The Cincinnati Bearcats look to start this season anew after a tumultuous reign by Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville came in as the Cincinnati head coach in the 2013 season, not long removed after the Bearcats’ rise to national prominence with back-to-back BCS bowls. Tuberville had previously coached Auburn and Texas Tech, with mixed success. With Auburn in 2004, he went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl that season, barely missing the National Championship. This track record made Bearcat fans excited with the potential anticipation of Tuberville restoring them to BCS glory. However, the script did not go as planned. Tuberville’s tenure with UC was considered a failure, at least by some. In four seasons, Tuberville finished 29-22, with an 18-14 conference record without recording a single bowl win. Tuberville’s last season saw the Bearcats go 4-8 (1-7).
However, all that is now in the past as the Bearcats hope to turn the page with new head coach Luke Fickell. Fickell signed with Cincinnati on December 10 of last year. He was the former defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Ohio State and was even the interim-head coach in 2011 after scandals forced Jim Tressel to leave the university. Fickell led Ohio State to a disappointing 6-7 record, losing to the Florida Gators in the Gator Bowl. However, on top of Tressel’s suspension, several other key starting players, including QB Terrelle Pryor, who later left for the NFL, were suspended during the 2011 season as well. Fickell was able to deal with the turmoil and still take Ohio State to a bowl game, in what seemed to be a lost season for their standards.
The 43-year-old Columbus native was one of the most-desired coaching candidates during this previous off-season. Since his hire at his Alma matter UC, the hype surrounding the football program has been unreal. Fickell’s welcoming as head coach sparked electricity in the air surrounding the team, giving fans and alumni reason to be excited for the future again. Fickell has made a splash in the recruiting aspect as well. So far for the 2018 recruiting commits, UC is ranked 42nd in the nation and first in the American Athletic Conference. Fickell has geared his focus to local talent, noting that is what it will take to stay competitive, since the Cincinnati area is rich in football talent. He signed locals Malik Vann and Josh Whyle, from Fairfield, Ohio and Cincinnati, Ohio respectively. Vann, a defensive end, is a four-star recruit and Whyle, tight end, is a borderline three- or four-star recruit. Coach Fickell was also able to gain an Ohio State transfer, as former five-star quarterback recruit, Torrance Gibson officially transferred to UC back in January. Gibson was redshirted his first year at OSU, then suspended for violating team conduct rules in his second year. He never played a down during those two seasons. However, this means he will have three seasons of eligibility for UC, assuming he plays this season.
In regard to the quarterback situation, it appears that Junior Hayden Moore will be the starter this season. Fickell admits that Moore “has a slight edge over Ross (Trail).” But, Fickell says that he does not want a “quarterback carousel” like UC did last year, playing both Moore and Trail, along with former QB Gunner Kiel during the season. The defense also looks to turn things around after routinely getting torched last season. The Bearcats finished 72nd out of 128 in total defense last season, giving up 5,074 yards and 5.34 yards per play. They also gave up four more touchdowns than their offense scored throughout the season. The defense did look better in the spring game, as they routinely finished their tackles and saw the defensive line give the offensive line fits.
The Fickell signing has garnered hype and attention outside of the Cincinnati area too. USA Today has the Bearcats improving to a 7-5 overall record with a 4-4 conference record, finishing fourth in the AAC East division. This would be a three game improvement from last season, both overall and conference wise, something that the fans and Luke Fickell would welcome. Of course, the ultimate goal for Coach Fickell was to change the culture on campus, and this seems to be something he has already accomplished. UC opens their season on August 31st at Nippert Stadium against Austin Peay State University.
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