Fans can be some of the toughest graders in the world. Forget about the most exacting professor you ever had. A fan base will scrutinize even the tiniest problem when things are going well. When things start going poorly, as they have for the Cincinnati Bearcats the last few years, those tiny problems balloon in size and it feels like nothing is going right at all.
Luckily we know that’s not entirely true when it comes to the Bearcats football program. Tommy Tuberville wasn’t given another year to torpedo things after UC went just 4-8 in what would be his final season. After Tuberville’s departure, the Bearcats brought in a young and up-and-coming coach with a winner’s pedigree, naming Luke Fickell the head coach. Fickell has provided a new energy to the program and the results he has managed in recruiting can’t be questioned. The Bearcats had the No. 1 class in the American Athletic Conference in 2018 and an adherence to recruiting locally and within the state is already paying off.
The harsh reality, however, is that while all that great recruiting was going on, the Bearcats were still pretty miserable on the field itself. In his first season as head coach, Fickell oversaw a team that again went 4-8 and did not come anywhere close to a league title or bowl game contention. Weighed down by the AAC’s worst offense, the Bearcats barely scraped by in the wins they did have. Aside from a 26-14 triumph over Austin Peay in the season opener, they won their other three games by a total of six points. If not for a few missed kicks and a fortunate turnover against Miami-Ohio, UC could very easily have finished 1-11.
You can’t really blame Fickell for such a bad season. Its not as if he was gifted with a program stuffed with future NFL talent or that had enjoyed much success in the months before he was hired. This was always going to be a major rebuild. The hope is that the worst part of that process is over and can be left in 2017.
That brings us to 2018, with Fickell assuming the reins for the second year. His seat should still be rather cool and I would expect his bosses and the fan base that supports the Bearcats to give him plenty of time to course correct. So that begs the question: what does success like in year two of the Fickell era? Even if he has the benefit of a better understanding of his team and some reinforcements from recruiting, those things alone cannot be expected to equate to a complete reversal of fortunes. Many of the same players that went 4-8 last season are still going to play key parts this year. Now, many of those players have improved and so will the schemes and play calling, but even with that written, it is important to temper expectations.
If we look out at the schedule, like we did earlier in the summer, we can see that this is far from the toughest schedule in the country. According to ESPN’s Strength of Schedule measurement, the Bearcats have the 86th-most difficult slate of games in the nation. ESPN also projects somewhere in the vicinity of a 6-6 mark. Such a record would earn the Bearcats a bowl game and would mean they knocked off at least a couple teams in the AAC. In all likelihood, for them to get to six wins overall, they will need to claim three victories against league foes at the very least, and that’s if they can go 3-1 against the non-league slate of UCLA, Miami-Ohio, Alabama A&M and Ohio. Its more probable that four wins in league play will get them to that magic six wins. It did in 2015, which was also the last time the Bearcats not only went bowling, but finished with more than two wins in league play.
But let’s back up before we get caught diving into granular breakdown of all 12 games on the schedule. If we’re really trying to answer the question posed in the headline, the simple answer is that there needs to be improvement that is not only visible during games but in the box score and standings. That means producing more on offense than last year. If the Bearcats can even make themselves a league average offensive team, both in yards gained and points scored, that will be a major win. On defense, Fickell’s area of strength, the Bearcats need to find a pass rush. They can’t hope to dominate and win games with their defense otherwise. UC was right in the middle of the AAC in yards allowed last year, but tied for second-to-last in sacks. If they can accumulate more than 20 sacks or so, that should indicate a superior defensive presence.
If the Bearcats can make those improvements in the two major phases, and at least hold their own on special teams, they stand a real chance at not having to wait on miracles to win games, and winning games is where the real measure of success will be found. Getting to six wins would mark a huge improvement, but even a 5-7 finish with more definitive victories than they had last year would go a long way in proving that Fickell is leading the Bearcats in the right direction.
How many wins do the Bearcats need to have in 2018 for you to consider the season a success?
This poll is closed
12-0. PERFECT SEASONS ONLY.