Monday, September 21, 2009

When Is U.C.'s Next Real Toughie?

It's time to play that time-honored game, "When is the next tough test for the U.C. football team?" You, Tony Pike, you are not allowed to play. Brian Kelly and staff, you're out too. The players and coaches have to approach every game like it's tough, and if they don't, they'll find themselves fighting for a win that should have been a gimme. Plus, they actually have to play the game and deal with injury issues that might hamper key players. But me, and you, we can play the game all night long and as loud as we desire. Rutgers was supposed to be a tough test and U.C. blasted the Knights. Oregon State was a tough one, but a 10 point win in that venue raises the Bearcats pedigree a few notches. Especially with the defense clamping down when needed. So let's peer into the future, and look at the upcoming opponents.

Sept. 26 Fresno St. at Nippert Stadium
Fresno played Wisconsin tough at the Badgers home field. Then the Bulldogs returned home to play Boise and lost by 17. Now they come back to the midwest to play a noon kickoff at Nippert. Fresno is good, but not that good. Plus the Bulldogs surrender a lot of points. A porous defense is not a good recipe against the Bearcats. Oddsmakers opened the line at U.C. -14. It's already up to 16 1/2. U.C. will be 4-0 by 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

Oct. 3 Miami, Oh at Yager Stadium
Do I have to explain this one? The Bearcats should save room on the bus and just leave the Victory Bell in Cincinnati. I know, Miami's offense exploded in the final 23 minutes at Western Michigan over the weekend. After starting the season with 10 scoreless quarters, the Redhawks put up 26 in the final quarter-plus at Western. But Miami allowed 48 points at Western. How many will the 'Cats ring up?

Oct. 15 South Florida at Raymond James Stadium
This game appeared to be a tough one at the time it was announced. A Thursday night game on the Bulls home field will not be easy. But the Bulls best quarterback in school history is now out for the season. Matt Grothe tore a knee ligament during Saturday night's 59-0 pasting of Charleston Southern. His replacement is redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels. Daniels appears to have enormous talent. After replacing Grothe Saturday night, he completed 10 of 13 passes with a touchdown, and ran for another 105 yards and a two touchdowns. We'll find out more about South Florida this week when the Bulls meet Florida State. U.C. has beaten the Bulls in their last three meetings. The Bearcats coaching staff gets 12 days to prepare for this game. That's a good thing for U.C., a bad thing for opponents. When U.C. finishes with the Bulls young quarterback, it will be four straight over South Florida. I believe that, and I also believe this is the next tough one! But this is fun, so let's keep going.

Oct. 24 Louisville at Nippert Stadium
The Cardinals seem to be emerging from the fog of the past couple of seasons. After the way they went after Kentucky, I don't think this game is a layup. But it's at Nippert, it's Homecoming, so the 'Keg of Nails' will be available for another year in case the 'Cats need to bust it open and use the nails for facility upgrades.

Oct. 31 Syracuse at Carrier Dome
It's Halloween, and the 'Cats have to play a team nicknamed the "Orange". Wow, talk about karma! Seriously, this is not the laugher one might have expected at the beginning of the season. New coach Doug Marrone has brought a nice attitude to the Orange. Plus, Greg Paulus is proving to be more than a curiosity as the Syracuse quarterback. Paulus shredded a depleted Northwestern defense for 346 yards Saturday as the Orange picked up its first win under Marrone. But a three-point win over Northwestern at home isn't in the same class as a 10-point win at Oregon State. U.C. is still a cut-and-a-half above Syracuse and will carve up the Orange like a Jack'o lantern.

Nov. 7 Connecticut at Nippert Stadium
Remember that truck that ran over the Bearcats in the second half of last year's game at Storrs? Donald Brown plays for the NFL's Indy Colts now, but U.C. should still be a little wary of the Huskies. Quarterback Zach Frazer is the transfer from Notre Dame, but he's a little dinged up right now. Maybe UConn is better off with Cody Endres running the show anyway. Frazer had fired 7 interceptions in three starts this season. Endres made his first career start against U.C. last year and helped engineer the 40-16 thumping. If this game were in Storrs, I'd be a little more worried. But UConn plays at Pitt, home against Louisville, at West Virginia, and home verus Rutgers, before coming to Nippert. Will they have enough left to beat a very good U.C. team on the 'Cats home turf? Nope.

Nov. 13 West Virginia at Nippert Stadium
West Virginia missed a great chance to wave the Big East flag last Saturday at Auburn. The Mountaineers took a lead to the fourth quarter, then came four turnovers and the game slipped away. The Mountaineers committed 6 turnovers in the game, including a whopping 5 interceptions. You never take anything for granted against West Virginia, especially a win. This will be tough, but can it be any tougher than that win U.C. escaped Morgantown with last season? Plus, West Virginia has been ok under Bill Stewart, but not great. U.C. protects the home turn on a cool Friday night under the Nippert lights.

Nov. 27 Illinois at Nippert Stadium
The Illini could be playing out the string by this point. They lost star linebacker Martez Wilson for the season with a neck injury. Juice Williams will return from a leg injury this weekend to face Ohio State. Illinois faces Penn State and Michigan State the following weeks. It could be lights out after that stretch of big games. But if Williams and his offense are healthy, this will not be a layup. If U.C. happens to be undefeated or a one loss team at this point, it will give Illinois a reason to get up in late November. But if the Bearcats are rolling along at that pace, this Illinois squad isn't going to derail them.

Dec. 5 Pittsburgh at Heinz Field
Since the schedule was announced, we all knew it could come down to this. Hopefully for U.C. and Pitt fans, it will come down to this game. Little freshman running back Dion Lewis is averaging 5.9 yards a carry. Bill Stull is completing 70-per cent of his passes and has 6 touchdown throws against just one interception. The Panthers held Navy to 2.8 yards per rush. Navy picked up 4.2 per carry against Ohio State. So this team is good. Pitt has won its first three games for the first time since 2000. The Panthers have a somewhat deserved reputation of fading down the stretch under Dave Wannstedt. That wasn't the case last year. It probably won't be the case this year. A win at N.C. State this weekend should get the Panthers in the top 25. If all goes according to plan, and it almost never does, this will be the game of the year in the Big East.

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