Chris Bains, Matt Opper and I sat down at the (near) midpoint of the Cincinnati season to talk about how things have progressed. Chris runs Cincy on the Prowl. Matt runs Down the Drive. Both are excellent sites. You can follow them on twitter by clicking on their names.
This is a two part roundtable. This is the first part. The second part will be posted later this afternoon. Questions are in bold.
Have you felt Tommy Tuberville's first season has been a success so far?
Chris: I'd give it a B-. 5-2 with losses to Illinois and South Florida were definitely not conceivable to me before the season began. But I think like with before Butch Jones' inaugural season with Bearcats fans, myself included, were overoptimistic with the state the program. Jones left the roster stocked with talented, young players but a number of those key cogs from the 10-3 2012 campaign, such as Dan Sprague, Anthony McClung, and Brendon Kay, have been injured. McClung and Kay are still yet to approach 100%. Plus coaching changes are just difficult for players to deal with, especially with the drastic change in schemes from Mike Bajakian to Eddie Gran. Still, even with those factors at play, the Bearcats never should have lost to the Bulls. I can forgive the loss to Illinois because they just got outcoached and outplayed. All we can do is tip our caps to the Illini after that. But the Bearcats hurt themselves against South Florida more than the Bulls did and a lot of it goes on the coaches. So, long story short, yes I think it's been a success but not to the extent of what I predicted before the season began.
Scott: I think it's been a C. It's impossible to get a read on this team. It's not Tuberville's fault, it's just that Cincinnati has had 1 challenge all year. That challenge just so happened to be at an Illinois team who played their best game of the season and waxed them. People have shown up, there was buzz around the season despite a terrible schedule. This season comes down to the final 3 games, fair or not. There have been a couple of highs, Purdue being a sellout and a blowout, and a very low low, losing to awful, awful USF. Even Memphis will be an interesting trip because this team has played terribly on the road. 3 of the last 5 are on the road. So far, I give him a thumbs in the middle, which is a C.
Matt: B. The transition hasn't been perfect, but all of the hastily articulated reasons for people to panic in the wake of the USF loss aren't really based in any sort of rational thinking. Yes, losing to USF and Illinois in their present incarnations isn't going to look good. Those two losses are the biggest reason why it will be hard to gain any sort of national momentum.
But the extrapolations that a small minority made based on those two results are baffling, the USF loss in particular. Its the curse of football, there are only 12 games, only 12 data points from which to make judgments on the teams. Is the USF loss bad, yes but any team who surrenders two non offensive TD's and turns the ball over 4 times. That's a fact that very few fans have been willing to acknowledge.
Who do you think has been the breakout player of the offense?
Ralph David Abernathy IV has the most carries on the team by far and has been the least productive back on the team by far. Only Brendon Kay averages fewer yards per carry among players with over 15 attempts. He hasn't been a threat in the passing game, 9-65-0, and is averaging a career low in kick returns, 23.7 yards. He was thought of to be the most dynamic player on the team. What's happened?
I also think that he placed a lot of pressure on himself to be the top dog. This is purely speculation. It looks like he has tried to break a lot of runs instead of just running. That leads to frustration. His last 17 carries have netted 32 yards. We know this and he damn sure knows it. With Hosey Williams and Tion Green making the most of chances, he's got to be feeling the pressure. It's human.
The issue is with the play calling though.
Who has been your breakout player defensively?
Cincinnati is on pace to have one of best attended seasons at Nippert Stadium ever. They even drew over 30,000 against FCS Northwestern State. There are clearly a lot of factors at play this year (arrival of Tuberville, schedule of very winnable games, trend of sustained success) but which do you think are the ones that stand above the rest and are pulling fans to Nippert in droves?
I also think that the expansion of Nippert is creating a ton of momentum for the program. I don't know about you guys but the posts on the site about New Nippert continue to bring in decent traffic week after week. I think that I read in the enquirer that season ticket sales are at or near an all time high. I think a big reason for that is the coming renovation, its better to get in as a season ticket holder now than in the next two years when demand is almost certainly going to substantially increase.
What's up with Tony Miliano and what, if anything, can Cincinnati's coaches do to correct his kicking woes this season?