By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Conference USA made a "mistake" in conducting the vote for its Offensive Player of the Year before Cincinnati had played its final regular-season game last Friday at East Carolina, Bearcats football coach Rick Minter said.
UC beat East Carolina 42-26 to win the C-USA football championship, sharing the title with Texas Christian, which the Bearcats beat in overtime to open the season. UC quarterback Gino Guidugli broke three school single-season passing marks, most notably the 3,272 passing yards of former Bearcats great Greg Cook.
Guidugli also tied a career high by throwing four TD passes against ECU, also tying the UC record.
UC quarterback Gino Guidugli.
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C-USA's Offensive Player of the Year honors went to Louisville QB Dave Ragone, who Guidugli out-played in a 24-14 victory that turned around UC's season. After a 2-5 start, the Bearcats won five of their final six games to finish 7-6, and they are headed to the New Orleans Bowl to play North Texas on Dec. 17.
Guidugli, a 19-year-old sophomore, shrugged off the C-USA slight, but Minter didn't.
"You're being asked to make your votes before the regular season is over," Minter said. "We had a game left against a conference opponent. I'm not speaking after-the-fact - I felt the same way a week ago when the (ballot) from the conference office was placed on my desk."
Voters - three per conference school - tend to watch C-USA's national TV games, as was UC-ECU (ESPN2), Minter said.
"I can't vote for my own guys, but I felt Gino should have been given consideration," Minter said. "Same for DeMarco McCleskey. He had his best game of the season (161 rushing yards). They were given no credit for that. Same for the East Carolina players."
Granted, it took Guidugli 13 games to break the record Cook established in only 10 in 1968, but it is still impressive - especially considering that Guidugli overcame a shaky start this season to finish with 3,319 yards, 21 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.
Guidugli's greatest sense of personal fulfillment was in not letting his rocky start get him down.
"I think I came to realize you don't have to make every play," said Guidugli, referring to his early tendency of forcing some throws. "I realized you don't have to put all the pressure on the offense. The defense can play, too."
The entire season has been a learning experience for Guidugli.
"Last year, the defenses (blitzed) more often, but this year, there has been a lot more disguising of defenses," he said.
Everything came together last Friday for Guidugli and Bearcats receiver Jon Olinger, who connected for three TDs (78 yards, 49 yards, 48 yards).
They had narrowly missed on some potentially huge receptions earlier this year. But, against ECU, Guidugli threw a lot of long balls on the money and "Johnny O" didn't let them slip out
"It was awesome to have it work," Guidugli said.
"I still missed some throws, but yes, it made up for some frustration earlier in the season when we weren't connecting."
We worked it out in practice so that when it came time to do it in a game, we'd be ready. Hopefully, we can do it one more game."
Guidugli also hit backup quarterback/wide receiver George Murray, who turned into a 26-yard touchdown with some slick moves.
How long before Guidugli does the same for Murray, by taking a turn at wide receiver?
"Yeah, we need to work that in," said Guidguli, laughing.
QBs at a glance
Gino Guidugli has passed Greg Cook in several single-season passing categories in the Bearcats' record book. Cook still has the touchdown mark. A statistical comparison:
|Greg Cook||3,272 (1968)|
|Greg Cook||411 (1968)|
|Danny McCoin||237 (1986)|
|Greg Cook||219 (1968)|
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