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November 26, 2007

Case Closed!

As the Bearcats and their fans wait for college football's version of the Selection Committees make their decisions, we're going to break down why Cincinnati's odds are just as good, if not better, than both South Florida and Connecticut to go to El Paso for the Sun Bowl or Charlotte for the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Let's first begin with the aspect that's easiest to compare, and that's conference records. Yes, Connecticut has a better conference record than UC, but one could argue the Huskies were a blown call (Louisville fair catch) away from being 4-3 as well. Throw in the fact that the Bearcats rolled the Huskies 27-3, giving UConn (ranked 13th at the time) their first conference loss in a game that was never close.

The fact that Cincinnati and South Florida finished with identical records makes it easy to compare the two. Cincinnati beat USF 38-33 in Tampa when the Bulls were still ranked in the AP Top 10. Combine that with Cincinnati's dominant 23-6 win over the Bulls in Cincinnati last year, and the Bearcats have proven to be the better program, thus deserving higher billing.

Let's compare schedules. USF played the most games against bowl eligible teams with seven, but only went 4-3. UConn played five bowl eligible teams, going just 2-3. The Bearcats played six games against bowl eligible teams and went an impressive 5-1 in that stretch.

Where USF and UConn split their games with Cincinnati and each other, the Bearcats beat both USF and UConn by an aggregate score of 65-36. Comparing rankings and strength of schedules can get hairy, but there is no doubt when you compare head-to-head results. On these days, the Bearcats were clearly the better team.

How about the National polls? In the AP, Cincinnati is currently ranked #20 with 61 of 65 voters naming them on their ballots. Compare that with South Florida, who is ranked #25 with just 44 of 65 naming them. UConn is out of the polls and only received 13 mentions of 65 ballots.

In the USA Today Coaches Poll, UC is #24 with 146 points. USF (100) and UConn (54) are unranked. The Harris Interactive Poll has UC at #21 with 512 points. USF is at #25 with 249 and UConn is unranked with just 57.

Unfortunately for Cincinnati, the BCS Rankings have USF at #21 and UC at #23 due to USF's wins over West Virginia and at Auburn, which at this point seem more like a fluke than reality. But, if the Sun Bowl goes strictly on BCS ranking, obviously this would put USF in the driver's seat. It's also been speculated that if the Sun Bowl selects Oregon State, they don't want a Cincinnati -Oregon State re-match.

In all, UC is the only team among the three ranked in all 10 polls. And, for the first time in school history, are ranked in the final regular season polls.

In basketball, the Selection Committee weighs a team's finish heavily. If that's the case in football, Cincinnati would have to be considered the hottest team of the three. The Bearcats have won three of four, including wins over both USF and UConn in that period. Their only loss was a tough 5-point loss to a West Virginia team that is poised to play for the National Championship on January 7 in New Orleans. Compare that to a 45-point beat down WVU put on the Huskies just this past weekend in addition to the loss at UC. Add in South Florida has lost three of its last six and UC's case is a lot better.

If you're talking bowl games, you're talking about the almighty dollar-as in ticket sales and overall revenue. To date, Cincinnati has sold 5,800+ bowl tickets with plenty more likely after the pairing is announced. At this point, neither USF nor UConn have any bowl tickets sold. Traditionally, Cincinnati does not travel well to bowl games, but compared to UConn and USF, they won't be that much worse.

However, another factor to weigh in is Cincinnati's rapidly-growing fan base. Just this year alone, season tickets for the Bearcats grew a staggering 23 percent from 2006 to 2007. Season tickets for the 2008 season have been on sale over a month already to accommodate the high demand. It took the fans a little bit to catch on, but once they did, they came out in droves. Compare 2006's average attendance of 20,373 to this season's average of 30,204, and you have a 50 percent increase.

"Not enough," you say? How about Cincinnati's high-powered offense and ball-hawking defense coming to town? During the 2007 season, the Bearcats set several school records, including: points (441), touchdowns (59), passing touchdowns (32), total takeaways (39) and fumbles (16). With a bowl victory, the Bearcats would tie for most wins in school history with 10.

The Bearcats rank at or near the top of the Big East in several categories. They are #1 in turnover margin (1.42); passing efficiency (152.4); sacks (37); and punting (46.2 gross/39.2 net). They rank #2 in scoring offense (36.8 ppg) behind WVU; scoring defense (18.6 ppg) behind WVU; passing offense (282.2 ypg) behind Louisville; rushing defense (105.7 ypg) behind WVU; first downs (262) behind Louisville; and red zone offense (73.8%) behind WVU.

Want individual accomplishments? OK, try these on for size. Quarterback Ben Mauk is #1 in the Big East, and #9 nationally, in passing efficiency at 154.6. He is #2 behind Louisville's Brian Brohm in both passing yards per game (253.4) and total offense (283.8 yards per game).

Freshman receiver Marcus Barnett holds the UC single-season record for touchdowns with 13, and is second nationally among first-year receivers. His 5.08 catches per game ties him with teammate Dominick Goodman for third in the Big East.

Defensive end Anthony Hoke ranks second in the conference with 12 sacks and fourth with 15.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Terrill Byrd is fifth with 14 tackles for loss and ninth with six sacks.

The secondary trio packs a punch. Haruki Nakamura is fourth with three forced fumbles and fifth with four INTs. Mike Mickens leads the conference with six INTs, including two for TD and third in passes defended with 12 (6 INT, 6 break-ups). And DeAngelo Smith ranks third in passes defended with five INTs and seven break-ups).

Add in perhaps the special teams' most valuable player-punter Kevin Huber, who leads the nation in punting with a 46.9 yard average and is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter.

Former Cincinnati head coach, Mike Gottfried has certainly seen enough of the Bearcats to heap some high praise on them over the weekend.

"This would be a tough team to draw in a bowl because Cincinnati has a well-rounded football team. I'm talking about the kick-off guy, the punter, the defense, the offense, Ben Mauk, and they are well coached," Gottfried said.


And finally, the Sun Bowl or Meineke Car Care Bowl Committees can get an early look at a Cincinnati team that will return many of its star players for the 2008 season that has all the makings of being just as good as 2007 and maybe even better. When you add it all up, the case for the Bearcats is very strong, and only the shady game of politics would keep them from going to either the Brut Sun Bowl or the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Do you agree? Post your comments inside The Red Zone.


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