Even before taking the field Saturday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bearcats (10-2, 6-1) knew they were champs of the BIG EAST thanks to Pittsburgh knocking off West Virginia the day before. This is the first BIG EAST title for the Bearcats which will allow them to play in a BCS Bowl game. That bowl game will either be the Orange or Sugar Bowl.
Though their game against Syracuse (3-9, 1-6) didn't matter as far as the BIG EAST title went, the Bearcats still came out and played as though it did, winning 30-10. The defense played hard and swarmed to the ball, holding the Orange quarterback, Cam Dantley, to just five yards passing going into the fourth quarter. Dantley would finish the game goinng an abysmal 6-of-23 for 59 yards, one interception and three sacks.
The Bearcats' offense kept their foot on the gas as well as quarterback Tony Pike took advantage of a defense that left a lot of cushion. Pike hit his receivers with short passes and a lot of screens that went for big yards at times. He ended the game 28-of-44 for 272 yards.
After every score for the Bearcats, oranges were hurled onto the field. Everytime it happened the public address announcer would tell fans to not throw anything of the field because the Bearcats could get penalized. That didn't stop fans from doing it though, actually it just encouraged them to do it more, mostly coming from the student section. The Bearcats didn't need any help getting penalized, however. They were hit with 10 penalties for 107 yards, something that has become a common theme for this team.
Penalties aside, this team has played well all season. They've had to overcome an early season carousel of quarterbacks after Dustin Grutza broke his leg in the second game and then Pike broke his non-throwing arm in the fourth game. In total, the Bearcats used five different quarterbacks throughout the season with redshirt freshmen, Chazz Anderson and Zach Callaros getting playing time. Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones got in for one play in the Louisville game as well.
The passing offense has been the most prolific in the BIG EAST regardless of who was taking snaps. That speaks to the great receivers on the team, most notably Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard. The defense has played well this season too, led by Conner Barwin who leads the BIG EAST in sacks.
One welcome sight from Saturday's game was kicker Jake Rogers connecting on all three of his field goal attempts. Prior to the Syracuse game, Rogers had missed five straight tries. He connected from 45, 38 and 45 again on Saturday. Earlier in the season Rogers was being considered as an All-American candidate at his position. The five straight misses may have hurt his chances at that, but seeing him hit his attempts on Saturday is a good sign going into the final game of the season and into whatever bowl game the Bearcats are invited to.
Its been an amazing season. The Bearcats, under second year head coach Brian Kelly, have now won 10 games in back-to-back season. Kelly has taken this team from obscurity and as a bottom feeder in the BIG EAST to champs of the conference. When asked if he's done all he can in Cincinnati, Kelly responded saying, "There's so much more to accomplish. We averaged around 31,000 fans; we need to see 35,000. We can show that not only do we play for BIG EAST championships, we now want to get into the conversation for the national championship." With the recruiting going on in Cincinnati, that idea is becoming more and more of a possibility.
The Bearcats have one game left on the schedule. They travel to play Hawaii Saturday night. They will learn their BCS bowl fate come Sunday evening. All indications are pointing to the Orange Bowl, but the Sugar Bowl is a possibility as well. They would end up taking on the winner of the ACC most likely, which would either be Boston College or Virginia Tech.