Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Best in Ohio? Title belongs to Bearcats

For weeks now, a friend of mine has argued that the title of best college football team in Ohio didn’t belong to the Ohio State Buckeyes anymore.
I disagreed.
I was quick to remind him that the Buckeyes were the gold standard, and for him not to acknowledge that fact would be as pointless as arguing who’s richer: Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Gates is, of course. But does it really matter when your net worth has 10 zeroes in it? The Buckeyes have been Bill Gates in Ohio college football, and no team has been his Buffett until now. They have their rival – no, they look to have their better in the University of Cincinnati. That’s the point my friend has been making – loudly, too. But it is impossible to say he’s wrong after watching the Buckeyes lose to Purdue and the Bearcats beat South Florida last week. Whatever claim Ohio State might have held to being the state’s best college football team disappeared after a dismal performance against a 1-5 team. The Buckeyes didn’t just lose to a bad football team in Purdue; they were embarrassed by that bad football team. That loss cost coach Jim Tressel and his Buckeyes whatever bragging rights they had left inside a state deep in talent. They might not be able anymore to cherry-pick that talent as they have been able to do for the better part of a half century. That talent has another in-state option, and the 'Cats are it. Out of scraps, UC coach Brian Kelly cobbled a team that finds itself No. 5 in the AP and BCS polls, 14 spots ahead of the Buckeyes. And the way this season has gone, they will be out of the top 25 before the Bearcats lose a game. In a stunning turnaround in fortunes, the 'Cats are the Ohio team that's the talk of college football, not Ohio State; they are the team that’s angling for a National Championship. All the Buckeyes will be playing for is the Big Ten title, and even their prospects of being in contention for it are slim. Does anybody expect a football team with a technique-challenged quarterback, a porous offensive line and no running game to win anything but a trip to a lesser bowl game? The Motor City Bowl might have Ohio State in its sights. No Fiesta Bowl, no Sugar Bowl, no Orange, no Rose Bowl … heck, no EagleBank Bowl either it would seem. Should the Buckeyes beat the odds and win the Big Ten, they have given no indication that they can beat anybody decent in a conference outside the Mid-American or the Big West. They are a full recruiting cycle away from being a quality program. Their close call against Navy and their loss to Purdue prove that point. In contrast, the Bearcats have shown the makings of a Division I program with grand expectations now and a bright future. They have a coach in Kelly who has shown what Tressel hasn’t: a knack for competing against anybody. Kelly’s Bearcats look like a more polished program. They seem better coached, and they have speed and creativity. Best of all, they have a quality quarterback in Tony Pike, although he's nursing an injury. Ask any college coach in the country who would he take today: Pike or Terrelle Pryor? All would say Pike. Ask any college coach in the country what team he would least like to play this weekend: UC or OSU? All would say UC. Grudgingly, so would I.


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