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Is UC Headed to the Rose Bowl?

By Bill Peterson · October 10th, 2007 · Sports
Jerry Dowling

Popularity usually ruins the best things in life, which lose their edge and intimacy when too many of the wrong people get involved. But those of us with long-running affection for University of Cincinnati football have no fear.

Step right up to the bandwagon. Don't be shy. Plenty of room up here. Bring money. We need help.

We're finding it hard to chew our food these days because our jaws just want to hang open. We wonder if that's really the Bearcats we're watching and, if it is, then is the sky really blue?

Every drop of news is more stunning than the last. Two weeks ago, the Bearcats entered the Associated Press media poll for the first time in 30 years. On Oct. 6, they went to Rutgers and no-huddled the new darlings of the New York metropolitan area to death, sending the only true New Jersey football team home with a 28-23 loss.

On Oct. 7, the AP voters moved the Bearcats up to No. 15 and the coaches or sports information directors voting in the USA Today poll moved them up to No. 17. Students have been lining up for tickets. (See more on the Bearcats in "Born & Raised" on page 21.)

UC leads the nation in turnover margin at plus-2.5 per game. The Bearcats are seventh nationally in scoring offense (43.33 points per game) and fifth in scoring defense (12.67). They're 27th in total offense (445.33 yards per game), 13th in rushing defense (85.0) and 21st in pass efficiency defense (107.74). They're 25th in sacks (2.83 per game) and 22nd in tackles for loss (7.5). They're second in net punting at 40.91 yards per punt. Quarterback Ben Mauk is seventh in pass efficiency with a rating of 167.91.

The Bearcats are 6-0 by an average of 30 points. To this point, they've mastered the essentials of football marketing, which are about winning.

On Sept. 22, they attracted 35,097 to Nippert Stadium, showed the fans a good time with a 40-14 win against Marshall, then went on the road for a 52-23 win at San Diego State and the signature victory at Rutgers.

The Bearcats are so hot now that they've announced a bowl ticket deposit offer to non-season ticket holders due to -- get this -- "popular demand." And if you're sitting down, you'll love how the press release quoted UC Head Coach Brian Kelly: "With 5,234 bowl reservations already in hand via our preseason bowl ticket sales initiative, the Cincinnati Bearcats will be carrying a lot of clout with bowl representatives. We are ahead of the game and with this additional opportunity in front of our fans we can take this number higher and let everyone know that the Bearcat Nation is on the rise and is a force to be taken seriously."

The stomach flips with happy laughter. The Bearcat Nation is on the rise and a force to be taken seriously. It's a New World Order.

One remembers when the Bearcats went to the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise back in 1997, the school's first postseason appearance in nearly five decades. The UC athletic department spent its bowl purse to fulfill a ticket sales guarantee and later sent the basketball team to Boise just so the football team could play on a December day in Idaho.

A couple years later, UC actually won Conference-USA, but the league pulled strings to scam UC out of its championship bid to the Liberty Bowl because everyone knew Cincinnatians wouldn't cross the street to see the Bearcats, let alone drive to Memphis.

For decades, athletic directors have come and gone, arriving with no frame of reference for believing such apathy was even possible, then believing it all too much. You had a major university with 30,000 students, hundreds of thousands of local alumni and a charming stadium playing major college football in a football hotbed, and no one went to the games. It never added up.

One had to see it to believe it. But once you believed it, you really believed it. The apathy so defied explanation that one just began to accept it as a foundational reality that has no other explanation and from which all other truths could be derived.

So this is all too good to be true. Except it is true.

The Bearcats are 6-0, in first place in the Big East after winning their league opener at Rutgers. Louisville, a national power last year, comes to Nippert Stadium Saturday, and the Bearcats will be favored.

And can you picture UC playing in the Rose Bowl? The Rose Bowl? UC? The very thought of it leaves one speechless. Wait. Here comes a word: Wow.

But it's not ridiculous. By joining the Big East and actually helping to strengthen the league, UC is in the mix for a Bowl Championship Series bid. If the Bearcats win the Big East, they're in a BCS bowl.

Ohio State is ranked third in both polls now, meaning the Buckeyes probably are in the national championship game if they sweep the rest of their schedule. No other Big Ten team is ranked higher than 15th in either poll.

We'll know a lot more when the BCS rankings start coming out, but if Ohio State wins the Big Ten, goes to the national championship game and no other Big Ten team qualifies for a BCS bowl, the Rose Bowl will have to take a team from some other league.

Admittedly, we're getting ahead of ourselves. We're just visualizing.

You know how college football is these days: If you can visualize the absurd, you can predict the future. UC is the very best evidence. No use getting caught off guard anymore.

But the road through the Big East is long. Despite its recent trouble and 3-3 record, Louisville stands to be a tough game. The Bearcats rank 92nd out of 119 top division teams by allowing 255.17 passing yards per game. How much of that reflects a weakness and how much is opponents constantly throwing because the Bearcats are way ahead of them? All will be revealed against Louisville, which is third nationally in passing offense (405.67 yards per game) and second in total offense (578.33).

Later, UC goes to AP No. 5 South Florida on Nov. 3 and two weeks later AP No. 8 West Virginia comes to Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats also will go to Pittsburgh and Syracuse, while Connecticut comes to Cincinnati.

The Bearcats are in a big conference big picture, jumping into the mix for a big bowl game. It's almost too much to believe. Almost as unbelievable as the apathy that preceded it.



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