Fay: UC's future could be tied to football

Fay: UC's future could be tied to football
Posted at 7:00 PM, Aug 22, 2016

CINCINNATI -- Tommy Tuberville's main concerns this year are about finding some receivers, figuring out who his quarterback will be and making sure his defense can stop somebody.

Tuberville, about to start his fourth season as the University of Cincinnati coach, can’t concern himself with the big picture. Not when there are football games to play, starting Sept. 1 when Tennessee-Martin comes to Nippert Stadium for the opener.

But it’s not an exaggeration to say that future of UC sports hangs on how successful Tuberville’s team is this year. The Bearcats are trying to get an invitation to Big 12, and the overriding criteria seems to be the success of the school's football program. The current Big 12 powers don’t want to water down the conference.

Football success, of course, is not the only factor, and Tuberville doesn’t see the Big 12 situation as added pressure.

“Not really," he said. “I’m not involved in it. We’re interested in it. We hope it goes the right direction for anyone who wants to get in. But the body of work ... It’s more about the school and our athletic department. What’s happened here the last 10-12 years.

“Obviously, we’d like a good showing no matter what’s going on. I probably say there’s been a lot of decisions have been made one way or the other. I don’t know that. But it’s hard to believe that there haven't been a lot of decisions been made."

Football is not the lone factor. But UC isn’t as attractive a football school as it was six or seven years ago. UC went 11-3 and went to the Orange Bowl in 2008. In 2009, Brian Kelly’s final year, the Bearcats went 12-1. The only loss came in the Sugar Bowl.

Butch Jones took over for Kelly in ’10 and went 4-8, but UC went 10-3 in ’11 and ’12 and won a bowl game both years.

UC has gone 9-4, 9-4 and 7-6 over the course of Tuberville’s three seasons. Last season ended with a 42-7 humiliation from San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl.

Tuberville brought in a new offensive coordinator, Zac Taylor, who spent the last four years with the Miami Dolphins.

UC broke camp at Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana, without naming a starter. Hayden Moore and redshirt freshman Ross Trail were running No. 1 and 2 with last year’s starter, Gunner Kiel, No. 3. Moore was named the starter on Monday.

“We wanted to make sure we take the right one," Tuberville said. “Our quarterbacks didn’t play very well when it came to turnovers. We turned the ball over 33 times. You can’t win ballgames like that. We were lucky to have won seven games.

“We had the best football team since I’ve been here and we gave games away. It goes back to (the fact that) the quarterback gets a lot of credit and a lot of blame."

Can this year’s team be Tuberville’s best at UC?

“We don’t have near the experience," he said. “Experience usually wins out for you. We’ve got more athletes. This recruiting class was really good.

“The first year I was here I thought we’d be lucky to win seven games, and we won nine and had a chance to beat Louisville in overtime at the end of the year. I thought we’d really struggle. But we played better defense. That saved us."

The defense did not save the Bearcats in 2015. The offense scored 33.8 points a game last year, but the defense surrendered 31.2.

“It’s been that way since we got here," Tuberville said. “I don’t care what team you are. You can be great on offense -- we were very good on offense last year -- but we couldn’t stop anyone on defense."

There were some extenuating circumstances there.

“We were a pretty good defense coming out of camp,” he said. “But then we lost three-fourths of secondary in the three games. We’ve been working on more depth, more guys who can play on defense. We’ve got that now. We’ve got more athletes, more speed. We should be better on defense.”

UC also returns both top running backs -- Mike Boone and Tion Green -- who combined for over 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. If UC can be more balanced, it will take some pressure off the quarterbacks and the defense.

Again, Tuberville thinks the Bearcats can be good.

“A lot of it is the mindset of the players," Tuberville said. “This is going to be a tough schedule. I think we can win a lot of games, but a lot of it is going to depend on how we’ve grown up, with turnovers, how much our defense shows up and (if) can we stay away from injuries.

“That’s pretty much everybody. That’s the universal game plan for every football team."

If the plan works for UC, it will certainly help the Big 12 case.