Well, look what the Bearcat dragged in. It’s Cincinnati.
“We’re a little bit late,” coach Tommy Tuberville said Thursday.
There is one FBS team that has yet to play a game in 2014, and that team is the Bearcats. Due to a series of scheduling problems, they opened the season with two bye weeks. They do not kick off until Friday night against Toledo, which already has played twice.
It’s a bit surreal, and it’s certainly not ideal. But as coaches are fond of saying, they can’t control the schedule that is laid out in front of them.
“We got stuck,” Tuberville said. “It is what it is. We’ve got 12 games like everyone else, they’re just all in a row.”
Actually, there is one more bye week for the Bearcats, Nov. 8. But they’ve got to play eight straight to get there.
What happened: Cincinnati was scheduled to open the year hosting Stony Brook. But then-athletic director Whit Babcock (now at Virginia Tech) went to Tuberville and said he could schedule a home-and-home with Miami starting later this season – it would simply necessitate dropping the Stony Brook game. Tuberville said Babcock believed the American Athletic Conference would move a league game into one of the first two weekends, so he signed off on it.
And then the league game never got moved.
Obviously, there is blame to go around. Babcock told the Cincinnati Enquirer last month that the double open date to start the year was his fault. But the American Athletic Conference not only failed to come up with a league game for the Bearcats early, it failed to match up what appear to be its two best teams at all. Cincinnati and Central Florida don’t play each other, which means the conference robbed itself of its marquee game for 2014. Which says a lot about the league.
But back to the Bearcats themselves. Cincinnati has spent the first two weekends of 2014 watching everyone else play, while trying not to go crazy.
“It’s hurt us,” Tuberville said. “The biggest thing is finding out what your weaknesses are early, and then working on them. We don’t know what we need to practice. You don’t hit each other like you hit other teams. You don’t block each other like you block other teams.”
Tuberville has had to treat the extra early practice time like bowl prep. They’ve had practices just for the younger players who are unlikely to have major roles this season, and they’ve spaced out the work for the guys at the top of the depth chart.
The head coach also has had to keep his assistants from going mad scientist with the game plan. The more time they have to tinker, the more they want to do.
“You give coaches a lot of time, they think they’ve invented the wheel,” Tuberville said. “My job is to tell them, ‘No, we’re not adding that. No, we’re not going to do that.’”
On the positive side, having weekends off has allowed Tuberville to watch a lot of football. He spent the entire first Saturday of the season with remote in hand, watching as many games as possible. (“I was shell-shocked by the end of the day,” he joked.) He saw middle son Troy play football at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School – just across the Ohio state line, about 25 miles from the UC campus and the hometown of Tommy’s wife, Suzanne. And last weekend he was able to attend the 10-year reunion of his 2004 Southeastern Conference champion Auburn team.
That team went undefeated but was left out of the BCS National Championship Game, in which USC routed Oklahoma. That snub spurred SEC commissioner Mike Slive to become a playoff proponent, and 10 years later Slive’s quest is finally a reality.
“I told our team at the time, ‘You’re going to change college football,’” Tuberville said. “It took a while, but we’ve done it.”
The other positive to Cincinnati’s late start is that it remains a mystery to Toledo, while the Bearcats have two weeks of tape on the Rockets. Tuberville may not know what his team is going to do – but neither does his opponent.
“We’ve made multiple changes, and they don’t know what those are,” Tuberville said. “The question is: Can we execute those multiple changes?”
The most intriguing change is at quarterback. Blue-chip vagabond Gunner Kiel will finally play a college game, at a school that could be called his fourth choice.
You remember Kiel: A five-star recruit out of Columbus, Ind., he committed to nearby Indiana early in his recruitment. Then he decommitted from the Hoosiers and committed to LSU. Then he had an 11th hour change of heart about going that far away and signed with Notre Dame. While redshirting behind Everett Golson and Tommy Rees in 2012, Kiel was an unhappy camper in South Bend and decided to transfer in the spring.
That’s when he wound up at Cincinnati. It’s been more than 1,000 days since he played a football game.
“I told him, ‘You’re a myth,’” Tuberville said. “He’s got to go do it now.”
At 6-foot-4, Kiel has prototypical size and deceptive athletic ability. He can move within the pocket and escape it when it collapses. Although Cincinnati may dabble with senior Munchie Legaux as a change-of-pace guy at quarterback (and use him at other positions), Kiel looks like he will finally get his chance to star.
“I think he’s going to be good,” Tuberville said. “We’ll see how he handles it when the bullets start flying.”
The same can be said for the rest of the Bearcats. The wait is finally over for the last team in FBS to kick off.
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