jobs to know how far Kilpatrick needs to develop. 

"I tell our guys all the time it's a hard sport to be a professional in because they play our game all over the world and it's competitive," Mick Cronin said. "And his team found that out finishing fifth. You got guys all over the world that aren't in the NBA, it was a bit of an eye-opener for him." 

Nobody needs to tell Sean Kilpatrick to work harder. His first-team All-Conference reputation was built as an under-recruited player who outworked everyone to ascend to among the 12 best players capable of representing this country overseas. 

Cronin will need to ease his star into practice, fighting his primary concern that SK would wear down having played so many extra games. There may be the occassional practice he rides the bike or substitues as an assistant coach. 

Just don't expect Kilpatrick to sit quietly. He works. It's what he does. 

He wasted little time putting his lessons to work and starting the journey toward the next level and what he hopes will be hearing his name called next June. 

"It really taught me a lot of things that I am able to play with other great players and really stand out with my game," Kilpatrick said. "There was a couple of things in my game that I had to work on. During the summer after Team USA I came and worked on it. Everything is starting to come together." 

Starting Saturday, he hopes his experience pays off in the season coming for Team UC. Anyone expecting Kilpatrick to take the floor with a big head won't find one. 

"There's great players all over the world," Cronin said. "As good as he is, he's learned he's got to get better."  

I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or suggestions about Bearcats athletics to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Brendon Kay is enjoying the best run of his career as the offense changed to fit his style. 


CINCINNATI - In late July, Brendon Kay hovered 30,000 feet above the ground flying on his way back from the Manning Passing Camp in Thibodaux, La. 

Staring out the window of the plane it's hard not to think about all the skills acquired over the course of the week and how it can apply to a sixth year of eligibility and opportunity Kay waited for his entire life. 

Yet, a two-month blur of injuries, ugly losses, a fight for his job and offensive growing pains left that opportunity  as a distant memory and uncertain future. 

In the aftermath of a tragedy outside Oxford and gutcheck defeat in Tampa the Brendon Kay who Bearcats pinned hopes of the 2013 offense on emerged, one spiral at a time - the latest tossing four touchdowns in Saturday's 41-16 victory against Connecticut. 

Kay and the Bearcats offense have hit the stride Kay daydreamed about this offeseason. Finally. Few thought the offensive identity would take this long, but without doubt it's been established. It wears No. 11. 

"You hope it doesn't (take this long)," said Kay after throwing for 300 yards and the four scores. "It's tough with all the coaching changes. There's going to be ups and downs regardless with all the stuff. It's just part or the process."  

Tommy Tuberville described Kay's game Saturday as "gutty." A great place to start for a quarterback playing through a multitude of ailments and barely practicing. Through the pain, Kay returned to the same efficiency and execution showcased during his impressive run to close out the 2012 season. For those final five games he threw 10 touchdowns to just two picks to go with 1,282 yards over the final five games. 

Since the disastrous first half at South Florida Kay's last 10 quarters have been the best run of his career. He's hit 60 of 79 passes for 717 yards. That's an absurd 76 percent completion rate. In the meantime he's thrown nine touchdowns to one interception. 

Not a bad run. Oh yeah, that's for an offense who scored 93 points in the process. 

Much of that stems from being willing to crumble up the original offensive philosophy and throw it in the trash. The idea of playing power football need to go. It wasn't working, the time came to play into Kay's strengths and spread the passing game. So, slot receivers Anthony McClung and Shaq Washington began running the slot with Chris Moore and emerging transfer Mekale McKay taking the top off. 

It changed the game. Mostly because Kay's proven more than capable to do so. 

"We had to find something that will open it up," Tuberville said. "By spreading out it got a guy out of the box, made them play a little bit more zone coverage and Brendon is very accurate. Just happened to start clicking for us." 

Saturday's click started with the first snap. All week offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and Kay talked about throwing a bomb to open the game. Only one problem, during the entire week of practice Kay couldn't throw one. It hurt to much. 

Dropping back off a play action he stood in the pocket and nobody quite knew what to expect. Not a problem, though. Kay delivered a perfect deep ball that hit Mekale McKay in stride for a 56-yard gain. If UC looked to send a message and set a tone, both were accomplished. 

"I didn't throw it all week because I couldn't really throw a long ball," Kay said. "I had the adrenaline going at the beginning of the game." 

Kay and the Bearcats never looked back. He connected on five passes of at least 40 yards entering the game, he added two more with the bomb to McKay and another 41-yard bullet to tight end Blake Annen rumbling down the right sideline for a touchdown. 

A plot twist in the Brendon Kay saga wouldn't be right without fighting through injuries. Tuberville will demand Kay take nearly all of the 10-day break off before heading to Memphis to play the Tigers. 

The quarterback describes himself as "banged up." Don't expect a player who missed years at a time with injuries to let a banged up body keep him from this opportunity. Specifically the way he's play now. 

When flying above clouds before the season, allowing injuries to curtail his season wasn't a part of the vision. 

"I am going to play and the team knows I am going to play," Kay said. "As long as I can walk I am going to be out there." 

I want to hear from you! Send any comments, questions or suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Bearcats Insured by Lloyd

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By: Scott Springer

When veteran Pat O'Donnell left spring practice, there was some alarm in the air under the bubble at the Sheakley Athletics Center.

The highly-awarded punter had his degree, so under NCAA rules he could transfer and play immediately elsewhere.
  Initially, there was speculation he might follow Butch Jones to Tennessee, then O'Donnell eventually went to the Miami Hurricanes, closer to his home.

After the initial surprise of O'Donnell leaving, the question was who would step in?

The answer came in John Lloyd who had two years on the squad and won the battle to boot the ball for the Bearcats over some walk-ons and current freshman Sam Geraci of Moeller.

Lloyd has responded with a 44.8 average through six games with a long of 60 yards and three kicks inside the 20.
  In certain situations, he's shared the punting duties with Brendon Kay who's averaging 37.6 with four inside the 20 and a long of 58.

Geraci is currently injured, so Lloyd is your go-to punter and also the holder for kicker Tony Miliano.

He's a little thicker than your average punter/holder at 6-foot-2 and 237 pounds.
  At CHCA, he played some quarterback, tight end, and offensive line in addition to punting,holding and kicking off.

He averaged 44 yards per boot as a senior and 42.6 as a junior to lead the state.

He also has the possibility of being a trick play candidate with his high school offensive skills, plus the fact he was a baseball pitcher at CHCA (four years varsity, two-time all-State) and for a while at UC.

Freshman Zach Edwards arrived this year as a transitioning former receiver challenged by his first college experience but he's quickly emerged as the lone true freshman starter in his class. 

CINCINNATI - For one play, for one brief moment, the turf of Nippert Stadium surrounded by 32,000-plus fans felt like an average Friday night in Middletown for Zach Edwards. 

The Bearcats freshman safety spotted a P.J. Walker pass floating deep into the secondary toward a Temple receiver and instincts from years of tracking down touchdown passes as a receiver for the Middies at Barnitz Stadium took over. 

Edwards added safety to his receiver repertoire only one year ago during his senior season, but when opportunities like his interception to help put away the Owls Friday night present themselves, drawing a distinction between offense and defense blurs. . 

"It did feel like high school. I went up for the ball just like a receiver, just like high school," Edwards said. "Football is football." 

And Edwards owns the instincts to play it, no matter the position. That's why he's emerged as the only true freshman starter on the Bearcats depth chart. For a team craving production in the secondary, Edwards earned it. He leads the team with two interceptions following his second-quarter pick that eventually provided a lead the Bearcats wouldn't relinquish in beating the Owls. 

No play more typified playmaking the 5-11, 186-pound Edwards provides as the third safety in spread defense packages than this one. 

"That wasn't his guy they were throwing to and he made up ground flipping his hips and covering ground with his long legs intercepting the pass," Tommy Tuberville said. "It's good to know he's going to be back for three years. A safety you can count on playing the middle."

The surprise comes in Edwards touching the field so soon. Few expected this inexperienced converted wide receiver from Middletown to be a factor, or even much more than a difficult redshirt decision upon his arrival. Yet, he caught coaches eyes in the spring and preseason, including a scrimmage where he hauled in two interceptions. 

Suddenly, the expectation changed. 

"Right after spring ball when we had the break (defensive backs coach Steven Clinkscale) and coach Tuberville both sat me down and said I was going to be in the rotation, I'd be fighting for a starting position," he said. "That right that made me aware I might have to play and start and I'm going to have to get on my game." 

Inserted as a starter for the first time against Northwestern State Edwards grabbed his first career interception. The last two weeks he returned to the same spot in the starting lineup and continues to earn the trust of coaches and teammates alike. 

He's now fifth on the team in tackles (21) and has a pass breakup and forced fumble to go with his two picks.

"I've always been in a position where we are going to play our best players and the guys that are doing all the things right on and off the field," Clinkscale said. "It's not my first time starting true freshman. I am not scared at all to do it and Zach kind of helps that because he's a lot more mature then your usual freshman and handles the responsibility very well." 

Not without criticism, of course. Every Tuesday Tuberville and company challenge Edwards with tackling drills on the sled and perfecting pursuit angles. As with many receivers, he's still adapting to physicality and the tendency to always attempt the big play. 

Clinkscale preaches not being afraid to execute the job and pass on the highlight interception attempt. All will come with time, but Edwards owns plenty of it. 

"He's got a lot to learn, he makes a lot of mistakes in the game," Tuberville said. "Through the first six games I've been very surprised how he's picked up what we are doing."

After each game, the first conversation goes to his mother and a second usually to close friend and former Middletown teammate Cody Quinn, a sophomore corner at Kentucky. 

At home games mom talks near the field, if away a phone call will suffice. Originally, the excitement would span on and on as the two relived his opportunities. Now, they've drawn a little shorter each week as his playmaking shifts from surprising to standard. 

Still hard to believe this former receiver from Middletown broke out as the current star of this freshmen class, but with every play like the one against Temple, his arrival becomes more believable. 

"It's been a wild ride," Edwards said. "It's a lot of hard work put into it. I knew it would be hard picking it up, only played one year as a safety so I knew it was going to be hard. I just kept pushing and keeping the faith I could do it." 

I want to hear from you! Any comments, questions or suggestions about Bearcats athletics, shoot them to me at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Temple on Temple

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By: Scott Springer

University of Cincinnati junior linebacker Nick Temple was hovering around the Tuesday barbecue in the Bob Goin Team Room, so I pulled No. 43 aside for a few questions.

Besides, how often can you interview someone with the same last name as your opponent?
  It's not like we have a Charlie Rutgers on the squad or even a Matt Houston (I believe that was a TV series in the 80s).

Most Bearcat fans remember Nick most for his defensive touchdown in the Belk Bowl that sealed the game.
  As I said to him in this video, if Nick Temple scores, UC wins.

Here's the fine product from Indianapolis Warren Central who's such a good interview, he even helps me out when I briefly lose my train of thought at the end. (Hey, I have my brief derailments every now and then.)

Here's to a good showing from "Nick at Nite":

An opportunity arises Friday for the struggling Bearcats offense to find itself and gain much needed momentum against Temple. 

In frustrating aftermath of the loss in Tampa questions needed to asked and tough answers given along the flight back to Cincinnati. Yet, even on a day where 14 points were given away and the offensive line struggled to keep Brendon Kay not only upright but breathing, a bit of a breakthrough occurred. 

Under the guidance of personnel changes and urgency an offense which went scoreless in six of the previous eight quarters against FBS competition showed a burst of potential that nearly salvaged last Saturday. 

UC ran off three consecutive double-digit play drives for a total of 214 yards, two of which ended in touchdowns. Confidence, precision and purpose entered the equation consistently for the first time since the opener against Purdue. 

Those drives may go down as a late, failed comeback in the grand scheme of a frustrating season or could be viewed as the jumping off point of an offense finding itself. Friday night against Temple will go a long way to directing the pendulum. 

"We started flowing," said Kay. "Started doing what we can do, what we are capable of doing. We just have to continue that onto this week and the rest of the season."

The flow stemmed from nobody in red and black halting it. Kay credited spreading the ball and tempo for the difference late in the game.

On half of the first eight drives of the USF game a turnover or missed field goal killed any momentum. When not acting as their own worst enemy, the Bearcats offense can be pretty spectacular. Case in point the conclusion of Saturday's game. 

"I don't want to say we gave it away, but we kicked it away," Tommy Tuberville said. "We weren't able to be productive. If you look at our stats and the things that we're doing, it looks like we're playing pretty good football until you get to one area of turnovers and the miscellaneous parts for having turnovers for touchdowns." 

UC ranks in the top third of the NCAA in total offense and throwing for 253 yards per game. They rank in the top third in third-down conversion rate and time of possession. Yet, tied for 97th in turnover margin negates them all. 

This week arrives a Temple team ranked 122 out of 125 in total yards allowed per game. Every opponent scored at least 22 points. Fordham racked up 520 yards in a 30-29 win against the Owls. 

A struggling defense facing the Bearcats inside Nippert Stadium for the first time in a month presents a glaring opportunity for this offense to get well, to transfer the final three drives against USF into a trend and not a blip. 

Finding identity and gaining confidence needs to happen now because the offensive road grows more challenging the rest of the season. 

Here are the current total defense rankings of the remaining opponents: 

  • UConn: 52
  • Memphis: 15
  • SMU: 101
  • Rutgers: 51
  • Houston: 74
  • Louisville: 3
Not exactly the '85 Bears, but the time is now to start the ball rolling if momentum is going to carry this team in the conference title picture. 

"We have to be a lot more productive and consistent at moving the ball down the field on long drives and scoring on long drives," Tuberville said. "You like to score in four or five plays, but there's going to be some games where you are going to have to make 8-12 play drives and punch the ball in the end zone and keep you're defense off the field. This hasn't been the fact in the last few games."

I want to hear from you! Shoot any comments, questions or suggestions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

In the immediate aftermath of a disappointing 26-20 loss at USF on Saturday, head coach Tommy Tuberville sounded exasperated in our radio postgame interview with sideline reporter Tom Gelehrter.

"You can't give away 14 points on the road and win - I don't care who you're playing," said Tuberville on 700 WLW.  "We knocked their running back out, we knocked their quarterback out and we still struggled."

Kay hit USF.jpg

The Bulls entered the game 0-4 and lost quarterback Steven Bench after one pass.  They lost the nation's 10th-leading rusher, Marcus Shaw, after 9 carries.  But USF didn't need an offensive touchdown against UC, scoring on a 75-yard TD return of a blocked field goal and a 10-yard fumble return.

"You just can't do that," said Tuberville.  "I don't care how many games they've won or how they're playing; we gave them all the incentive they needed.  When you're playing on the road, we just opened up a can of whoop-tail when we gave them 14 points."

Combine those touchdowns with four field goals and it was enough to beat a Cincinnati offense that sputtered to gain 162 yards in the first three quarters before erupting for 188 yards and a pair of TD passes in the fourth.

We had 86 yards of offense in the first half," said Tuberville.  "You're not going to win any games - I mean any games - if you don't play better than that on offense.

"We're going to have to get much better to have the opportunity to win games.  We have to get physical and we have to block somebody.  That's the number one thing that we have to get better at.  We're not doing a great job at the point of attack in our running game."

That was especially telling during a key sequence midway through the third quarter.  The Bearcats had a second-and-one at the USF 9-yard line and could not pick up the necessary yard on three running plays.

"You've got to be able to get a yard," said Tuberville.  "We had them coming through gaps and we were turning people loose.  We made some changes on the offensive line during the game and got a little bit better, but we have to be more physical up front.  If you can't get a yard in three downs then something is wrong."

Brendon Kay gave Cincinnati a chance to rally from a 26-6 deficit by going 11-for-14 with 145 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

"I'm proud of Brendon," said Tuberville.  "I didn't think he'd play in the second half.  He took a late hit and really got bruised up in the sternum.  We thought about pulling him out, but he wanted to play and he played his heart out in the second half.

"He played his tail off.  He ran for his life, he threw on the run, and we're just not giving him much protection.  And we have to be able to run the ball a little bit better."

And while the Bearcats struggles on offense began up front, Coach Tuberville says the responsibility for the loss begins with him.

"We have to do a better job of coaching," he said.

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The lessons that stem from this weekend's loss to South Florida didn't go down smooth and are difficult to handle for the Bearcats. Playing a USF team that was winless by an average margin of 23.5 points doesn't lend itself well to a happy film review. 

Still, let's take a deep breath and dive in. 

1) Brendon Kay is healthy. Kay took more shots than Stephen Curry Saturday night. Tommy Tuberville admitted doctors wanted to take him out for the second half after taking a brutal shot to the sternum. 

"He couldn't hardly breathe," Tuberville said. "A gutsy effort."

Kay fought through the pain and mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter. 

With so many questions about the health of the Bearcats quarterback early in the year, it's clear he can play through whatever pain and has the ability to take punishment and keep playing. 

That said ...

2) The offense line must find answers. USF had one of the most athletic defensive lines in the conference and the Bearcats knew that, but they couldn't contain them and allowed pressure all night. 

"We couldn't block anybody," Tuberville said. "They just lined up and whipped us."

Tuberville went on to say there's "not much leadership on the offensive line." 

An interesting reality he faces from a group that prior to the season was looked to be what these Bearcats would hang their hat on. They returned all five starters and these were linemen who excelled in 2012 blowing up holes for the running game and protecting the passer. 

The loss of center Dan Sprague at Higher Ground left a mark where they are still searching for answers at this point. With so much onus placed on the center to make the proper calls and have all the proper adjustments that position can have a ripple effect unlike few others on the field. That seemed apparent Saturday. 

3) The Bearcats can still walk into a stadium every week and know with this defense they have a fighting chance. Despite giving up 14 points in turnovers for scores, UC held USF without a touchdown and continually gave the offense a chance to make a comeback. 

They held USF to four consecutive three-and-outs as Kay and company started to gain steam. 

Those UC linebackers are living up to the hype. Nick Temple led the team in tackles including a 7-yard sack. Jeff Luc had a tackle for loss, forced fumble and fumble recovery. Greg Blair added seven tackles and a forced fumble of his own. 

When teams face the Bearcats, they know they need an answer for these three linebackers. Few have. 


4) Mekale McKay offering a bright future. With each game he's made more and more big plays. Showing up just before the season it took time for him to grow comfortable inside the offense, but he's figuring it out now. He caught two passes and both were for touchdowns. 

His big body and athleticism are a nightmare for opposing DBs. Especially in the red zone you can see how Kay likes to give McKay a chance to make a play. 

5) Temple gives an opportunity to get healthy. UC shouldn't be taking anybody for granted after what happened in Tampa, but if there were a team they could take for granted right now it would be Temple. The Owls are 0-5 after a 30-7 drubbing given by Louisville this weekend. That includes losses to Fordham and Idaho. 

Friday night at Nippert should be an opportunity to create some positive momentum. 

6) SMU churned out the play of the year in college football as far as I'm concerned. I learned two-point conversions can, in fact, feature 40-yard passes. 

The Bearcats are still dealing with the death of teammate Ben Flick but rallying together as they hope the first game back this weekend against South Florida can help everyone start to move on. 

CINCINNATI -- The scene inside a college football locker room - specifically the Cincinnati Bearcats football locker room - teeters more toward Animal House than workplace. 

A collection of 100-plus teenagers and 20-somethings turn daily duty into a festival of fun. Jokes and  games, shouting and posturing, never a dull moment when the doors on the second floor of the Linder Center fly open. 

That is, until a week and a half ago. One day after the news broke freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick lost his life in a car accident, the players returned to the locker room that Sunday. 

"I will always remember that," senior lineman Austen Bujnoch said. "It was the most eerie thing." 

Walking through the doors and toward his locker, Bujnoch and his teammates went through the normal routine.

Dress, lift, practice, shower. 

Only, nobody spoke. Silence. Grief replaced gags. Shock replaced shouts. 

"It was the first time we've ever heard that locker room completely silent," Brendon Kay said. "It was a weird feeling." 

Unsure how to act or what to say, this group of optimistic young kids were forced to grow up in an instant and, thankfully for them, do so together. 

"That was the closest death I've ever had, so it was kind of hard to deal with," Bujnoch said. "We never forget, but we have to move on." 

They do so in gameplanning for South Florida. Conference season stands in clear focus on the horizon. Assessing how to slow an athletic defensive line and spark an offense stagnant two weeks ago against Miami fills a portion of the space previously held by sadness for a fallen teammate. 

On the field, the game will be changing for the Bearcats. Tommy Tuberville plans alterations to a roster he spent the non-conference season evaluating. Learning season ended in Oxford. The rotations are trimmed and those who haven't produced will spend time watching from the sidelines with every conference victory a valuable commodity and stepping stone toward the BCS goal. 

With life and the season moving on, there's no time for the Bearcats to wallow. Tuberville spent much time lately in the Intensive Care Unit and around hospitals. He quickly found out choosing coaching was a blessing for him because handling the daily view around those rooms requires a special type of person. Along the way, he's learned about helping kids deal with death while holding on to another, as Mark Barr is still in critical condition from the accident. 

The key, Tuberville gathered, involves returning to typical. Hopping on a plane and strapping on the road jersey again will help tremendously. 

"I think getting back playing and competing will help," Tuberville said. "It's a different situation than I've ever been in; I have not known how to handle it. There is no right or wrong way, it's just that you hear the old adage, time heals all. So we'll just have to keep working at it and try to keep them as focused as we can, and remind them that this is a more serious situation than just a football game, what's going on over at that hospital." 

Flick's locker will always be there and the No. 77 decal will always grace the Bearcats helmet during a season they've dedicated to him. 

Yet, with each play, each plan, each practice, the pendulum swings closer to normalcy, though it may never truly return to the middle. 

Each time the locker room door swings open, the decibel level rises a little more. 
"That's the best coming in seeing your brothers every day, crack some jokes, get back in the swing of things," Bujnoch said. "Seeing Ben's locker always will affect me but he'd want us to have fun, he'd want us to go out there and win. He wouldn't want us worrying about him - so (winning and having fun) is what we are going to do."  

I want to hear from you! Send me your comments, suggestions or questions to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

Helton Leads Talented Tights to Tampa

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First-year tight ends coach Tyson Helton leads a talented group of players that will be looking to find the endzone at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Saturday night.

Senior Blake Annen leads the group, followed by freshman DJ Dowdy.
  In the future, Travis Johnson (who is from Tampa's Jesuit High School) and Tyler Cogswell will be looking for passes along with junior Josh Russ.

I tracked down Coach Helton in the football office at the Lindner Center and spoke to him about his players, the USF game and his brother, Clay.

For those that don't know, Clay Helton is Southern Cal's offensive coordinator and will call plays now with the dismissal of Lane Kiffin. Clay and Tyson's father, Kim Helton is a coaching veteran who actually coached in the Tampa Bay area years go with the Buccaneers.

UC fans may remember him more from his days as head coach of the University of Houston from the old Conference USA/Rick Minter days.

Here's Tyson who will likely make a fine head coach someday himself: