Category Archives: Football

Kenbrell Thompkins Out For 2010

So Kenbrell is out for this year. That is simultaniously a shame and not that big a deal. It is a shame because Bearcat fans will have to wait another year to see this kind of talent don the revered #1 shirt.

But it isn’t a big deal for one main reason. While there are plenty of questions and concerns about the UC team going into the fall, depth at receiver was not one of them. Armon Binns, Vidal Hazelton and DJ Woods already comprise what is arguably the best receiving trio in the country. The more interesting thing for me is that sitting out this year won’t cost Kenbrell the usual mandatory year for a tramsfer. Thompkins would have been nice to have in the fold for this season, but having him for two years starting in 2011 is a nice consolation prize at the end of a very strange process.


Pre Season Big East Poll and News

The Big East Media Days are taking place in Newport, Rhode Island this week. The biggest news is that the Big East is now catering policy to match the desires of gamblers across the nation by issuing weekly injury reports. Well that and the announcement of the pre season media poll which is as follows.

1. Pittsburgh (22 first-place votes) 190
2. Cincinnati 142
West Virginia (1) 142
4. Connecticut (1) 131
5. Rutgers 99
6. USF 79
7. Syracuse 41
8. Louisville 40

Not a very surprising outcome. Is it a touch disrespectful to discount the two time champions of the league by voting them second? Yes. Sure, if you want to take it that way. But the thing of it is that on paper that is probably where UC should be. I would predict UC to finish between 4th and 2nd before I would predict a treble of Big East crowns, but that is just me.

Anyway my posts this week will be a touch sporadic on account of having to move, which will eat up most of my time this week. I will be back in full effect Monday when I will begin to wrap up my series looking at UC’s opponents. Hopefully before the team heads off to higher ground next week.

A Look At Syracuse

This remains the image of Syracuse Football over the last five or so years for many College Football fans, but their may be some good news ahead for Orange fans.

The night is always darkest just before the dawn

That seems to be the general theme around Syracuse these days, or at the very least, my conception of the things taking place in upstate New York. Doug Marrone went 4-8 in his first year at Cuse. That matched the best season that Greg Robinson could muster in his four years at the helm. There are also signs that things are really starting to change in and around the program as well. The first indication of it was the strange and melodramatic events surrounding Mike Williams quiting the Syracuse Football team in the face of another round of suspension. Here was one of the top receivers in the country, the primary offensive weapon on a team almost wholly devoid of them, driven to quit by the strictures and discipline of new regime. That as much as anything else signaled the culture change that was taking place up there.

There is plenty of room for optimism going forward, primarily because Marrone gets the Syracuse program and tradition in a way that Robinson never really did. The record last year was 4-8, and when you take a look the schedule two games stand out Northwestern and Rutgers. The other two wins came at the expense of Akron and the fearsome Black Bears of Maine, not the most resounding victories in the world. But it is the other two that stick out. The Northwestern game was won with a field goal on the final play of the game.

Very dramatic stuff right there. That game was the first genuine bit of good news for Cuse in years and the first signifier that things were a bit different after being dismantled by Penn State and losing to Minnesota in very Robinsonesqu fashion.

The real shocker, and arguably the most surprising result of the Big East season, was their rather authoritative beat down of Rutgers. 31-13 and it really wasn’t that close. Cuse had an almost 300 yard advantage in terms of total yards and limited Tom Savage to just 66 yards and picked him twice, easily the low point in a stellar freshman season from Savage. That win had to be incredibly savory for Syracuse fans who in the midst of their Robinson death spiral watched Rutgers rise and usurp their position as the preeminent Football program in the Tri State.

Things are defiantly looking up for Syracuse. They have a chance at a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Mind you, not a great chance, I wouldn’t even go as far as assuming that they will make a bowl, but there is a chance. The process of digging themselves out of the Big East cellar in a meaningful way has begun in earnest. But there is a ways to go. The Orange haven’t won multiple Big East games in a season since 2004, they have exactly one Big East road win in the last five years, (@ Louisville in 2007) last years two game winning streak was the longest in four seasons. It is hard to fathom just how far into the abyss the Orange descended the last half a decade or so, but it was very deep.

The trick of it is that while they went down, the power structure of the conference in Football changed completely. UC, USF and Lousiville moved over from C-USA and became fixtures in the top half of the standings, though Louisville slipped a lot over the last 3 seasons. Locally Rutgers became Americas darling during the 2006 season and they became everyones program in New York City and have since become the biggest program in the Tri State area. Meanwhile, Connecticut, one of Syracuse’s primary rivals in Basketball, actually won a share of the conference in Football, which was an incredible development from my perspective and must have been difficult for Orange fans to handle. So yeah, from a Syracuse perspective the whole world has gone mad. The main question to an outside observer is can the Orange find their way, their place, in the new order of Big East Football? And perhaps most importantly, what is that place? Things are unquestionably improving, but there are still more questions than answers surrounding the Orange Football program and they still aren’t out of the woods yet. Even if the forest is clearing.

Brandon Carswel Staying at USC

Word is going around that Brandon Carswell is staying put at USC. I can not attest to the voracity of the rumors but the smoking gun as it were seems to be this post over at conquest chronicles. Generally speaking those guys are very well informed and stay on top of all things USC related so I assume that it is beyond mere rumor. Honestly I am not surprised he stayed. His potential move to UC seemed a bit odd for a guy who needs to log major minutes right away if he has any intention of playing on Sundays. USC has snaps and catches available for their receivers this fall while UC has one of the best and deepest WR groups in the country. The starting group of DJ Woods, Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton has been pretty well set in stone since January 2nd and Carswell had little chance to unseat any of them.

A Look At South Florida

One of the interesting things about the move from Conference USA to the Big East has been the attitude that the UC fan base has taken towards their new Big East rivals. New conference, new schools, new relationships. That tends to be difficult on fans trying to find their bearings in a new environment. It seems the that most logical course of action would be to bond, for want of a superior word, to those schools with which you have the most in common. For UC that would mean forging ties with Louisville and South Florida, our fellow Football playing C-USA refugees. That has more or less happened as expected with Louisville with which UC has a great deal of history, a similar mindset and a number of common objectives. UC and UofL fans have continued to coexist more or less as they always has because the relationship between the two towns and schools is ingrained in the DNA of both places. But a completely different attitude has emerged among the UC faithful towards USF, and in my estimation it boarders on contempt. The source of the attitude could be any number of things, being completely honest this attitude isn’t without justification. When USF and UC were more or less equals the Bulls received more attention and coverage from the national media, there was also the gripe about USF being given more respect that they had earned while UC was consistently overlooked, maybe it was this guy or this haircut. For whatever reason, or whatever confluence of reasons, UC fans don’t like USF, while that dislike doesn’t come with a mountain of passion, it is pretty well rooted in the UC psyche.

The funny thing about it is that UC fans should be pretty pleased, or at least neutral with the Bulls for the simple reason that UC has owned them over the last 4 years. 23-6 in 2006, 38-33 in 2007, 24-10 in 2008 and 34-17 last season. Two programs have been more instrumental in helping to propel UC from an also ran to the two time defending conference champs than the rest. Rutgers is one of them, USF is the other. I am convinced that a program doesn’t grow by knocking out the alpha dogs of a conference, they do it in incremental steps by besting their equals before advancing to the next level of the hierarchy. In the case of UC those equals were Rutgers and USF and, chronologically speaking, USF was the first to be held in UC’s sway. The Bearcats first rented an apartment in the head of Matt Grothe, the best USF Football player to to date, but by the time he was done playing against UC they had an entire compound. Based on last years game the same rent to own plan the head space of BJ Daniels is in effect once again.

For me the thing to watch for from USF this fall is how they respond to Skip Holtz’s regime. Football teams take on the personality of their coach. There are few better examples of that fact taking hold over a prolonged period of time than the USF program under Jim Leavitt. It always seemed to me, an outside observer, that the teams he lead were every bit as manic as he was. Equally capable of staggering moments of brilliance, as well as perfect storms of self destruction. In essence USF is the Michigan State of the Big East.

There are defiantly some players to watch for the Bulls this year,  chief amongst them BJ Daniels who was their mercurial freshman phenom last year. They bring back 10 of 11 starters from last year, the only position with a new starter is TE. However, I have only seen USF line up with a TE maybe 5 times in the past 5 years that can’t be much of a problem. They do have a new coach, but Holtz is an adherent to the spread so that won’t be an issue. There are three main questions for me about the offense.

  1. Will BJ Daniels improve his decision making? Yes he was a freshman last season but in a QB friendly offense he completed just 53 per cent of his passes with 14 TD’s against 9 INT’s. logic indicates that he will, statistics back that up as the greatest period of improvement a player will have comes between year one and two. But it isn’t a hard and fast rule and can not be assumed
  2. Will a complementary running threat emerge? Daniels was the running game last year. Moise Plancher had a nice year last season with over 500 yards. But he strikes me as a back better suited for a RB by committee approach where his bruising running style can be accented with a more all around back. This year he is it and I have questions about his ability to handle all the facets of Holtz’s offense
  3. How will the offensive line hold up? The line returns all five starters and should improve this season. The problem is that the line was not good last year. They gave up 38 sacks and 94 tackles for loss which is, in the most mild terms possible, very bad. even a staggering improvement in performance and production, cutting sacks by a third and TLFs by a quarter. over last years standards would still leave the unit average relative to the rest of the country and conference.

On defense there are a couple of very serious questions

  1. Can anyone rush the passer? George Selvie and Jason Piere-Paul are both gone, there are a couple of programs out there who can sustain the loss of two NFL draftees at DE’s and replace them with if not great players than above average players. USF is not among them. I do like Ryne Giddens who was a big time recruiting coupe for the outgoing regime, but is unlikely to have a huge year.
  2. How will the secondary hold up? Last years group was the best in the conference. That statement is pretty unequivocal, they topped the charts in passing yards and pass efficiency defense.  But departed from that group are Nate Allen and Jerome Murhpy. Allen is the guy they are really going to miss, he really seemed like the talisman for that group. When those losses are coupled with what promises to be a diminished pass rush you have to think that the group is going to be less productive.

On paper USF has some things going for them. But I don’t expect them to match or exceed their performance from last year. For a start they won’t have a defense of lat years caliber to lean on while the offense goes through its inevitable trials and tribulations under Daniels direction. The offense does bring back a ton of starters and front line players. But their level of performance wasn’t that great last year, particularly up front and they have the added problems associated with a new coaching staff. I think USF will make a bowl this year, but it will be interesting to see if they can acquire some form of consistency from this new staff because they had precious few occurrences of it under Levitt.

A Look At Louisville

Or why its still our Keg.

This is one of my favorite games each and every year. In addition to contesting a trophy which is the ultimate expression in badassery, it is two long term rivals that share a similar mindset and history, simultaneously separated and united by the Ohio River. That makes and interesting and fascinating long term history. The game this year will defiantly have a different vibe to it. It will be the first Keg of Nails contest for both Butch Jones and Charlie Strong, the second time in 4 years that this has happened, it will be the first time it is contested in the newly expanded Cardinal Stadium. So even for a game which carries a very high level of interest and intrigue at any time, it will undoubtedly be a touch higher than in previous years.

The biggest news out of Louisville has to be the hiring of Charlie Strong the former Defensive Coordinator at Florida. He has certainly energized the fan base in Louisville, ticket sales are up over the last year of the Steve Kragthorpe era. He has designs on recruiting in the city of Cincinnati, he even flipped a couple of UC commits late in the process bringing Dominique Brown and Preston Brown down to Louisville. In a nutshell Charlie Strong is the best thing that UofL fans could hope for in their attempts to forget the unmitigated disaster that was the Steve Kragthorpe era. Though at this point all the good work he has done has been off the field, and Louisville is a very results orientated place.

Strong has put together a very good young staff, though the biggest name outside of coaching circles is Mike Sanford who compiled a 16-43 record with nary a winning record in 5 seasons as the head coach of UNLV. Sanford is best known not for his offensive and/or game planning prowess, but for petulantly and spectacularly losing his shit following a “controversial” 16-10 loss to Iowa State in 2006. The point is that Strong has put together a good staff, most of whom have earned their stripes in the pressure packed coaching crucible known as the SEC. But there is going to be a learning curve, a pretty big one.

The learning curve will surely be exacerbated by the talent level on hand in Louisville. Its not entirely his fault, most of the upperclassmen on the roster are products of Bobby Petrino’s last recruiting cycle in 2007, you know the one where his foot was already out the door and he forsook recruiting almost entirely. That was quickly followed up with a couple of years of the Kragthorpe recruiting like he was still at Tulsa in his two full cylces, just loading up his classes with JUCO’s. In the world of college football recruiting, filling a class with over 20 or 25 per cent JUCO prospects is the act of a desperate man. In 2008 Krags signed 11, in 2009 he signed 9. Thats 20 JUCO’s out of a possible 55. So he tried to sacrifice the long term health of the program to win right away. And then he didn’t win. Anything. So strong has been blessed with a pretty barren cupboard in Louisville where he no doubt discovered that there is a big difference between Bradnon Spikes and Brandon Heath.

It is hard to predict what Louisville will look like on offense. Sanford ran the spread at UNLV, but he didn’t do it all that well. It wasn’t a case where an innovative and creative force on offense was shackled to a bad defense. UNLV vacillated between dreadful and throughly average in the years of his stewardship. The only link he has with the people that are shaping the offensive revolution in College Football was two seasons in Salt Lake City with Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen coaching the Utes. The offense will be spread based, but I have no idea what his iteration of the spread will be with the talent on hand in Derby City.

On defense I have a better idea based on what he ran at Florida. They will be in a 4-3 the majority of time, they don’t blitz a ton, but do run quite a few games with their defensive lines. He believes in getting pressure with your front and playing tough hard nosed man to man defense in the secondary. They will mix in some zone from time to time, but it seems like the only reason they played zone at Florida was to make their zone blitz’s that they had in their package work. You have to think that the version of Strong’s defense at Louisville will be pretty massively scaled down from the group at Florida. For a start this is the first year in a brand new system for the players, second they don’t really have the type of corners needed to play the scheme they used last year at Florida. Johnny Patrick is a very nice corner back for them, be he is a man apart in that secondary. But the biggest reason Strong will scale down his defense a bit is that the Cards just don’t have the talent or, more importantly, the depth to do some of the things he did with the Gators. Strong prefers to play a lot of guys in his front seven to get maximum production out of the them. He can’t really do that with Louisville. Not only are the starters several notches below what he deployed for the Gators, but the depth is pretty non existent.

Charlie Strong is a good coach for the job, but the job he has, getting the Ville back on top of the Big East, is pretty massive. Louisville does have some players on board Victor Anderson is a very nice back and Doug Beaumont is a pretty explosive target at receiver. Though he has started 24 games without hauling in even one TD. The QB situation is a bit dicey but Adam Froman should start. The line brings back four starters and should be better, if only because the standard it set last year was so low. On defense UofL was not that bad last year, but they will take a pretty large step back this time. In addition to the inherent continuity issues anytime a new staff takes over, new schemes, new techniques and what not  just four starters return from last years group. Greg Scruggs, Malcum Tatum, Brandon Heath and the aforementioned Johnny Patrick. Things are definatly looking brighter for the Cardinals under Strong, but the payoff is pretty far on the horizon.

Season Long Sellout Of Nippert?

UC announced recently that they have sold 20,000 season tickets for the coming Football Season. That means that the already high probability of the entire season selling out, just nudged a little bit closer to fruition. Its not official, but is getting very, very close. Unsurprisingly there are quite a few miserable little shits out there trying to piss in everyone’s cornflakes about this. The argument that has the most traction with the “I hate the world and and to make everyone as miserable as I am” crowd is that tickets aren’t selling fast enough, which is of course utterly ridiculous. This is a quote from the discussion on this topic on the Bearcat Banter board that succinctly sums up the “miserable little shit” crowd for lack of a better term.

I’m happy with the 20,000. I just don’t feel that given our recent successes, not to mention the attractiveness of our high scoring offense and the great players we have been producing (Connor Barwin, Mike Mickens, Kevin Huber, Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard, Isaiah Pead, Zach Collaros, Dominick Goodman, Terrell Byrd, Armon Binns, Trent Cole, et al) that 20,000 merely demonstrates that we still have a long way to go to get this program where we all want it to be. What would Louisville’s season ticket base be if they had won back-to-back Big East championships? What about Syracuse? What about Pittsburgh? Yes we are making progress, but there is no excuse, in my opinion, why this season is not already sold out and there will be no excuse if the Oklahoma game is not sold out. Yet I’d guess that the Oklahoma game will have only 45-50,000 in attendance. Hope I’m wrong.

That is an industrial strength concentration of stupidity and twatishness. For a start, in any given game at Nippert there roughly 23,000 seats available to season ticket holders and the general public. The rest are presumed sold by the athletic department, tickets to the opposing team, visiting recruits, players and coaches families and the student section comprise the other 12,000 seats in the stadium and a presumed taken by the athletic department until those tickets are returned to UC. So, before the athletic department puts single game tickets on sale in a little more than a week they have less than 3,000 to work with for each game.

As for Louisville, Pitt or Syracuse and how many season tickets they would have after back to back Big East Titles and BCS games. The truthful answer to the question would be that they would in all likelihood have more season ticket holders, but that isn’t really the point not to me anyway. They have larger stadiums, more season ticket spots available and most importantly large and long established season ticket base. By the simple rules of math and economics yeah, they would, and with the possible exception of Syracuse probably do have larger season ticket bases right now.

The main point is that UC now has a sizable, vibrant and passionate season ticket base for Football. For Football, when in 2005 purchasing Basketball season tickets meant buying Football season tickets. In 2006 the effective season ticket base for Football was essentially naught. Then to go from a season ticket base of essentially zero to 20,000 in just 5 years is a phenomenal rate of growth, that is a growth rate that would make Beijing blush, and possibly put their leading economic minds to the sword. The people who maintain the view that the athletic department isn’t doing a good enough job in terms of growing the program are, in no uncertain terms, idiots.

It is very easy to look at the results on the field, three straight 10 win seasons, three straight finishes in the top 17 of the AP poll, back to back Big East championships all these accomplishments the past few years and then to hear the season ticket totals and think “well this isn’t enough.” UC has proven it is one of the top programs in the country,” “the results speak for themselves,” UC has a large and dedicated following that has proven itself on the biggest stage.” On the field UC has staked and validated its claim as one of the top Football programs in the country. But the honest truth is that UC has vastly exceeded expectations on the field by overcoming many of the limitations off it. UC doesn’t have many built in advantages, outside of being located in the heart of one of the deepest talent pools in the country and being in a BCS conference it is hard to think of any. But building up the season ticket base UC is in a position to solidify, and enhance the position, currently held, which has been so hard won. Thats the point that most UC fans are missing in the midst of this announcement. There were real, genuine fears in the wake of Brian Kelly’s exit that he was larger than the program, and that the Football program would go back from whence it came sans Kelly. I think it is pretty safe to put most of those fears to bed, the program off the field is as strong now under Jones as it was under Kelly. On the field? Who really knows at this point, but UC fans have made a pretty damned impressive statement so far.