From 2007 through 2012, Cincinnati hit its peak and was known as one of college football’s most dominant mid-major programs. The Bearcats racked up 57 wins with four conference championships, two BCS bowl game appearances, and four top-25 finishes.
Since then, the Bearcats have gone 25-14 (17-7 American) with an 0-3 bowl record. They have slowly (but without question) trended downward. This has come under Tommy Tuberville’s watch in three years as head coach following the incredible run produced by former coaches Brian Kelly and Butch Jones.
So what’s the next step here? There are three options:
A) Cincinnati rebounds and reaches double-digit wins for the first time under Tuberville.
B) Things remain stagnant for another season — which wouldn’t be terrible, considering how much talent was lost this offseason.
C) Or… things continue to slip, with the danger of missing the postseason for just the second time since 2005.
Achieving the first of those possibilities is not that daunting a task. UC’s upcoming 2016 schedule is favorable in many ways, especially because the Bearcats get Houston, USF, BYU, and Memphis at home. Challenging road games against Temple and Tulsa are later in the year, giving a new-look offense plenty of time to settle and find its stride for a conference title run.
It’s never easy to predict what will happen with a Tuberville-led team, but we’re going to give it the ‘ol college try.
2015 record: 7-6 (4-4)
Sept. 1 vs. Tennessee-Martin (W): Cincinnati is 10-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, winning by an average margin of 42.9 points.
Sept. 10 at Purdue (W): The Boilermakers have made some progress since losing to Cincinnati by 35 points in 2013, but continue to serve as the Big Ten’s cellar dweller with 30 total losses the last three years. This should be a tight contest and could be decided late in the fourth quarter, but I like the ‘Cats here.
Sept. 15 vs. Houston (L): Four days to prepare for Houston isn’t ideal, even if it is a home game. Expect a good game with a strong crowd, but not a win.
Sept. 24 vs. Miami-of-Ohio (W): Miami is progressing, but Cincinnati hasn’t lost the Battle for the Victory Bell since 2005. This will not be the year that streak ends.
Oct. 1 vs. USF (L): It won’t be anything like the 62-27 drubbing from last year, but the Bulls are the real deal and could emerge as a top-25 team at some point. Either way, they’re the East favorites for a reason and will put up a ton of points in 2016.
Oct. 10 at UConn (L): After a tough, deflating loss to division-favorite USF the week prior, it wouldn’t be surprising for Cincinnati to have a letdown in Rentschler Field against a stout Huskies defense that could prove to be one of the best units the Group of Five has to offer.
Oct. 22 vs. East Carolina (W): There’s a lot of upside with new ECU coach Scottie Montgomery, who is a disciple of quarterback guru David Cutcliffe over at Duke. However, while the Pirates’ main goal this season is just making a bowl game in Year 1 under new leadership, Cincinnati is hoping to make the necessary adjustments to return to the top of the conference.
Oct. 29 at Temple (L): Last season Temple went 5-1 at home and 4-1 in the month of October, with No. 9 Notre Dame accounting for that lone loss. Meanwhile, Cincinnati was 2-5 when not in front of a home crowd, with its only loss at Nippert coming against Temple. With three conference losses already, it’s not as though the Bearcats would be highly motivated to leave Philly with a win.
Nov. 5 vs. BYU (W): BYU has a pretty difficult schedule in 2016 and could easily enter the game with a 1-7 or 2-6 record. If that’s the case — you tell me that it’s unlikely after checking this bad boy out — I like UC’s chances for some revenge after last year’s fourth-quarter meltdown in Provo.
Nov. 12 at UCF (W): I wouldn’t be surprised to see UCF around the three- or four-win range at this point in the season, which would make this an extremely important step toward bowl eligibility. However, the Knights simply don’t have the depth to hang with UC for 60 minutes, and should fall behind in the second half. Still, it won’t be like last season’s 52-7 beatdown in Cincy.
Nov. 18 vs. Memphis (W): Even without its best coach and quarterback in program history, Memphis will compete and should appear in its third straight bowl game. That doesn’t mean it won’t lose to Cincinnati for the first time since 2013.
Nov. 25 at Tulsa (W): This one has all the makings of a regular season finale shootout. Expect a final of around 45-35 in favor of the ‘Cats.
2016 projection: 8-4 (4-4)
AAC race: 3rd in East Division
In summary: This is a pivotal season for Tuberville, who turns 62 in September and is working on the fourth year of his five-year contract. Cincinnati is determined to push for Big 12 acceptance, which means winning is absolutely a top priority. Another year of regression would be unacceptable.
Luckily for Tubs and the Bearcats, four wins in a row to end the regular season at 8-4 (and then offer a chance for a first bowl win in his tenure) would be enough to spare at least one more year for the current coach in the Queen City.