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Entries in James Weber (1)


Bearcats Sliding Into National Prominence

This week, three old buds I wrote sports with at The University of Cincinnati's The News Record many years ago are contributing guest posts to One Great Season. Today's update is from James Weber, a sports reporter here in Cincinnati.

Special to One Great Season

CINCINNATI -- As a University of Cincinnati graduate, I feel like I'm on an episode of the sci-fi, alternate-reality show "Sliders." In that show, a group of upstarts was stuck in another version of Planet Earth for a random amount of time until a wormhole could open up to take them somewhere else.

Just the other day, when the UC football team debuted at No. 5 in the official BCS rankings, I started looking at the schedules of Alabama, Florida, Texas, Boise State and Iowa to see what games they could lose the rest of the way. I found myself wondering if the Bearcats could play in the national title game and I didn't think it was a crazy notion.

While I've lived this ascension in men's basketball under Bob Huggins, I never thought this day would come to the football program. Just five years ago, I laughed at myself watching UC lose 70-7 to a highly ranked Louisville team in UC's second-to-last game before joining the Big East. I wondered if UC could ever be competitive in the Big East with performances like that.

Not long before, just sniffing the Big East was a pipe dream. I was covering the Bearcats for the News Record, UC's student newspaper. In 1993, the Bearcats put together a great 8-3 season, but as they were not in any league in football, they had no bowl tie-ins and had to desperately recruit someone to invite them. Granted, there weren't quite as many bowls as there are today, but I remember the leader of the Independence Bowl was treated as a visiting head of state.

After that season, head coach Tim Murphy left UC to coach Harvard in the Ivy League, which today would be like Bill Belichick leaving the Patriots to coach the Rams.

I was still around at UC in 1997, when as members of Conference USA, the Bearcats went 7-4 in the regular season. That earned them a trip to something called the Humanitarian Bowl in fabulous Boise, Idaho, and its blue turf against a noteworthy Utah State team. While a USC or Florida would laugh at a game like this, I loved every minute of UC's 35-19 victory.

As the years went on, UC went to several other bowls of similar stature. Eventually I became apathetic about another Tuesday night bowl game in December against another MAC school. Then came the Big East, and at least a potential for bigger things. 2007 was a promising year (10-3), but thanks to politics and provincialism, all the Bearcats could get was the Bowl in Alabama against old rival Southern Miss.

But in 2008, as we know by now, it all changed. A stirring overtime win at West Virginia, the first solo conference title in 44 years, and a berth in the Orange Bowl, a game usually reserved for the ancient royalty of college football. The only drawback is it wasn't a playoff game, but that's another column.

So far this year, even the Orange Bowl looks to be a stepping stone, as UC is unbeaten heading into the Louisville game, with all these crazy, wild, unheard of dreams before them. Instead of going to the Ivy League, UC's head coach was linked to places like Washington and Tennessee last year, and Notre Dame this year.

Even if the Bearcats stumble down the stretch this year, Brian Kelly has the program set up for future runs at the biggest prize of all. Who knows if this is a long-lasting trend or a short-lived affair, but as a UC fan, I hope that wormhole doesn't open up for a long time.