Heard it From Hoard: Column 31
Let's see. A narrow win over Western Carolina and a pair of early-season losses in which Cincinnati's young players looked completely lost on defense. Pretty discouraging huh?
Well, maybe not when you realize I'm not referring to opening weekend for the UC basketball team. Instead, I'm describing the state of the UC football team two years ago.
Remember that less-than-scintillating 7-3 win over the Division 1-AA Catamounts at Nippert Stadium? Remember allowing 42 points to Penn State and 44 points to Miami in September losses? Did you envision the 'Cats playing for a shot at a Big East championship and a BCS bowl bid two years later?
I'm not necessarily suggesting that Mick Cronin's Bearcats will be in the mix for a Big East title in a couple of years - although I wouldn't rule it out. What I am saying is that it's time to take a deep breath, consider the circumstances, and realistically evaluate where things stand.
The Bearcats do not have their best player - McDonald's All-American Mike Williams who will miss the entire season after rupturing his Achilles tendon. The junior is the only Cincinnati player with NCAA tournament experience. Belmont, by the way, has eight such players.
The 'Cats are also without their best defensive guard - senior Jamual Warren who will miss 3-4 weeks with a broken bone on the back of his non-shooting hand. Remember when Xavier's Stanley Burrell went 0-for-10 in last year's Crosstown Shootout? Guess who was guarding him.
Is there any doubt in your mind that Cincinnati would be 3-0 if Williams and Warren had been on the floor last weekend? How 'bout if UC had either one?
Should they still be 3-0? Yea probably, but when I watch Deonta Vaughn, Rashad Bishop, Anthony McClain, Larry Davis, Alvin Mitchell, and Darnell Wilks make silly mistakes, I can remember Dominick Goodman, Digger Bujnoch, Terrill Byrd, Haruki Nakamura, Anthony Hoke, and Mike Mickens making similar mistakes when they were sophomores and freshman in 2005. All of the above football players are candidates for all-Big East honors this season.
The basketball players I mentioned in the previous paragraph will still be here in two years. So will Kenny Belton who hasn't played yet after suffering a concussion at practice. Hopefully Mike Williams will still be here too, if the NCAA shows some heart and grants him an extra year of eligibility.
The 2009 basketball roster will also include a pair of Top 100 recruits who signed letters of intent on Wednesday: Yancy Gates, a 6'9" forward from Cincinnati, and Cashmere Wright, a 6'0" guard from Savannah, GA. Other top-notch recruits are sure to follow.
Two years ago the football team finished 4-7. That's a .363 winning percentage. Apply that to a 30-game basketball schedule and you come away with an 11-19 record - exactly where the Bearcats finished last year.
So when you settle into your seat at sold-out Nippert Stadium on Saturday (or couch if you're not lucky enough to have a ticket), don't just savor the incredible growth of the football program. Think about how it compares to the basketball program.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are Big East championships.
Fortunately, the latter can be done in a couple of years.
On to this week's football game - the most important in the 105-year history of Nippert Stadium. If the Bearcats win, they would need the following three things to happen to go to a BCS bowl game.
1. Beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome the following week.
2. Hope for UConn to lose to either Syracuse at home or West Virginia on the road.
3. Hope for Pitt to lose one of its final 3 games (at Rutgers. host USF, at W. Virginia).
In the three years since QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton took the field for West Virginia, the Mountaineers have lost a total of four games. The common denominator in those defeats is turnovers: 2 fumbles vs. Virginia Tech in '05, 3 fumbles vs. Louisville in '06, 2 fumbles/3 INT vs. USF in '06, and 3 fumbles/3 INT vs. USF this year.
The Bearcats have forced 35 turnovers this year - 4 more than any other team in college football. If they can add a few to that total on Saturday night, anything is possible.
Finally, almost forget this week's obligatory Sam Hoard photo. In it he appears quite happy to be running away from dear old dad.
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