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Gunner Kiel An Appreciation

We’ll always have 2014.

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Career Numbers

  • 60.6 completion percentage
  • 6,835 yards
  • 56 touchdowns
  • 26 interceptions
  • 145.5 QB rating

Gunner Kiel was a five-star recruit coming out of Columbus East High School in Indiana. The Cincinnati Bearcats do not often get to pick five-star prospects off the shelf and they didn’t technically with Kiel.

Kiel originally committed to Indiana, then LSU, before ending up at Notre Dame. However, he decided to transfer due to a logjam at the QB position with the Fighting Irish. In the spring of 2013, Kiel announced that he would be coming to UC, citing his relationship with then quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw as a major reason.

After sitting out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, Kiel blew the floodgates wide open in his first season as a Bearcat. He smashed the gas pedal through the floor in pushing the Bearcats passing game, throwing for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdowns while completing 59.7 percent of his pass attempts. His QB rating of 149.4 was the top mark in the American Athletic Conference, ahead of such pass slingers as Shane Carden and Paxton Lynch.

Following the season, Kiel had gained the attention of folks at the next level and he was ranked as high as the No. 4 quarterback in NFLDraftScout.com’s 2017 draft board.

Unfortunately, a massive hit in the beginning of the 2015 season derailed his ascension to first round selection. During the Bearcats run-in with Memphis in week four, Kiel took a brutal shot to the head from Chauncey Lanier just a week after he suffered an apparent head injury against Miami (Ohio). Kiel still ended up playing in 10 games during the season, finishing with 2,777 yards and 19 touchdown passes as well as 11 interceptions. He also set a career-highs in completion percentage (65.2) and QB rating (151.9).

However, when it came time for UC’s bowl game against San Diego State, Kiel was no longer with the team. The reason giving was “a personal matter”, and Kiel’s future with looked uncertain. That uncertainty stretched into the summer of 2016 even though Kiel rejoined the team in January of 2016. He was part of a three-way competition for the starting quarterback job this past summer, sparring with Hayden Moore and Ross Trail for the gig. Moore eventually won out, which again puzzled many. How can a player who threw for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns just two years ago be relegated to third string?

To Kiel’s benefit (kind of), the Bearcats struggled and he still got to play in five games as a fifth-year senior. However, his numbers were down considerably. He completed only 52 percent of his passes and produced a QB rating of 117.6. In addition, his 6.3 yards per attempt was more than two full yards below his average of his first two seasons.

We many never know what transpired between Kiel and the coaching staff or what led to his fall from grace other than injuries, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a positive impact on Bearcats football. On the contrary, he captained the 9-4 ship in 2014 and still managed to be a prolific passer despite several injury scares in 2015.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Best

Sept. 12, 2014 vs. Toledo

In his first game as a Bearcat Kiel showed why he was such a highly valued recruit, throwing for 418 yards and six touchdowns on 25-of-37 passing.

Sept. 9, 2014 at Ohio State

Even if the Buckeyes took home a 32-21 victory, Kiel was at his best, racking up 352 yards and four scores on 21-of-32 passing.

Nov. 13, 2014 vs. East Carolina

Yes, the three interceptions he threw did not help, but Kiel came through in the end to lift UC to a 54-46 shootout win. His fourth touchdown pass of the game came with 4:47 to play and he orchestrated the drive that set up an Andrew Gantz field goal that put the Bearcats ahead for good. During that final drive he completed 3-of-5 passes for 35 yards. In total he completed 29-of-44 pass attempts and amassed 436 yards.

Oct. 13, 2015 vs. UCF

Happy Halloween, indeed. Kiel didn’t throw a single incomplete pass (15-of-15) and finished with 319 yards and five touchdowns, posting a ridiculous 388.6 QB rating in the process as UC cleaned UCF’s clock.

Oct. 22, 2016 vs. East Carolina

In his first of few starts from this past season, Kiel looked like the quarterback UC fans had come to love in 2014. His completion percentage wasn’t sensational (23-of-40), but he finished with 348 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-19 win.

A Final Goodbye

Mystery about what might have been may always shroud the memory of Kiel as a Bearcat but it should also be remembered just how effective he was as a quarterback. The 2014 season would have been much less entertaining without him around and it may be some time before we see another signal caller with his ability to erupt for 400 and four strap on the red and black.