The Cincinnati Bearcats have had a bit of a quarterback problem the last few seasons. In the three years since Gunner Kiel’s beautiful 2014 campaign, the program has been marred by inconsistent play from under center. Hayden Moore has risen to the forefront of the depth chart in that time, as he was named the starter before the beginning of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. However, in 2016, Moore wasn’t exactly lights out, which led to a three-person race for the starting gig. Then, last year, he was better but not by all that much, although he did keep the No. 1 job from August to November.
As the Bearcats begin to get ready for the 2018 season, the program has some questions to answer at quarterback yet again. According to Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Ross Trail, who has been the backup the last two seasons, is expected to leave.
That will certainly change the trajectory of the position. Trail was one of the better recruiting additions during the Tommy Tuberville era, earning four-star status according to ESPN and a three-star ranking by most other outlets. With a big arm and some speed, he appeared to be the difference maker that Moore was not turning into. But Trail has had to sit behind Moore the last two seasons and a path to the starting job is not readily apparent anymore. In five career games, Trail has completed 64.6 percent of his pass attempts, but for only 525 yards and one touchdown, while being intercepted six times.
Now Trail might try to go make it somewhere else. It makes sense since Moore is installed as the starter and the Bearcats have young talent at the position. But if he does decide to bid Clifton adieu, what exactly does that mean for the Bearcats?
In the short term, it means Moore’s job is more safe than ever. Luke Fickell stuck with Moore as the starter all last season even as the offense struggled and the team lost game after game. Moore did throw for a career-high 2,562 yard and 20 touchdowns, but he averaged only six yards per attempt while completing 56.4 percent of his throws. That’s pretty lackluster production, especially as the Bearcats toiled at the bottom of the American Athletic Conference in total offense. Still, Trail was the only backup option with real game experience and that means Moore has a giant advantage over his competition.
But Moore is a senior, which means 2018 will be his last season. So that means a year from now, both Moore and Trail, the only quarterbacks currently on the roster to have thrown a college pass, could both be gone. That will create a real opportunity for current freshmen Desmond Ridder and Ben Bryant to take over. As Groeschen noted in his report, both were part of Fickell recruiting classes, which means they are more in line with his vision for the team. Ridder hails from Kentucky and is a player who can run and throw with ease, as he scored 30 touchdowns on the ground while rushing for 1,583 yards to go with his passing work during two years as a starter at St. Xavier. Bryant is even more intriguing, as one of the crown jewels of Fickell’s loaded 2018 class. A four-star prospect from Illinois, Bryant threw for more than 5,000 yards in high school and picked UC over programs like Wisconsin, Georgia and West Virginia.
Until Trail officially leaves, the Bearcats’ quarterback situation is still a bit murky, but if he does take off, then things will be clearer. Specifically, Ridder and Bryant will both have a lane to the top of the depth chart sooner than we originally thought.