The Cincinnati Bearcats are having a tremendous football season. They are 7-0 and ranked No. 7 in the country. They have a legit shot at becoming the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff.
According to Football Power Index (FPI), the Bearcats have a 41% chance to make the CFP if they win all of their remaining games, including the AAC championship game.
Obviously a lot can happen between now and the AAC championship game on December 19th, but Cincinnati has been dominant this year and have put themselves in a great position to at least be in the conversation for the CFP.
They have destroyed just about everyone in their path, winning their seven games this season by 35, 14, 21, 29, 39, 28, and 38 points. That is an average margin of victory of 29 points! That is insane. Their closest game was a 24-10 win over 6-1 Army.
Last night on national TV, the Bearcats absolutely dismantled East Carolina, winning 55-17. Now, this wasn’t necessarily a surprise, as Cincy was nearly a four touchdown favorite (-27.5).
However, some controversy did occur halfway through the 4th quarter when Cincinnati was up 32 and ran a fake punt from inside their own territory.
Naturally, this led to some questions and resentment from the ECU sidelines. The two head coaches, ECU’s Mike Houston and Cincy’s Luke Fickell had a prolonged conversation on the field after the game was over.
When asked about the conversation, Houston stated, “I will leave what was said between us.”
It was reported that Fickell quickly apologized to Houston. “42-10 and we had a fake punt. It wasn’t exactly something we planned or called. But would not want to do it in that situation. It is what it is, but you can’t take it back.”
Personally, I have zero problems with Cincinnati running this fake punt.
First of all, as a Group of Five program, they need every point and every advantage they can possibly gain if they want to be considered for the College Football Playoff. They need to look as good and as strong as possible in every single game that they play. In a game like this that was on national TV, they had an opportunity to show just how dominate they are, and they did just that.
Second, the fake punt was ran to senior linebacker Joel Dublanko. He is mostly a special teams guy, and this was his first time ever touching the ball. In addition, it was senior night at Nippert Stadium, so giving a senior leader like Dublanko this kind of moment is certainly understandable. Moments like that are what college athletics are all about. How many times in college basketball do you see senior walk-ons get playing time during garbage time late in games? Or coaches emptying the bench on senior night to make sure everyone gets on the court? Everyone goes insane if those guys make a shot or a big play. To me, I don’t think Cincinnati drawing up this play for a senior leader of their team to make a big play on senior night is any different.
Third, I don’t think there should be these “unwritten rules” where teams should just stop trying during a game if they are up big late–especially if they are trying to become the first Group of Five team to make the CFP. The game is 60 minutes. Not 55. This is similar to a situation from this summer in Major League Baseball when Fernando Tatis Jr. swung at a 3-0 pitch and hit a grand slam when his team was up by seven runs in the 8th inning. Rangers manager Chris Woodward got all hot and bothered because Tatis had the audacity to keep playing baseball during a baseball game. If you don’t want him to hit a grand slam, don’t load the bases and fall behind in the count 3-0 and proceed to throw a pitch right down the middle. I think the same thinking can be applied here. If you don’t want Cincinnati to run up the score on you, then play better defense! If you don’t want them to convert a fake punt up big late in the game, then have your special teams unit prepared. We can’t keep having these “unwritten rules” where opposing teams get upset because they are losing by so much. We can’t shame or punish players/teams just for being good at their sport.
I don’t blame Cincinnati for running that fake punt, and I can guarantee you senior LB Joel Dublanko will remember that moment for a long time. Good for him.
Title Photo: Nelson Chenault / USA TODAY Sports