The University of Cincinnati Bearcats open up at home this Saturday, September 5th to take on the younger, less skilled Alabama A&M Bulldogs, who posted just four wins last season. The Bulldogs are a member of the SWAC East and have struggled since 2010, posting a subpar 26-32 record. This should be an easy win for the Bearcats if they come focused and ready to play, but surprisingly five out of the eight wins for Alabama A&M's the last two seasons have come on the road. Granted, these wins have also come against lesser talented FCS schools including Tuskegee University who, let's face it, you don't know who they are.
Let's start with the head coaches from each respective program.
James Spady vs. Tommy Tuberville
It comes as no surprise that Tommy Tuberville has far more head coaching experience than 2nd year coach James Spady. Tuberville, who has 18 years of head coaching experience, took over the reins in 2012 for the Bearcats and has proven to be a true leader and winner in every sense of the word. He holds a career record of 149-85, including 18-8 the last two seasons with UC. On top of that Tuberville has lead the Bearcats to two bowl appearances and an American Athletic Conference Championship in 2014. UC also had the most prolific offense in school history in 2013, as the Bearcats led the American Athletic Conference in total offense with 472.1 yards per game and averaged 168.3 yards per game on the ground. Tuberville looks to continue his success this season and continue to push the Bearcats football program into the national conversation.
Spady on the other hand, enters his second season as the Bulldogs head coach, where he looks to improve on a 4-8 record from last year. Spady comes from the University of Nevada where he had a successful career grooming and developing talent from 2010-2013. Spady also had a successful playing career at the University of Texas-El Paso from 1985-88, twice earning first team All-WAC honors.
I'd say it is safe to say that Tuberville is not going to overthink how to beat the young Alabama A&M Bulldogs at home on opening night.
Quarterback Matchup: Gunner Kiel vs. TBD
Yes, you read that correctly, Alabama A&M is still yet to choose a starting quarterback. Spady has three new freshman QB's along with a junior transfer, but it seems none of them have been able to separate themselves from the pack. I'd say it's going to be a long night for the Bulldogs offense as they head to UC Saturday night.
As for the Bearcats, junior quarterback Gunner Kiel looks to live up to his potential after an interesting start to his college career. Kiel began his career at Notre Dame after being ranked as one of the best recruits in the nation, but unfortunately he hasn't lived up to the immense hype just yet. Kiel started and played in 13 games despite a nagging rib injury last season and found success in the air completing 59% of his passes for 3,254 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. These numbers earned Kiel Honorable Mention All-American Athletic Conference. Kiel is the first quarterback in UC history to throw for four or more touchdowns in three consecutive games. If the Bearcats want to reach their ceiling and be a top team this season, a lot is riding on Kiel. If Kiel is able to stay healthy and become a leader for the Bearcats, the sky is the limit for this program. Tuberville has said as much in this week's press conference.
Defense vs. Defense
The Bulldogs' defense allowed opponents to score just about five touchdowns per game, which really shouldn't surprise folks given their 4-8 record a year ago. The biggest issue for the Bulldogs was their defensive line as they averaged nearly two sacks per games and gave up a not so stellar 175 yards per game on the ground. Their secondary is probably the best part of the Bulldogs team. However, I'd assume most teams will just run on them, including the Bearcats. Dexter Reese and Danny Johnson man the secondary where they combined for eight interceptions last season. The most interceptions any Bearcat had last year was two as the team combined for eight on the season. It should be fun to watch the Bearcats air it out early in the first half.
The Bearcats defense looks to improve after dropping from the number nine ranked defense to the 96th ranked defense in just one year. Senior captain corner Adrian Witty looks to take charge of the defense after a season-ending injury in last year's opener. I don't expect the Bearcats to have any difficulty with Alabama A&M, but we'll see how they hold up after this Saturday's home opener.
Prediction: Bulldogs 14, Bearcats 55