|Team A||vs.||Team B|
|3-5||vs. .500 Teams||3-4|
|21.7||Off. PPG vs. Conf.||20.7|
|20.1||Def. PPG vs. Conf.||19.0|
|5-1||Last 6 Games||4-2|
|W, 23-6||Head-to-Head||L, 23-6|
One of the above teams is universally projected in the top half of the Big East, floated as a darkhorse for the conference title by every outlet, appears in the top 25s by Phil Steele and The Sporting News and would seem a virtual lock for its third straight bowl bid. The other is picked near-unanimously to fall short of a bowl game and is fortunate, really, that somebody (Street and Smith’s) thinks it might even finish fifth in the conference; everywhere else it’s picked sixth. TSN ranks this team 81st nationally.
Can you match the team with its summer hype? No peeking...
The optimistic projections fall to South Florida, as you might have guessed, whose resume going into the season is represented by Team B. The team in the left side of the column was a little tougher, so give yourself a gold sticker (and what the hell, a lollipop) if you pegged Team A as Cincinnati. Could you tell the difference?
The sweet taste of winning the International Bowl lingers, but fails to satisfy. You only want more.
- - -
So why such unanimity, and such large disparities between the projected fates of two teams that look so equal? Why zero buzz about the Bearcats’ returning talent?
The two obvious differences are at quarterback, where – although Cincinnati returns leading passer Dustin Grutza, a decent scrambler who started ten as a sophomore – Matt Grothe’s budding YouTube legend and the longstanding suspicion that USF is incubating a Florida-fed powerhouse has propelled the Bulls into the ever-churning mill of next big things, and in organizational stability, where Tampa native and coach-for-life Jim Leavitt is the antithesis of first-year Cincy hire Brian Kelly, in his third different location in five years.
Automatically dismissing Cincinnati’s recently stagnant offense as "rebuilding" in a new scheme, though, would be a mistake, not only because Kelly installed his scheme in time to win the bowl game, or because his last offense at Central Michigan was a creative, explosive chart-topper that won the MAC championship with a redshirt freshman trigger man, but because Cincinnati also brings back a veteran quarterback with all three of his starting receivers, one of whom, Derrick Stewart,
led the Big East in yards per catch (20.5 on 33 grabs) after failing to qualify as a freshman was dismissed from the team in June. Er. The passing also features the x-factor of Ben Mauk, who never got his shot during an injury-plagued stint at Wake Forest but did throw for a ridiculous 17,000 yards in high school [Stop. Read again. Do the math] and expects to unseat Grutza with his only remaining season of eligibility.
That’s a rather blah point, though, when departed Nick Davila was responsible for the Bearcats’ best passing games last year (including the entirety of the win over Rutgers) and even adding a full field goal per game to the scoring average would only push the number into the realm of ‘mediocre.’ What really intrigues me about Cincinnati, amid all the talk of South Florida’s undeniable upward mobility, is how much better the Bearcats were in ‘06, a year after a painfully young team was regularly massacred. I covered this in April, when I posited the ‘Cats looked like a good candidate to repeat as eight-game winners:
|Category||2005 (Rank)||2006 (Rank)|
|Rushing||180.4 (90)||107.5 (25)|
|Yards Per Carry||4.4 (-)||3.7 (-)|
|Pass Efficiency||131.5 (83)||109.2 (20)|
|Yards Per Attempt||7.6 (-)||6.2 (-)|
|3rd Down Stop %||39.0 (67)||33.5 (32)|
|Sacks||24 (60)||31 (38)|
|Interceptions||7 (102)||14 (41)|
|Total Yards||401.6 (78)||309.2 (31)|
|Scoring||31.4 (96)||19.6 (36)|
Now, take all that and let your darkhorse sentiments ride with the Amazin’ Grothe, if you’d like – I might be doing the same – but don’t let the buzz, or YouTube, or whatever fool you: the magazines’ perceived gap between USF and Cincinnati is still closer than the experts think. Yo!