There are 89 days until the Cincinnati Bearcats will begin their second season under the watch of Luke Fickell. It all begins with an opener against the UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles. While most of the national exposure will focus on the Bruins and their new head coach Chip Kelly, the Bearcats are entering an important season, as the strong recruiting milestones that Fickell and his staff have accomplished need to begin to show some results. A test against a program like UCLA on the first day of the season will certainly provide the chance to show a lot and right away.
Taking a step back from the immediate challenge of the season opener, the more historical perspective is that UC is facing a team it never has before. Since kicking off its first season in 1885, the Bearcats have played more than 1,200 football games. Not a single one of them has been against UCLA, which is a program that has been around for nearly a century. That’s not that odd, considering the regional differences. In fact, its not odd at all sinceUC has not played many teams from UCLA’s conference, the Pac-12. Including all current members, UC has only faced four of the Pac-12 roster before, with an all-time record of 4-2 against such foes. Here’s a look at that not-at-all-storied history.
Nov. 6, 1954 - Cincinnati 34, Arizona State 7
At the time, Arizona State was a member of the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which featured some teams you might know (Texas Tech, Arizona) and some you may not (Hardin-Simmons). Led by head coach Clyde B. Smith, the Sun Devils hosted the No. 13 Bearcats. They probably wish they hadn’t, as the Bearcats rolled to a 34-7 victory and improved to 8-0. UC rushed for 287 yards and only threw 13 passes, although two of those from quarterback Mike Murphy went for scores.
Unfortunately, the Bearcats, who had won 16-straight dating back to the prior season, lost their next two games by a combined score of 34-9 to finish the year at 8-2.
Sept. 16, 1972 - Colorado 56, Cincinnati 14
The next run-in with a team from the current Pac-12 was not as fun. The Colorado Buffaloes of the Big 8 were in the midst of a very strong portion of their history, having finished the year ranked No. 3 in 1971. They were No. 2 in the country when they hosted the Bearcats in mid-September of the 1972 season and played like it, winning by more than 40 points. Colorado would go on to come up short in the Big 8 Conference, ending the year behind No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 4 Nebraska but still playing the the Gator Bowl, where they lost 24-3 to No. 6 Auburn.
As for UC, the 1972 campaign was a pretty miserable one and the final straw for head coach Ray Callahan, who was not retained after a 2-9 season.
Sept. 14, 1974 - Washington 21, Cincinnati 17
The Bearcats were a new team nearly two years later when they visited Washington. After going 4-7 in their first year under Tony Mason, who replaced Callahan, they were destined for a 7-4 finish in 1974. Powered by the rushing of Santo Atkinson and the pass-catching of Jim Kelly, the Bearcats opened the year against the Huskies, who were just a bit better in a 21-17 win. Washington didn’t finish as strong, losing four-straight games from late September to mid-October and finishing 5-6 overall.
At this point, the Pac-12 as we know it was beginning to take shape. Washington was a member of the Pacific-8 Conference, which would later become the Pac-10 and then the Pac-12.
Oct. 9, 1976 - Cincinnati 14, Arizona State 0
Arizona State was still not a part of the Pac-anything and once again was defeated by the Bearcats, this time in a shutout at home. Following a step back in 1975, this was the high point of the Mason era at UC, as the Bearcats went 8-3 and were even nationally ranked at one point. Curtiss Williams was the team’s leading rusher and Napolean Outlaw (20 receptions, 309 yards) was another key contributor. Plus his name is amazing.
The Sun Devils had a very disappointing 1976 campaign. In 1975, they went 12-0, winning the Western Athletic Conference easily and taking a 17-14 victory in the Fiesta Bowl against Nebraska to wind up No. 2 overall. They entered the 1976 campaign ranked No. 3 but losses in their first four games, including the setback against the Bearcats, soured all of that. They finished 4-7.
Don’t feel too bad, though. They went 9-3 in each of the next two seasons and made back-to-back bowl appearances, including in 1978 when they joined the Pac-10.
Sept. 6, 2007 - Cincinnati 34, Oregon State 3
It would be another 31 years before the Bearcats would challenge another team from the now Pac-12. This time, they got to be the home team and they used that advantage exceptionally by destroying Pac-10 member Oregon State 34-3. UC forced seven turnovers in the win, with six of those coming via interception, including two apiece from Haruki Nakamura and DeAngelo Smith.
That effort came in Brian Kelly’s first season as head coach for the Bearcats, who went 10-3 and finished the season ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time ever.
Oregon State was pretty good itself in 2007, even if it didn’t show it against UC. The Beavers finished with a 9-4 overall mark, including a four-game winning streak to end the campaign featuring victories over Oregon and Maryland in the Emerald Bowl.
Sept. 19, 2009 - Cincinnati 28, Oregon State 18
UC scored 21 points in the second quarter to run away with this one. As the visitors, the Bearcats got 117 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions from D.J. Woods as well as 65 yards and a touchdown on nine grabs from Mardy Gilyard. Tony Pike threw for 332 yards and completed 31-of-49 pass attempts in the win while J.K. Schaffer had eight tackles and an interception and Walter Stewart accrued 2.5 sacks.
Arguably the best team in program history, this was the last UC team Kelly would coach and one that went 12-0 in the regular season. Despite a loss in the Sugar Bowl, the 2009 Bearcats finished No. 8 in the AP Top 25, which remains a program-best.
As for the Beavers, with Jacquizz Rodgers rushing for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns, they won eight games and went 6-3 in the Pac-10, which would become the Pac-12 two years later.
Now, nearly a decade later, UC is ready to write another chapter in its history against the Pac-12 and all its previous iterations.