1) How would you grade the first season under Tommy Tuberville?
Scott: B-/C. Whatever the result of the bowl game is will ultimately be where I come down on this season. The only loss I think was excusable was Louisville. Illinois was a joke. South Florida was awful. The biggest difference between Tuberville and Butch so far is that Butch didn't lose to any bad teams, he didn't beat anyone good. Tuberville hasn't beaten anyone good and lost to a couple of bad teams. Losing to Illinois wouldn't be bad on the surface maybe, losing to Illinois by 28 points was awful. The only teams Illinois beat after UC were Miami and Purude and they lost 5 games by at least 17 points. They were bad. The 6 game winning streak was impressive. It was impressive more for the streak and not because of a lot of what happened during it. Outside of the completely satisfying demolition of Rutgers, I can't remember much of the other games. Outside of the Louisville and Rutgers games, the two games the team circled all season long, there wasn't a huge fire or a full dominant performance. SMU and Houston had chances during their final drives, Memphis kept that game too close. I am seriously blanking on Temple and UConn. A lot of games were easy to move on from. Tuberville does get a lot of credit for rallying the team back, not just on the field, but after the big losses they endured. Losing Munchie was deflating. I don't think it needs to be said how awful the accident that took the life of Ben Flick and put Javon Harrison and Mark Barr in the hospital was. Tuberville got the team focused and that couldn't have been easy.
Matt: B, regardless of the outcome in the bowl game. The losses to Illinois and USF were bad, but there was plenty of fluky stuff that went against the Bearcats in both games. Things that can't be predicted, anticipated or stopped. Illinois had a perfect game plan, and played their best game of football in at least five years against the Bearcats. On top of that two reviews went against UC that if ruled correctly changes the course of the game, if not the outcome. Against USF the Bearcats gave up two non offensive touchdowns and dug themselves into a hole that was nearly impossible to get out of. Those are fluky outcomes, they are losses and bad ones at that but the circumstances have to be acknowledged.
Chris: I'd give it a B-. Like I mentioned in our mid-year review, Cincinnati should have never lost to South Florida. I can forgive the loss to both Illinois and Louisville but the Bearcats did more damage to themselves than the Bulls did. And the teams the Bearcats did beat (Purdue, Northwestern State, Miami (OH), most of the AAC) had barely any wins to their names. Even so, it was a pretty good year despite the slew of injuries and the natural issues that crop up when undergoing a coaching change. Winning nine games is never easy and I'll that that record in Tuberville's first season over Jones' four wins any day of the week.
2) Were you satisfied with this regular season? Keeping the bowl game out of things, how much did you enjoy the season?
Scott: I would say the season was ultimately satisfying. I'll admit to asking this question still wrapped in some of the bitterness of the Louisville fallout. Once you got through the winless cupcake slate, the games were fun to watch. SMU was a good game, Rutgers was insanely enjoyable. Houston wasn't as much but that game came down to the wire. Louisville was a hell of a game. It was great seeing the team roll. It was nice having a chance to win the league. Finishing third and repeating the Belk Bowl kind of sucks, but the journey wasn't for nothing.
Matt: Is it a success, yes. Winning 9 games is a bloody difficult thing to do, doubly so in the first year with a brand new staff with several coaches who are making transitions to positions where they have never coached before with responsibilities they haven't had before. That being said the schedule being as light as it was I get that expectations were higher. I get, to some extent, holding the Illinois and USF losses against the staff, at the time at least. But looking back it is clear that those games were outliers and not indicative of the strength of this team. Even with those losses on the resume this was a successful season without question.
Chris: The actual record and outcome of the bowl game aside, I'd say I thoroughly enjoyed this season. Let's start from game one against Purdue. That was easily the most anticipated opening game of the football season since Rutgers in 2009 after UC's trip to the Orange Bowl. Despite the noon kickoff, Nippert was electric and the team fed off of that to run the Boilermakers right off the field. It was the perfect release for the anticipation that was built up for months leading up to that game. Then came Illinois, which was just as giant a turd as we've witnessed since maybe Rutgers or Toledo the previous season. Cincinnati got manhandled on both sides of the football against a team the Bearcats would have crushed had the game been played later in the season. I really hated watching UC football during those three hours. The same can be said of the loss to South Florida and win over Miami (OH). During that one month stretch the Bearcats consistently played their worst football since the 2010 season. It was definitely not easy on the eyes. But once Eddie Gran rejiggered the offensive system after that Bulls game, Cincinnati football became fun again. They were scoring points at will, they were stuffing opposing offenses, they were outright kicking ass on the field. A swagger had returned to this team that we enjoyed during the Kelly and Jones eras. So, despite their scuttling between Illinois and USF, overall this was a great season.
3) What are your favorite 3 things that happened this year?
Scott: Adrian Witty's INT for the TD in the season opener against Purdue. UC had just scored to go up 14. Witty's pick and subsequent 40 yard run pretty much put things on ice. It got the blowout bus moving down the track. Everything against Rutgers. The bomb TD to Mekale McKay, the Washington TD pass to Moore, Washington's only TD of the season, there were so many highlights in this game that are hard to ignore. It would have been easy to put all 3 separately. I chose not to do that for whatever reason. I wouldn't be surprised if anyone else did. Rob Rice's TD against Northwestern State. This sounds like a wank pick on it's head, but I actually thought of this play as the catalyst for the question. Rice hadn't played before, he didn't play again, hell he may never play again. He got his moment against Northwestern State though. I think he went down in the ESPN box score as -2R33 or something as well. It was a cool moment. That game had Michael Colosimo, one of the 84,830 Colosimo's on twitter, complete his only pass, which I thought was very cool as well. Great game for the guys no one ever talks about.
Matt: Mekale McKay's break out game against Rutgers. He was targeted four times, caught three, racked up 124 yards and had three scores. He showed what he can do when everything is working, he just needs to become more consistent. Nick Temple's interception against Purdue. UC did nothing with it as Munchie Legaux was picked off on the very next play. But it served notice that Temple was a vastly improved player and then he turned in a 72 tackle, 13.5 TFL and 5.5 sack season and somehow didn't even get a mention for the all conference team. Shaq Washington's catch on third down against Miami deep in the second quarter. It was an otherwise indistinguishable play from a very forgettable game, but it stood out to me for a couple of reasons. One it was third down, and Shaq was money in that situation all year. He had 19 third down catches this year, 15 of them were converted for first downs, only Anthony McClung matched his performance on third downs. But more than that it was that he made the catch while getting hit from two different directions by red hawks and still caught the ball. Thats Shaq in a nutshell.
Chris: Brendon Kay's touchdown run against Louisville tops my list, and it's not even close. No play was better representative of his gritty performance this season than that one against the Cardinals. I wish Kay could have unlimited years of eligibility. Second was Zach Edwards' interception against Northwestern State. The true freshman had received some rave reviews from the coaching staff during training camp but he never garnered much of the spotlight until that pick against the Demons. He followed that up a couple of weeks later against Temple on national TV and became a local media darling. It appeared at that point he had established himself as a future start on this team. As a side note, I was little bit surprised to see he was third on the team in tackles with 63. That's impressive to me since he's so young. Last but not least was Cincinnati's 17-play, 96-yard touchdown drive against SMU. In my mind, Eddie Gran orchestrated his best gameplan of the season against the Mustangs. Known for their light-up-the-scoreboard offense, the Bearcats dinked and dunked their way to first downs and kept the SMU offense off the field. The best drive Cincinnati put together was in the middle of the third quarter up 21-10. Starting on their own 4 yard line, UC methodically marched their way downfield to score another touchdown. The Bearcats dominated in the trenches to create running lanes for the backs, gained six first downs, and ate up basically the rest of the clock in the third quarter. Don't get me wrong. I could watch Brendon Kay hit MeKale McKay on 60-yard touchdown passes all day long. But that slow, grueling drive to sap the life out of SMU was awesome.
4) What play or plays do you wish Cincinnati could have back? Scott: The TD reversal seems like the easy choice, I think the fumble not getting reviewed on the Illinois drive was more important. Accepting the holding penalty when Illinois was going to punt on 4th down that led to a 2 TD game greatly annoyed me and still does. I have two answers for this though. The one that is more relevant to this question is the fumble by Chris Moore that gave USF a 20-6 lead. UC couldn't climb back from that hole. The loss ruined their reputation from a national perspective. It ruined their chances to win the conference. It's one of the more head scratching losses of the year. The second play would be the one where Munchie got hurt against Illinois. How different would the season have been if he didn't get hurt? It's hard to imagine the year without Kay having a lot of success but it could have happened if Munchie started. We'll never know what would have happened with this team. It's interesting to think about.
Matt: 4th and 13. Nick Temple is going to be haunted by that play for a long while.
Chris: Munchie Legaux's infamous touchdown-non-touchdown on the goal line against Illinois is one that sticks out in my mind. Despite being down 21-10 to the Illini and having no clue how to slow down their offense in the first half, the Bearcats had done a nice job stopping them early in the second half. Then the Big Ten officials happened. When Legaux pushed his way over the goal line to cut the deficit to four, pending the extra point, the refs called it a touchdown on the field but understandably reviewed it just to make sure. After a few minutes and several video replays confirming the score, the officials somehow overturned the ruling, leaving UC stranded at the 1-yard line. What really kills me about this play is that the Illini subsequently drove 99-yards to score a touchdown and go up 28-10. At that point Cincinnati's life was sucked out of them and I would point to that horrible call from the Big Ten officials for causing that.
5) Which newcomer (freshman, transfer, JUCO etc.) had the biggest impact this year?
Scott: Hands down it's Zach Edwards. He played his way into the starting lineup. He was 3rd on the team in tackles and in solo tackles. He mixed in some tackles for loss, he picked off some passes, he forced fumbles, pretty much doing it all. Sure, there were some freshman moments as is to be expected. Edwards was the star of the secondary in my book. He looks like he could be another Drew Frey who starts all 4 seasons.
Matt: As tempted as I am to say Deyshawn Bond because he has been fantastic from the first week of october onward, its Zach Edwards. He has been so good at such an early stage that it makes me a little bit giddy to think about how good he could wind up being. Its not unreasonable to put this season up there with Mike Mickens in 2005 as one of the best freshman seasons ever.
Chris: I'm a bit surprised as I write this but not Jeff Luc. Despite all of the hype coming from Florida State, the guy just never "wowed" me this year. But one guy who definitely turned some heads was Mekale McKay. The tower of a receiver did nothing but catch long passes for touchdowns and was that mismatch on the outside that Cincinnati had been missing since Armon Binns graduated. I'm really excited about his prospects in the next (hopefully) two years with the Bearcats.
6) Whose contributions this year have been the most overlooked?
Scott: Howard Wilder. He turned out to be a really damn good corner. His statistics were incredibly modest, 32 tackles, 2 INTs, so he didn't do a ton to get his name called throughout the season. He broke up 4 passes and 6 defended 6 more, neither of which led the team. Deven Drane was the all conference selection but Wilder did a good job as well.
Matt: Sam Longo. Like most everyone on the Bearcats line Longo played part time, rotating with Andre Cureton at right guard for most of the year. But he clearly stood out as he wound up being an All AAC player spending time at all three interior line positions. He played right guard sure, but he also filled in for a struggling Bond against USF and brought some stability to the spot during the comeback. He also started for Austen Bujnoch when he went down with injuries for three games.
Chris: Punter John Lloyd would be my pick. I was happy to learn that his punts actually averaged 2 yards longer than Pat O'Donnell's and he accomplished this while being thrust into a role a year early and learning a brand new kicking style. Lloyd really was the only bright spot on a very shaky and many times frustrating special teams unit.