On Tuesday, media members from Texas all the way to Connecticut gathered their thoughts and collectively agreed to gamble on a scenario that just looks too good on paper; the Cincinnati Bearcats took 17-of-30 first-place votes as the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference this fall.
But with a complete rebuild up the middle on defense – not to mention having to replace a few key components to a secondary that rarely gave up big plays – and plenty of could-be’s on offense, UC coach Tommy Tuberville knows that a pre-season ranking in the AAC doesn’t mean much.
“We might be number one, but you can look at four or five teams in our league, there’s not very much difference in any of us, so anything can happen,” Tuberville said during his turn at media day. “It’ll be a challenge for me. I’ve really in 19 years of being a head coach never been predicted to win a conference championship. That’s one piece of experience I’ll have to go through.”
Those “four or five teams” that Tuberville mentioned are likely Central Florida – the defending conference champ – Houston, East Carolina, and SMU, all of which are projected to finish in that order.
Likely the most substantial factor in picking Cincinnati to win the AAC just so happens to be the biggest question mark moving forward: Gunner Kiel.
Kiel, a former five-star prospect (247Sports) and the No. 1 overall quarterback in the recruiting class of 2012, sat out last season after transferring from Notre Dame, but is widely expected to be named the starter in the coming weeks.
Kiel completed 17-of-22 pass attempts for 300 yards in the first half of the Bearcats’ spring game in April, flashing his arm strength and showing glimpses of why he was so highly touted in high school.
Still, the fact that Tuberville isn’t completely sold on him yet is a bit concerning.
“Our offense won’t change a whole lot; we’re looking for a quarterback,” he said. “We’re looking for somebody that can lead the team. Everybody says, ‘you’ve got Gunner Kiel.’ He hasn’t taken a snap in three years. There’s a lot of unknown there.”
Tuberville could very well be pulling everyone’s leg by trying to water down the rising expectations, because there’s no doubt what Kiel means to this 2014 team – either he performs to his five-star name and Cincinnati’s offense sweeps through The American, or he struggles and Munchie Legaux takes the Bearcats to six or seven wins.
Cincinnati has the potential to run the table in the AAC this season, and will have the opportunity to shock the world with road games against Ohio State and Miami (Fla.). But whether the ‘Cats can accomplish these lofty goals sums up their team theme heading into August: unknown.
“We’re still in the building stages of where we want to be,” Tuberville said. “We want to build our team to a point where each week we know we have a chance and can compete with anybody we play.
“We’re one of the winningest programs in college football [over] the last 10 years. We want to continue that and get better every year. I think we’ve got a great group of guys to oversee that and make that happen.”