Fay: Here are 9 things Cincinnati sports fans have to keep an eye on in 2018

CINCINNATI -- Now that 2018 is officially underway -- even if half your co-workers are out till next week -- let’s take a look at the big things to watch on the local sports calendar.

Here are nine I’ll be watching curiously:

FC Cincinnati resolution

We will find out whether Futbol Club Cincinnati will join Major League Soccer or not. If that’s the case, a new stadium will be built either in the Oakley or the West End. 

I’m not a big soccer guy, but I enjoyed the FC Cincinnati games I covered. Great product. Loyal fan base.

That said, I’m really tired of all the back and forth on the stadium and the dance with MLS. I’m all for the FC Cincinnati getting in and, to a lesser degree, getting a stadium (Nippert is perfect, in my mind), but get it over already and move on to playing on the field, er pitch. 

The young guns

This is a big year for the Reds' young pitchers. The success of the season depends on Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle, Cody Reed, et al. 

All of them, except Mahle, have gotten enough time with the big club to start producing. Castillo is the closest thing to a proven commodity -- and he’s only made 15 big-league starts. What Romano and Stephenson did late was encouraging. 

It surprised me when Bryan Price said there’s only one spot open in the rotation, meaning Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Castillo are in. My guess is Romano, Stephenson and Mahle all spend time in the rotation before the year’s out.

Joey Votto’s encore

Votto had the best year of his career and that’s saying a lot. His .320/.454/.578 slash line was the best in baseball.

He turned 33 in the September. Can he continue to produce at that level?

I would not bet against him.

He takes great care of himself. He’s Whole Foods' best customer. And he has a way of figuring things out.

He decided to cut down on strikeouts in 2017. Presto! His strikeout rate went from 17.7 to 11.7 in one year. Who else in baseball can do that?

XU Is a national contender? 

Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski declared Xavier a contender for the national title. When that comes after your team lost to the team you're pumping up, such things are met with skepticism. 

But Xavier is talented and deep. The Big East will get the Muskies ready for the NCAAs like few other leagues.

However, 11 of the last 15 NCAA winners had an NBA lottery pick. The Muskies don’t. But I think anything short of a Final Four would be a disappointment for this group. 

Fickell year two

Everyone is willing to give Luke Fickell a pass on Year 1 at UC. The Bearcats were bad. They easily could have gone 2-10 instead of 4-8.

But Fickell had another good recruiting class, so the results should start to come in Year 2. 

Marvin Lewis? 

This was going to be an item about who replaces Marvin Lewis. But now Lewis is replacing Lewis. The Bengals have often bordered on bizarre, but the Lewis “Will he go or will he stay?” saga is in a class by itself.

With Lewis back, what changes? Does he get more control on personnel decisions? Will the Bengals spend more on free agents? Will they build a practice bubble? 

Lewis can only change his story arc one way: He has to win a playoff game. Until then, he’s viewed as the guy who turned it around but not all the way around.

Can UC and Cronin make a deep run?

Mick Cronin’s resume reads a lot like Lewis' here. Cronin has unquestionably done a nice job. The Bearcats make the NCAA tournament every year. But getting to the second weekend has been problematic. 

This team should make the Sweet 16 and has Final Four capability. It would be a shame not to go deep with seniors Gary Clark and Kyle Washington. 

Wichita State going to the American Athletic Conference helps. That gives UC two tough games late in the regular season. 

Watching Greene and Senzel

It’s going to be worth the drive up I-75 to see Hunter Greene throw this summer. Last year’s second pick overall is Reds' most intriguing prospect in years. 

Nick Senzel, the second overall pick in the 2016, is probably the surer bet. The guess is he starts the season at Louisville and plays his way onto the Reds roster by mid-summer. 

Paging John Ross 

The Bengals receiver's rookie year was as disappointing as it gets for such a high draft choice. Injuries had something to do with it. But there was more to it than that. 

Lewis called Ross out like he rarely does. The good news for the Bengals is Ross has a lot of football in front of him. But if he’s healthy, it’s up to Ross to show he’s not a bust. 

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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