Fay: Miami-UC rivalry can still create great moments. Saturday was one

Plus some other thoughts from a weekend of sports

CINCINNATI -- If you were following the UC-Miami game on ESPN’s Gamecast, as I was, the win probability for Miami reached 97 percent when the Bearcats got down 11 points in the fourth quarter.
A 3 percent chance, it turns out, is enough.

Everyone in Clifton hopes there are big wins in the Luke Fickell’s future, but it’s hard to underestimate the kind of impact Saturday’s improbable 21-17 victory in Oxford will have on Fickell’s early tenure.

UC is two-thirds through its toughest stretch of the season — road games with Michigan, Miami and Navy. When the Bearcats were spinning their wheels offensively against Miami it would be easy to see them coming out of the three games 1-3. 

Now, going to Annapolis and winning looks like a possibility. 

The one thing you get about Fickell is he is a leader. Players can’t help but look up to someone with his resume, and you can tell he cares deeply about his players. 

He’s got the players buying into that. That’s probably why they didn’t quit Saturday. 

"It's an incredible program win," Fickell told the media afterward. ”To put yourself behind the eight-ball a little bit like we did and see the guys continue to fight and scratch and claw, there was no give-up in that. There was no pouting. There were no chins down, heads down. That's what I'm most proud of." 

“Obviously, we came down, and we made the big play at the end to stop them to win the game, but to see how they fought and how they stayed together through some adversity, again I'm proud.”

The big play he referred to was Malik Clements’ interception of a Gus Ragland play. Clements returned it 14 yards for touchdown with 67 seconds left on a third-and-7 play. 

UC has won 12 straight in the Victory Bell battle. I wrote last year that it wasn’t a rivalry anymore because of UC’s dominance. I was wrong there. It still can produce some great moments. 

Saturday was one of them.

That’s a crushing loss for the RedHawks. Chuck Martin’s done a great job of re-establishing the program. 

PITCHER POWER RATINGS

I think it’s OK to start feeling good about the young pitchers who figure to make up the bulk of the Reds rotation next. That being said, it’s a meritocracy. Everybody isn’t going to make it.

Here are my mid-September power rankings: 

1. Luis Castillo: He’s the one guy manager Bryan Price has promised a slot to. 

“I think it's safe to say Luis Castillo pitched well enough if not to be in the rotation, I'd have him in my rotation,” Price said. “I know I don't have the only vote.” 

Castillo deserves it. Not only does he have the best stuff of the bunch, but he shows remarkable poise on the mound for a 24-year-old. He could develop into an ace.

2. Sal Romano: You love it when you see steady progress from a young pitcher. We’ve seen that from Romano. He had his best start Saturday — eight shutout innings. He’s 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA over his last six starts.

3. Tyler Mahle: His stuff surprised me. He throws harder than I expected, but the kid obviously knows how to pitch. He went from Double-A to the majors without missing a beat. He may not start in the majors in 2018 because he’s the youngest of the bunch, but he won’t be in Triple-A long.

Mahle has been shut down for the year, but the four starts for Reds will help for next year.

“We're able to satisfy what our goals were, which was get him four starts here at the big-league level and get him acclimated somewhat leading into next season,” Price said. “Should he make our club out of spring training or at some point during the year, so it wouldn't be his first taste that he'd been here before. He handled it extremely well.” 

4. Robert Stephenson: It says something that the former No. 1 prospect is fourth on this list. Stephenson had a great stretch — 4-0, 2.38 ERA — over four starts before hitting blip against St. Louis two starts ago. He bounced back with six innings of one-hit shutout ball on Sunday.

With Stephenson, the question is never stuff. The addition of a swing-and-miss slider is big for him. But he has to show consistency to move up the list.

5. Amir Garrett: Garrett’s had a rough time of it since his fast start in the bigs this year. The Reds hit pause to allow him to work on his mechanics. He obviously has huge potential.

6. Cody Reed: He was the No. 1 prospect going into this year. It hasn’t gone well. His stuff is good enough to climb the list. With him, it’s the mental part of the game he has to master. 

7. Rookie Davis: He took a step back this year. He was 4-4 with a 4.77 ERA at Triple-A. He’s walked too many in his chances with the Reds (14 vs. 17 strikeouts).

8. Jackson Stephens: He’s pitched pretty well in his September call-up. But 7-10 with a 4.92 at Louisville. He and Davis will get a shot at starting with Castillo and Mahle shut down. They can help themselves. 

That’s a very solid top four. Castillo is clearly No. 1. But it’s close between Romano, Mahle and Stephenson.

I’m not so sure anymore that the Reds need to add a free agent veteran like they’ve talked about. If they do, I’d aim a little higher than Scott Feldman. I mentioned Lance Lynn and still think he could be a fit.

WAS IT THE SCHEME? 

The firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese doesn’t mean the Bengals will instill a new playbook. Reading between the lines of what OC Bill Lazor said, I think the difference will be in sequence that the plays are called.

This from Lazor was telling: “As a coordinator, two of the most important things that you have to do is to get the quarterback in rhythm and get the running back in rhythm. We’ve got a good number of running backs that will share that right now, but when we have some time this evening and tomorrow to think about that, and specifically on questions with Andy, I think a lot of that responsibility will be mine to make sure we get him going.”

I agree there. Getting Andy Dalton going early is the key. 

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