CINCINNATI, Ohio – It’s week eight of the college football season, and the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference championship, Cincinnati, has yet to earn a conference win.
The Bearcats are 3-3, and find themselves in the basement of the AAC East with an 0-2 conference record and only the 0-7 UCF Knights looking up at them. That’s something that was obviously possible, but nobody thought it would be the case heading into the 2015 season.
Cincinnati has lost its three games in a number of ways, and injuries have certainly played into its lackluster start. Against Temple it was turnovers and poor special teams play. The defense put up little fight in the Memphis game, and that pitiful performance was made worse by some questionable officiating. BYU seized the momentum late and capitalized on Cincinnati’s tired legs to pull away in the fourth quarter in Provo. It’s been an uneven season to say the least.
This week, standing between Cincinnati and its first AAC win of 2015 is a much-improved UConn team. The Huskies have already surpassed their 2014 win total with a 3-4 (1-2) record, and are playing better on both sides of the ball.
“I think it’s one of the most improved teams in the league,” said Tommy Tuberville during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “They’ve got a new quarterback that’s really made them a better football team.”
He’s not wrong. The Huskies quarterback, Bryant Shirreffs, a sophomore transfer from North Carolina State, has provided much-needed stability for Bob Diaco’s offense. He isn’t the reason UConn is winning games just yet, but he’s certainly not the black hole of production the Huskies had at the quarterback position last season.
Shirreffs is completing 64.4 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns against four interceptions. He’s also proven to be a bit of a dual-threat as he’s rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
He’s been steady and appears to be improving as the season goes along. Just last week, Shirreffs accounted for 465 total yards as he threw for 365 and ran for 100. He also had both a passing and rushing touchdown, albeit in a losing effort at home against South Florida.
On to the other side of the ball, Diaco has the Huskies playing solid defense, and Tuberville knows it.
“Their defense is as good, or better than it was last year,” Tuberville said. “They’re big up front, they’re well-coached.”
The Huskies rank 38th in total and 29th in scoring defense this season, despite struggling to create negative plays and pressuring the quarterback. The key for UConn, and the Achilles heel for Cincinnati, has been winning the turnover battle. The Huskies are 17th in the country in turnover margin as they’ve forced 14 and only allowed eight in seven games.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati ranks 126th in turnover margin. The Bearcats have given the ball away 19 times and only taken it away eight in just six games. That’s a trend they need to stop immediately if they are going to come away with their first conference victory during Homecoming at Nippert Stadium.
“Bob Diaco’s doing an unbelievable job with a team that he took over and he’s kind of putting it piece by piece together as he goes and he’s doing it the right way,” Tuberville said of his counterpart.
This game looked like one to easily put in the win column for Cincinnati before the season began, but now, it’s a challenge it must overcome to begin its climb back up the AAC East standings.