It was an odd season for college football in Ohio. I live in Columbus, a city obsessed with it’s beloved Ohio State Buckeyes. I don’t live and die with the Bucks, but for sentimental reasons I prefer to see them win and not lose. But in 2009 they were only the second best college football team in the state. The best were the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. They finished the season at 12-0 and ranked third in BCS standings. Unfamiliar territory for the Bearcats program, but ahead of the mighty Buckeyes who ranked eighth with an 11-2 record.
The Buckeyes, losers of their last three BCS bowl games gained a measure of redemption by beating the Oregon Ducks, 26-17 in the Rose Bowl. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor piled up 338 yards of offense and served up a big cup of shut the hell up to the local couch coaches who stupidly suggested he might be more effective if he were moved to running back or receiver following a rotten game in a loss to Purdue .
The Bearcats got far less enjoyment out of their time in the national spotlight. UC got romped and stomped by the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl by an embarrassingly lopsided 51-24 ass whipping. It was a depressing finish for what was a glorious season for the Bearcats. But really, they came into the game more than just underdogs to the Gators. The Gators were playing to send off their Heisman winning quarterback to the NFL and were even more stoked by the fact that their head coach, Urban Meyer, had announced he would be stepping down due to health concerns, only to later reverse himself and say he would instead take an extended leave of absence from football.
While everything came up roses for the Bucks, things were bittersweet for the Bearcats.
Florida had every reason in the world to play hard. UC was robbed of their motivation by coach Brian Kelly when abandoned the team prior to the Sugar Bowl to take a more prestigious and lucrative job with Notre Dame. UC was led by interim coach Jeff Quinn, the offensive coordinator who would be leaving after the game to become the head coach at Buffalo. Unlike Kelly, Quinn decided to stick around long enough to and finish the job he had started.
But UC looked listless and played like they were in a daze for the first three quarters. By the time they woke up the game was essentially over. The only question was how big of a can of whup-ass Florida was going to open on them. Despite their perfect record and higher ranking, UC went into the game as an underdog to Tim Tebow and the Gators.
For good reason as it turns out. The Bearcats were outmatched, but I don’t care what anyone says. I will always believe Kelly ran out on his team and abandoned them just before playing the biggest game in the history of Bearcats football. I understand when you’re going from a dinky 35,000 seat stadium and a small program to the grand stage that is Notre Dame and the millions of dollars that comes along with it, the first inclination is to say, “Hell, yeah!” when they come a’courtin’.
It doesn’t make it any less shitty a move though. I’ve argued with people who know college football far better than I and explain Kelly had to hit the ground running and move on to his new job immediately. I hear that line of reasoning and I can even understand it. Regardless of his reasons, Kelly running out on the kids who believed in your program and bought into it at the 11th hour is still a bitch move.
I enjoy watching the Buckeyes play and whenever the ball is in Pryor’s hands something magical (or awful) can happen. I simply preferred the Bearcats’ wide-open and exciting brand of attacking football. Jim Tressel coaches a conservative, low-risk game while Kelly took the leash off of his offense and told them, “You guys go make plays.”
Tressel built the Bucks around Pryor’s legs and arms (in that order) while 100 miles down the road Kelly depended upon a high-wire offense and a serviceable defense. One program revolved around an uncannily talented athlete and the other around building the perfect beast of a team.
Both the Bucks and the Bearcats enjoyed extremely exciting seasons, but only one was able to truly savor it together as players and coach.
Real sorry about that Bearcats, but it’s just another reminder that college football is about making money and taking care of business. The schools and the coaches make the money and if they have to crush the dreams of young men to earn it they always will and without a second thought or a look back.