Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Opener vs. Army 'must win' for UC

Bearcats eager to better standing in C-USA

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Cincinnati Bearcats figure to put on another offensive football show this year. The key will be whether they can turn yards into points — and points into victories.

[photo] Coach Rick Minter.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        It was something they couldn't do last year, when they finished 3-8.

        UC opens with Army at Nippert Stadium on Monday, a conference foe picked by the coaches and media to finish last in Conference USA. The Cadets won't go gently. They have a new coach, Todd Berry, who has transformed West Point's longtime wishbone option attack into a passing offense.

        “To win the conference title, or get up there in those top two or three teams like we want to do, we have to win this game,” UC coach Rick Minter said. “We'd be fooling ourselves, and I'd be trying to fool you, if I said otherwise.

        “A "must?' "Do-or-die?' (My) job? We're not going to get into that. But (the real issue is) are we going to be contender or a pretender? If we're going to be a good team to reckon with, we have to go out and play well (Monday).”

        Six victories and a top-four finish in Conference USA would earn UC a bowl bid. This year, for the first time, the top four teams in C-USA will go to a bowl, provided they have a winning record.

Center Doug Rosfield shows off the new jersey.
| ZOOM |
        UC is laden with upperclassmen and has five or six new starters who are all potential impact players. But there isn't a lot of margin for mistakes.

        If UC doesn't beat Army, who knows how ugly it could get?

        If UC were to lose to Army, the Bearcats could face 0-5. After Army comes Syracuse, then tough road games at Wisconsin and Indiana and Tulane, a venue where UC hasn't fared well.

        “We've had a couple of years that obviously nobody can be happy with,” athletic director Bob Goin said. “It (the opener) is a must game for us. We need to beat Army. They're coming onto our turf — our new turf — and we're hoping our fans will come out.”

        The “stage is set for us to have a very good year, and that means winning some conference games,” Goin said. He said the team had a good preseason camp and that the players and coaching staff, which is almost fully intact from last season, are raring to go.

        Minter said he is eager to take this team into battle.

Ray Jackson breaks through the defense during a scrimmage.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        “Whether I had a 10-year contract sitting behind me right now, or the three I have remaining, it wouldn't change my approach about how badly we need to go out and play well,” Minter said. “We have not fared well in Conference USA.”

        He said he isn't worried about the future “between now and the end of the season.”

        “A coach does not coach scared,” Minter said. “I'm not going to change how I coach because of what's happened the last couple of years. I'm going to be every bit as intense about getting this team ready to go.”

        The Bearcats have more and better players this year: a talented senior quarterback, a potentially deep running game, a big and strong offensive line (composed of mostly local products) that will provide the necessary time and space, a good defensive line, solid linebackers and a secondary that may not win a lot of football games but shouldn't lose too many, either.

        And a kicking game that should have a better chance of winning some more games than it did last year. Last year, freshman Jonathon Ruffin's early emergence was invigorating. His 4-for-5 in field goals included a 41-yardgame-winner vs. Wisconsin and a 46-yarder in the loss to Ohio State. But then a 1-for-7 streak brought problems. Minter said Ruffin had a good preseason camp.

        All indications are that the Bearcats will be considerably better this year. Counting running backs Ray Jackson (a transfer from Michigan) and DeMarco McCleskey, as “1 and 1A,” as does Minter, there are six new starters in Clifton.

        The other four are: offensive linemen Shawn Murphy and Kirt Doolin, defensive back Danny (Blue) Adams and rush-end Antwan Peek. Murphy, a transfer from Michigan State, and Doolin, who was redshirted last year because of an injury, have displaced two of last year's starters, DeWayne Johnston and “probably” Mike Love, Minter said.

        Minter likens this upperclassmen-laden UC team to the 1997 team that went 8-4 and won the Humanitarian Bowl. If anything, this team is potentially more balanced than the '97 version, Minter said.

        “That year we had everything in place except our passing offense (112 yards a game),” Minter said. “This team has an opportunity to be more balanced in all six phases of the game.”

UC scouting report
Conference USA overview

Other college football previews
Mount St. Joseph
Ohio State
Thomas More
Index page