The University of Cincinnati’s rich history and tradition in intercollegiate athletics is founded in the Bearcats’ football program. The football tradition has grown during the years and reached new heights over the past four years. In the past three seasons, UC has gone 27-12, won back-to-back BIG EAST Conference titles, played in two-straight Bowl Championship Series games, and have reached as high as No. 3 in all three major polls (Associated Press, USA Today, Bowl Championship Series).
UC’s football program is one of the nation’s oldest — only Rutgers (1869), Michigan (1879), Navy (1880), and Minnesota (1883), among NCAA Division I institutions, predate Cincinnati, which began the sport in 1885.
UC has been involved in several historic college football milestones starting with Dec. 8, 1888. That day, the Bearcats and Miami (Ohio) University engaged in the first college football game played in the state of Ohio, launching a rivalry that is tied for the oldest in the game among major universities — North Carolina vs. Wake Forest began playing that same year. The Battle for the Victory Bell is the fifth-most played rivalry series in college football.
A few years later in 1897, UC received an invitation to visit New Orleans to play a football game as a reward for a successful season. The game was a precursor to the current postseason football bowl games.
In the 1930s, a UC football player wore a device with his helmet to protect his broken nose. The device was a forerunner of the now standard face mask. The first soccer-style place kick was also attempted by a Bearcat, Hank Hartong, in the early 1960s.
Coaching luminaries have patrolled the sidelines at Cincinnati. College Football Hall of Fame coach Frank Cavanaugh began his 24-season career at UC. Sid Gillman, a member of the College and NFL Halls of Fame, was the architect of one of the top eras of Cincinnati football history. He directed the Bearcats to three conference titles and a pair of bowl game appearances during his six seasons (1949-54) before leaving for the professional ranks. Cincinnati, with Gillman developing the passing offenses which would make him successful in the pro ranks, became known for its aerial attack in the early 1950s. That notoriety continued long after his departure.
In 1968, the Bearcats were the nation’s top passing team with quarterback Greg Cook leading the NCAA in total offense, while receiver/kicker Jim O’Brien captured the national scoring title. A year later, Cook earned Rookie of the Year honors as a Cincinnati Bengal, and two years later, O’Brien kicked the game-winning field goal for the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V.
With more than 100 players advancing into the professional ranks and nine earning Super Bowl wins, 40 earning all-America honors, and 11 garnering academic all-America recognition, Cincinnati football has clearly made an important impact on college football with its long history of accomplishments.
>> BOWL-CATS Cincinnati has been to eight bowl games over the last 11 seasons and 12 in the program’s 122 seasons. UC played in the first Bowl Championship Series game in school history, taking on Virginia Tech in the 75th FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 2009.
>> ALL-AMERICA TRADITION Forty Bearcats have earned all-America recognition. Mike Woods garnered first-team honors in 1977, earning him an appearance on Bob Hope’s television special. Punter Kevin Huber became the first two-time First-Team Associated Press all-American in UC history when he earned the honor in 2007 and 2008.
>> “THE TOE” Jonathan Ruffin received the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker in 2000 after booting a record 26 field goals. He was presented the award by ESPN’s Chris Fowler. Ruffin was also a consensus all-American that year.
>> TROPHY GAMES The Bearcats are involved in three trophy games. Cincinnati’s annual clash with the Miami RedHawks is the nation’s eighth-oldest and 11th longest running rivalry in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. The winner of the yearly fall battle claims the Victory Bell. The winner of the UC-Louisville contest takes home the Keg of Nails, while the winner of the UC-Pittsburgh game stakes claim to the recently created River City Rivalry Trophy. UC currently holds two of the three trophies.
>> UPSET CATS UC football has been dangerous to top teams over the years, knocking off the likes of No. 8 Wisconsin, 17-12, at home in 1999, going to defending national champion Penn State in 1983 and upending the Nittany Lions, 14-3, and dominating Virginia Tech, 16-0, in 1995 while allowing just 41 yards of offense. However, possibly the biggest upset in UC history came in 2006 as the Bearcats beat its highest-ranked opponent in Nippert Stadium history, blowing away then-No. 7 Rutgers, 30-11.
>> CHAMPIONSHIP FOOTBALL With a 37-15 record since the 2007 season, the Bearcats have become relevant on the national stage once again. In 2008, UC claimed the BIG EAST title, the school’s first outright conference crown since 1946. The Bearcats climbed as high as No. 12 in the Associated Press, and USA Today Top 25 polls on the way to a school-record 11 wins. In 2009, UC set a school-record with 12 wins, finished No. 3 in the final Bowl Championship Series rankings, won its second-straight BIG EAST crown, and played in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Bearcats played in four straight bowl games for the first time in school history.
Bearcat Football Timeline
1885 UC fielded its first football team under the organization of Arch Carson, who served as the first coach. The team won a pair of games over a club from neighboring Mt. Auburn.
1888 Cincinnati and Miami faced off in Oxford for the first college football game in the state of Ohio. The game ended in a scoreless tie but launched a rivalry that is tied for the honors of being the oldest among major college schools.
1897 Following a 7-1-1 season--the lone loss was to the fabled Carlisle Indians--Cincinnati was invited to celebrate New Years in New Orleans and play a contest against the host Southern Athletic Club. A day after their victory, the Bearcats accepted a challenge from LSU and also defeated the Tigers.
1898 Frank Cavanaugh, immortalized as the Iron Major, began his head coaching career at Cincinnati. He was elected to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame at the conclusion of his illustrious career.
1902 Cincinnati played its first home game at the current site of Nippert Stadium, defeating Hanover, 18-0.
1912 Cincinnati scored a school-record 124 points in a shutout win over Transylvania. Ike Stewart and Bob Heuck each tallied six TDs and Alonzo Wells kicked 12 PATs, all UC records.
1914 Cincinnati teams first used the nickname Bearcats.
1916 Construction began on permanent stadium seating and facilities.
1922 George McLauren, another UC mentor to be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, began his four-season tenure as UC's head coach.
1923 Nippert Stadium was the site of the first night football game in the Midwest as Cincinnati defeated Kentucky Wesleyan, 17-0. In the season-ending game vs. Miami, Jimmy Nippert sustained a spike wound and died a month later of blood poisoning. His grandfather, James Gamble, donated the money needed to finish the stadium construction.
1924 Nippert Stadium was dedicated.
1933 UC won the first of two straight Buckeye Athletic Association titles.
1934 UC played its first Homecoming game, defeating Marshall, 7-0.
1935 The Bearcats' first NFL players, Bill Feldhaus (Detroit) and Ray Nolting (Chicago), lead UC to a 7-2 record before embarking on their pro careers.
1942 UC hosted No. 2 Georgia at Nippert Stadium. The Bulldogs won, 35-13, and won the Rose Bowl a few months later. The other lone blemish on UC's 8-2 record was to Sugar Bowl victor Tennessee.
1943-44 Football suspended due to World War II.
1946 Cincinnati defeated defending Big 10 Conference champion Indiana in the season opener en route to a 9-2 record. The season was capped by the Bearcats' first bowl appearance. UC defeated Virginia Tech, 18-6, in the Sun Bowl.
1947 UC won its first Mid-American Conference championship. The Bearcats won four crowns in their six-year association with the league.
1949 Sid Gillman took over as head coach and promptly piloted UC to a Mid-American Conference title and a win over Toledo in the Glass Bowl. Tom O'Malley's 1,617 passing yards led the nation.
1950 The Bearcats advanced to the Sun Bowl but are edged by West Texas State, 14-13.
1951 UC posted an all-time best record of 10-1. Gene Rossi and Bob Stratton became the first Bearcats to earn all-America recognition.
1953 Cincinnati led the nation in both total offense (409.5 yards per game) and total defense (184.3), a feat accomplished by only three other teams in college football history.
1954 Sid Gillman left for the Los Angeles Rams after directing UC to an 8-2 ledger. In six seasons under the eventual college and pro hall of fame coach, the Bearcats posted a 50-13-1 record and won three Mid-American Conference titles.
1956 UC led the nation in punt return average, averaging 17.7 yards per return.
1959 Dave Canary became the first of 11 Bearcats to earn academic all-America honors. Canary eschewed pro football possibilities to pursue a successful acting career and became a regular in several TV series. Teammates Jack Lee and Jim Leo were named MVP of the Senior Bowl and College All-Star games, respectively.
1963-64 Cincinnati won back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference titles under Chuck Studley, who went on to become head coach of the Houston Oilers. UC compiled a 14-6 record during those two seasons.
1968 Cincinnati led the nation in passing offense, averaging 335.8 yards per game. Greg Cook led the nation in total offense, amassing 3,210 yards, while receiver/kicker Jim O'Brien was the nation's leading scorer with 142 points.
1970 Bob Bell became the second Bearcat in as many seasons to be a first-round selection in the NFL Draft.
1976 Cincinnati defeated Arizona State and Vanderbilt en route to a 9-2 ledger. Co-captain Mike Woods earned first-team all-America honors and was a second-round draft pick by the Baltimore Colts.
1983 UC opened the season with a 14-3 upset of defending national champion Penn State at Beaver Stadium.
1985 The Bearcats upset a pair of 1984 bowl teams, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
1986 UC hosted the No. 1 Miami Hurricanes at Nippert Stadium. The Hurricanes validated its ranking with a 45-13 win.
1992 Nippert Stadium reopened to full use following an extensive renovation. The Bearcats hosted No. 8 Penn State in the season opener, and nearly pulled off the upset before falling, 24-20.
1995 Robert Tate led the nation in kickoff return average, averaging 34.3 yards on 15 returns. Tate was named both Offensive and Special Teams MVP in Conference USA.
1996 Cincinnati began competition in Conference USA. The Bearcats posted back-to-back crowds of 30,729 for Kentucky and 30,887 for Miami University, breaking the old stadium attendance record.
1997 Cincinnati ended a draught of 47 seasons without a bowl game appearance when it was selected to play in the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl. The Bearcats defeated Utah State, 35-19, to finish the year at 8-4.
1999 Cincinnati upset No. 8 Wisconsin, 17-12 in Nippert Stadium.
2000 UC won five of its last six games to finish second in Conference USA and earn a bid to play Marshall in the Motor City Bowl. Jonathan Ruffin became a first consensus first-team all-America choice and received the 2000 Lou Groza Award after leading the nation in field goals.
2001 The Bearcats opened the season against No. 25 Purdue in front of the largest Nippert Stadium crowd in history. UC won its first four league games en route to a second-place finish in Conference USA and second straight trip to the Motor City Bowl. Quarterback Gino Guidugli is named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year after setting school and league freshman records by throwing for 2,573 yards and 16 touchdowns.
2002 Cincinnati set school and Conference USA single-game attendance marks when 66,319 packed Paul Brown Stadium to see UC play eventual national champion Ohio State. UC won its final five league games to claim a share of the Conference USA title, its first league championship since 1964. Quarterback Gino Guidugli threw for 3,543 yards, one of five season records set by the sophomore. UC earned a bowl bid for a record third straight year, playing in the New Orleans Bowl.
2004 The Bearcats recovered from a 2-4 start to win five of their last six games, including a convincing 52-24 victory over No. 21 Southern Miss. UC was selected for the Fort Worth Bowl where the Bearcats defeated Marshall, 32-14.
2005 Cincinnati began play in the BIG EAST Conference
2006 The Bearcats posted a 7-5 regular-season mark, playing a schedule that featured five teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time they faced UC. After a couple of near misses against those ranked foes, UC downed No. 7 Rutgers, 30-11, before a national television audience. Cincinnati earned a berth in the inaugural International Bowl in Toronto, Ont. Though head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff departed following the end of the regular season, new coach Brian Kelly and his staff directed the UC squad to a 27-24 win over Western Michigan.
2007 In Brian Kelly’s first full season as head coach at UC, the program equaled the school single-season record for wins, posting a 10-3 record and earning a No. 17 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. It marked the first time UC ended the season among the nation’s Top 25 programs. Three Bearcats earned all-America honors, including punter Kevin Huber, who was the school’s second consensus selection.
2008 The Bearcats had a banner season that included a school-record 11 wins, the program’s first BIG EAST Conference Championship, a final ranking of No. 17 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls, and a Bowl Championship Series appearance in the 75th FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 2009. Five UC players earned all-America honors while punter Kevin Huber became the first two-time First Team Associated Press all-America selection in school history.
2009 Cincinnati ran off a school-record 12-straight wins, achieved a best-ever ranking of No. 3 in the country (AP/USA Today/BCS) and won is second-straight BIG EAST Conference Championship before falling to Florida in the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl. Wide receiver Mardy Gilyard re-wrote parts of the UC record book on the way to earning AFCA First-Team All-America honors.
2010 Butch Jones took the helm as UC's 38th head football coach in late 2009. In 2010, the Bearcats led the BIG EAST in scoring offense (27.1 ppg), total offense (417.3 ypg), passing offense (260.7 ypg), first downs (21.9 pg), third-down conversions (45.6 pct.), and touchdown passes (27). Wide receiver Armon Binns and quarterback Zach Collaros were both First-Team all-BIG EAST selections while five other teammates earned all-BIG EAST honors. Nineteen players were named Academic All-BIG EAST and John Goebel earned the 2010 American Eagle Outfitters BIG EAST Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.