As summer counts down to its annual disappearing act, students return from their three month hiatus to animate the grounds of UC. The air introduces a crispness only autumn can instigate. The green on leaves fades, creating picturesque backdrops cascading across the countryside. This signifies the change in seasons and grinding out long hours of studying. But more importantly, it represents the kickoff of Cincinnati Bearcats football!
The 2016 expedition ended with the Bearcats unable to secure a bowl berth for the first time since 2010.
After stumbling to a 4-8 record, Coach Tommy Tubberville resigned, opening the door for Luke Fickell to take the reigns.
“To the University of Cincinnati, to the city of Cincinnati, I’m not going to stand up here and promise you wins and championships,” Fickell said. “But what I am going to promise you is that we’ll put a product on the field that you will be extremely proud to call your own.”
Spending 14 years at a premier collegiate football program has likely afforded Fickell a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be priceless to his new squad. His coaching resume from his time in Columbus is fairly impressive as well.
Coach Fickell is an alum and longtime defensive coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, save the two previous years where he coached the D-Line at Akron. In 2002, famed OSU Coach Jim Tressel appointed Fickell his Special Teams coordinator. No matter how some may feel about Tressell, his ability to coach and lead a team is undeniable.
In 2011, Fickell was thrust into the Head Coach of the Buckeyes following the controversial dismissal of Tressell.
Left to twist in the wind in this difficult position, OSU limped to a 6-7 record under the interim coach. Despite the disappointing season, many still believed Fickell was aptly prepared to lead a collegiate squad.
When Urban Meyer swooped in to Columbus to save the OSU program from collapse, he decided to retain Fickell as his defensive coordinator. In this role, he built a prodigious defensive unit. From there, the Buckeyes would secure the 2014 National Championship.
Hopes are high that Coach Fickell can bring those winning ways to a floundering Cincinnati program.
As much as this side of the ball struggled last season, UC touts experience in 2017.
Hayden Moore will return to helm the offense after an average 2016 campaign. As many of you know, the previous statement is on the generous side of things.
Nevertheless, Hayden completed 146 of 255 pass attempts for, you guessed it, an “average” 57.3%.
Addionally, he threw for 11 touchdowns versus 7 interceptions and 1744 yards. Yes, very “average” indeed.
On the contrary, though, he’s gained valuable experience. With some of the other returning pieces, the staff expects a improved production from the the quarterback position.
The Bearcat running attack was abysmal to say the least in 2016.
In the midst of injury and lack of production, five UC running backs combined for a paltry four rushing touchdowns and just over a thousand yards on the ground. Ugh.
Returning senior RB Mike Boone hopes to reverse that trend this year as he takes over the vacancy left by 2016 senior running back Tion Green.
Boone can be a dual threat out of the backfield.
As the number two behind Tion Green last year, he rushed for 388 yards on 105 carries. More importantly, Boone was also able to hall in 20 receptions for 249 yards. That’s 12.5 yards per catch.
Coach Fickell and the staff hope that Boone can expound on that sort of production in 2017.
Despite the struggles at the other offensive positions, wide receivers for UC were extremely effective. And, as luck would have it, two of the top three return in anticipation to build on that success.
As a tandem, Devin Gray and Kahil Lewis managed 106 catches for 10 TDs and 1405 yards. The arrow points up for these two. Hopefully last year’s team struggles can motivate them to improve on those numbers.
Accompanying them on the outside will be incoming Freshman Malick Mbodj. The coaching staff seems to be high on him as he currently rests second behind Gray on the Cats depth chart.
With this group of collegiate veterans, it wont be difficult to turn the anemic results of 2016 into a much more efficient attack in 2017.
The road was rough on this side of the ball as well. The defense gave up a whopping 333 points, results in an average of 27.5 points a game! Obviously, that type of performance leaves a lot to be desired.
They didn’t close out the season any better either.
During a five game skid to finish the season, the defense gave up a bloated 30 tallies per contest.
This is where Coach Fickell is expected to make the biggest strides, given his intricate knowledge of defensive schemes that were constructed at a top-five program.
There’s is no reason to believe that ”Ficks” can’t “fix” the problems on this side of the ball. Ba da ba bum. Okay, the “fix’ thing was lame. But in all seriousness, his success at a major FBS program promises to bring respect back to a squad that was somewhat of a doormat last year.
2017 CINCINNATI BEARCATS SCHEDULE
Thu, Aug 31 vs Austin Peay
7:00 PM ET ESPN 3
Sat, Sept 9 @ Michigan
12:00 PM ET
Sat, Sept 16 @ Miami (OH)
8:00 PM ET ESPN 3
Sat, Sept 23 Navy
3:30 PM ET CBS
Sat, Sept 30 vs Marshall
Sat, Oct 7 vs UCF
Sat, Oct 21 vs SMU
Sat, Oct 28 @ USF
Sat, Nov 4 @ Tulane
Fri, Nov 10 vs Temple
7:00 PM ET ESPN2
Sat, Nov 18 @ East Carolina TBD Sat, Nov 25
Games of note include a trip to Ann Arbor for an early test to square off against Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines on September 9th. A litmus test for the new Coach indeed.
Just two weeks later, they have an encounter with Navy on Sept. 23rd. The Midshipmen won the AAC West division and finished 2016 with a record of 9-4.
During the latter part of the schedule. The Cats will face off against division rivals South Florida and Temple. Both finished 2016 with double digit win totals and are part of a critical stretch that could make or break UC’s season.
The arrow seems to be pointing in the proper direction. Let’s all hope that Coach Fickell and his Bearcats can fulfill some of the expectations of vast improvement.
PREDICTION: Cincinnati Bearcats 4-4 AAC, 7-5 Overall and First Bowl appearance since 2010.