In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
2014 Record: 9-4 (7-1 in AAC)
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville (.635)
Returning Starters: 14/24 (8 OFF/4 DEF/2 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 57th
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 24 @ Memphis
- Oct. 1 v. Miami (FL)
- Oct. 16 @ BYU
- Oct. 31 v. UCF
- Nov. 28 @ East Carolina
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE BEARCATS
Cincinnati has been one hell of a springboard for coaches. Mark Dantonio parlayed his three years helping the Bearcats transition from Conference USA to the Big East into the Michigan State gig. His successor, Brian Kelly, used the Cincinnati job as a fulcrum between Central Michigan and the head position at Notre Dame. Butch Jones continued the streak of three-years-and-a-move-up by converting shares of two Big East titles into the post on Rocky Top. Tommy Tuberville continued the trend by winning a share of the AAC in his second season at Cincinnati:
But Tuberville seems ready to buck that trend. Having already coached at Ole Miss, Auburn, and Texas Tech, Tuberville made the conscious decision to move away from a Power Five school to take the Bearcats gig. At this point in his career, the 60-year-old has chosen to put his family in a solid situation, with the move to Ohio bringing the Tubervilles closer to his wife’s family. Just six years removed from being in the hunt for a BCS championship spot as the Big East champion before eventually playing in the Sugar Bowl, Cincinnati is positioned to potentially return to a major bowl game in 2015.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE BEARCATS IN 2015
Cincinnati brings back eight starters and nearly 85 percent of the total yardage gained by last season’s top-30 offense, and there is little reason to think that the Bearcats can’t at least match their output from last season. Quarterback Gunner Kiel returns for his second season as starter in Cincinnati — after a whirlwind college career that began with heavy recruiting and involved committing to and de-committing from both Indiana and LSU before spending a year at Notre Dame and subsequently transferring to the Bearcats. Last year he was ranked in the top 20 in passing efficiency, and could make a major leap with a year of experience under his belt.
The Bearcats can also draw hope from the fact that they weren’t as bad as their raw defensive numbers. Though they were ranked just inside the top 100 in yardage allowed, they were middle of the pack in points conceded in 2014 and was the equal of more heralded defenses like Clemson and Arkansas in terms of turnover generation. And while just four starters from last season return, the team still brings back a group of players that generated more than half of the team’s total tackles last season. They might bend a bunch again this season, but just like they did in 2014 the Bearcats should be able to keep from breaking too much.
WHAT COULD COST THE BEARCATS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
The schedule leaves a bunch to be desired for the CFP selection committee. Out of conference their toughest road game is in Provo against BYU, and Cincinnati also takes on both Miami schools (on the road against Miami of Ohio, at home against the Hurricanes) and FCS Alabama A&M in the first game at renovated Nippert Stadium. Overall it is a grab bag of competition that is dependent on the Hurricanes playing well over the course of the season and BYU living up to the preseason hype. The schedule strength is bolstered by an AAC schedule that gave the Bearcats cross-divisional games against Memphis, Houston, and Tulsa, but it is still an AAC schedule…
… which means that they’re also just one of several teams that could win the league this year. Cincinnati would benefit from the fact that there will no longer be a co-champion, as the three-way title last year diluted the impact any one AAC school could bring to the table. It also means they’ll have to contend with a conference title. The popular story is that the AAC is the 1B conference among Group of Five schools alongside the Mountain West, but the reality is that the MAC is the only other league that has generated a BCS Buster/Access Bowl participant. (UCF doesn’t count, because they qualified for the Fiesta Bowl under the Big East’s former automatic bid in 2013.) A deeper field creates the perception of overall strength, but it also increases the chances of a cannibalized conference.
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
The Bearcats will play on opening weekend, after they had two straight bye weeks to open 2014, and they should have no problem with Alabama A&M in the newly-renovated Nippert Stadium, where football has been played since 1901 and a structure has stood since 1924. Only four other schools in the FBS have been on their home turf longer, and Cincinnati will rechristen the upgraded facility with a blowout win. They should manage the same against Temple the following weekend, and extend the winning streak to three games on the road against Miami of Ohio. On a Thursday night along the Mississippi River, however, the undefeated dream will fade as the Bearcats lose to Memphis to fall to 1-1 in AAC play and 3-1 overall.
October will open with a chance to upset the other Miami, but the Hurricanes are probably going to take care of business. (Remember, this is a team that finished off the Bearcats at home 55-34 last year yet finished the regular season at 6-6. They shouldn’t have a problem repeating that feat, despite the change in venue.) BYU will be a toss-up game, and it could come down to a late touchdown. Let’s give the Bearcats the benefit of the doubt against the Cougars, thanks to the bye weekend that they enjoy before their trip west, and say they stay above .500. The home game against UConn that follows should cause little worry, though Cincinnati can’t get caught looking ahead to the visit by UCF the night before Halloween. Another close game against the Knights will go Cincinnati’s way at Nippert, and October will end with the Bearcats at 6-2 in the standings and 3-1 in conference play.
The visit to Houston to begin November is a second straight conference test, one which Cincinnati should pass after a hard-fought encounter, and after that neither Tulsa nor South Florida should be able to put much of a scare into the Bearcats. A chance at a tenth win will be a possibility when Tommy Tuberville’s crew heads to Greenville to face East Carolina on the final weekend of November. The Pirates will give Cincinnati hell all day, but Gunner Kiel will connect on a late touchdown to Mekale McKay as the six-foot-six senior receiver goes over top of the ECU secondary to pluck the ball out of the air. In the inaugural AAC championship game, the Bearcats will get a rematch against Memphis that will probably go as well as the first encounter. Vanquished, the Access Bowl will be gone but a bowl victory against an overmatched opponent will still give Cincinnati an 11-win season for the first time since 2009.
PREDICTED RECORD: 11-3 (7-1 in AAC)