BY TOM GROESCHEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The University of Cincinnati will beat Tulsa in its season opener Thursday, if you believe the Sports Illustrated preseason rankings. UC is ranked No. 62 nationally and Tulsa is No. 69 among the 112 Division I-A teams.
Rankings of the 11 teams UC will play this season, in the order the Bearcats play them:
Tulsa 69; Tulane 92; Kansas 57; Boston College 42; Memphis 76; Alabama-Birmingham 100; Houston 65; Miami U. 74; Southern Mississippi 48; Louisville 51; East Carolina 39.
UC, based on those rankings, would finish 6-5 for a third straight season. The Bearcats are picked fourth in Conference USA.
"It's not where you start, it's where you finish," coach Rick Minter said. "The only thing about being ranked lower is it's a little harder for you to move up, and we do want to achieve a national ranking."
Minter said his offensive tackles, seniors Jason Fabini and Pierre Brilliant, are the best in town. And that includes Bruce Coslet's club.
"We've got a hell of a lot better tackles than the Bengals do, for whatever that's worth," Minter told the crowd at last week's Meet The Bearcats luncheon.
Fabini (6-foot-7, 322 pounds) and Brilliant (6-8, 325) both have attracted NFL interest, with Fabini regarded as a potential high-round pick.
Brilliant is pronounced "bree-AUNT." He was born in New York City.
Linebacker Phillip Curry, offensive tackle Jason Fabini, defensive tackle John Kobalka and defensive end Derrick Ransom have been named UC's captains this season.
Daryl Royal, UC's leading rusher in 1996 but academically ineligible for the opener, is practicing occasionally with the team while attending summer school.
The summer term ends Friday. If Royal passes muster, he could return for the second game (Tulane, Sept. 6) or perhaps the third (Kansas, Sept. 20).
John Kobalka, a starting defensive tackle and one of four UC captains, is the team enforcer. When a teammate punted a trash can during a recent clubhouse tantrum, Kobalka made the offender pick up every piece of paper.
"Everybody's afraid of him," Minter said. "He doesn't say much, but when he does, people listen."
Minter said the UC athletic department will rise again, after the recent resignation of Gerald O'Dell as athletic director.
"This university has had crisis, this athletic department has had a lot of black eyes, with things we read and with things we do to ourselves," Minter told boosters at last week's luncheon. "So many times we shoot ourselves in the foot, and we acknowledge that. But let me tell you this, when you are down and you are out, it's not time to roll out the white flag. It's time to bond together and show people how good you can be."
Minter was hired by previous athletic director Rick Taylor, not by O'Dell. But Minter has publicly thanked O'Dell for supporting his program, including upgrades in equipment and assistant coaches' salaries.
UC will play on TV twice this year: Sept. 27 at Boston College (ESPN2) and Nov. 13 at East Carolina (ESPN).