In 2014, Gunner Kiel started the season looking more than ready to jump among the better quarterbacks in the AAC. Not only that, but one of the nation's better quarterbacks overall.
The story of Kiel is well known amongst the well-informed college football fans. He was once committed to LSU, then to Notre Dame, then transferred to Cincinnati after a stint at Notre Dame. So, it came to no surprise to me that in 2014, Kiel had the biggest issue with decision making. It was an issue when it came to choosing where to play his football, and then transitioned on the field via forced passes, unnecessary deep balls, and attempting to thread one too many needles.
The uplifting thing about Kiel is we have watched him at his best. Against Ohio State, Kiel came in off of a six-touchdown game against Toledo, and a four-touchdown game against Miami (OH). The Bearcats were 2-0, and going into Columbus with high hopes.
Obviously, the eventual national champions came out on top. That doesn't take away the fact that in the third-quarter, the Bearcats were within five-points of the national champions. It also doesn't take away the fact that Gunner Kiel played his best football. Kiel went 21-for-32, with 352 yards, and count 'em, four touchdowns against the national champions, with zero interceptions. That's something only one quarterback was able to eclipse against Ohio State in 2014 as Michigan State quarterback, Connor Cook threw for only six more yards than Kiel. Connor Cook, a player that's glowing in his own national spotlight, while Kiel is all but forgotten by national media. Mind you, Marcus Mariota, the Heisman trophy winner, couldn't even surpass what Kiel did against Ohio State, none of their opponents could, besides Cook. That's something to convince anyone reading this that the kid is capable of clear elite status.
So, it's not a question whether Kiel can be elite. We've seen it. The question is, can he do it consistently? That remains to be seen. The question lies with his inability to make the right throw, as seen here. If Kiel can take care of his decision-making skills, which is anything but easy, he can take the step into elite status with fellow top NFL draft prospects.
The good news is Kiel has definitely been up to the task in 2015. During the offseason, he attended the Manning passing academy, and noted in one of our spring football coverage pieces, Kiel has taken a lot more onto his plate in 2015, than in 2014.
All signs point towards an improving season for the Bearcats and Kiel, respectively. The thing that looms is the collapse the Bearcats, and Kiel had last season when they lost three straight. The Bearcats didn't have a bad season, by any means, but could they have accomplished more? Absolutely.
All in all, the Bearcats finished 13th overall in passing yards last season, and one of their three regular season losses was to the national champions. With a nice returning group, Tommy Tuberville, and an improved stadium; Gunner Kiel should be considered elite by year's end.