With the instate tilt between the University of Toledo Rockets and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats just one day away, we caught up with Justin Post (@JustinRPost) from our fellow SB Nation site Down The Drive to get a feel for the Bearcats before their season opener with UT.
Hustle Belt: Amazingly this will be the opening game for the Cincinnati Bearcats, while UT has already played two home games and lost their opening day starter for the season. Has Coach Tuberville, spoke to the media or given any indication about how he or the team has adjusted to the later than usual season opener?
Justin Post: If there's one thing I love about Coach Tuberville, it's that he doesn't beat around the bush. More than once this preseason, he's called Cincinnati's late start "ridiculous". They opened camp a little later than normal, and they've had the opportunity to spend some extra - and much needed - time on special teams. I think Tuberville would have preferred to play a game before now, though.
HB: Gunner Kiel will be making his much anticipated debut this week for the Bearcats, for Toledo fans and those tuning in around the country to see the much hyped high school star, what should viewers expect to see out of Kiel and the UC offense in week one?
JP: This is a great question, and one I can't wait to see the answer to. The Bearcats are extremely deep and talented at wide receiver this year, and that obviously plays right into Gunner Kiel's strengths; he has a cannon for an arm. He's a fairly typical pocket passer in that you won't see him sprinting down the sidelines similar to last year's starter, Munchie Legaux, but Tuberville has hinted that all 3 upperclassmen (including Legaux) may take a few snaps behind center on Friday. As for Kiel, I look for him to attack with the deep ball right away; I don't think Cincinnati will try to start slow.
HB: With UC playing their home games at Paul Brown Stadium this season (home of the Cincinnati Bengals) as Nippert Stadium undergoes significant renovation, what type of atmosphere will the Rocket fans and players encounter on Friday evening as compared to the significant home field advantage the on campus Nippert Stadium provided?
JP: I definitely won't be as raucous and noisy as Nippert Stadium, that's for sure; the Bearcats have only lost 5 times at Nippert in the last 6 years. As for Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati's Director of Athletics, Mike Bohn, recently stated he'd like to see at least 30,000 fans for each game this year and although Paul Brown's capacity is listed at 65,000, they're only making 40,000 or so seats available for Bearcat games. I'm personally a bit worried about student attendance with games being off campus this season. As of Thursday morning, UC student tickets hadn't sold out yet, and if you've been to Nippert before, you know the incredible atmosphere there is led exclusively by the students.
HB: UT was able to take down a ranked UC team 29-23 in 2012 at the Glass Bowl, but how do most UC fans perceive their instate opponent as a whole and the test the Rockets will provide for the Bearcats this season?
JP: Well, to be perfectly honest, I think Cincinnati fans still look down their nose at Toledo (and all other MAC schools, for that matter) despite the Rockets victory in 2012. The perception isn't necessarily that UT "won" that game - rather the Bearcats lost it thanks to boneheaded turnovers and an ill-advised kickoff strategy. Like many, though, I do think the Rockets will provide an ample test this weekend. Injuries or not, I think this game will be closer than some fans are predicting.
HB: UC has been able to attract some incredibly well regarded and successful coaches in the last decade plus, but have not been able to keep any of them in the Queen City for very long, is there a concern among the masses that Tuberville could follow suit and flee UC with successful season or two?
JP: For the first time in almost a decade, I really don't get the sense from fans that they're worried a Bearcat coach will leave Cincinnati for "greener" pastures. Part of that has to do with Coach Tuberville's age (he'll turn 60 next week), but the other part is that his wife's family is from Southeast Indiana - just 20-30 minutes outside of downtown Cincinnati. If there's any concern, I think it's more along of the lines of, "how long until he retires, and what happens then?"
HB: For UC to come out on top in their opener against the Rockets, what will be the Bearcats keys to success in getting a bit of revenge of the Rockets from the 2012 defeat?
JP: I hate to start with what seems like obvious coach speak, but holding on to the ball will be key - especially because the Bearcats are starting a quarterback that hasn't played a meaningful game in 3 years. There's no denying Gunner Kiel's talent, and if he's able to prevent turnovers, I really do think he'll be able to take advantage of Toledo's weak secondary. The other key is dealing with their first game jitters. Knocking the rust off early and quickly getting into the rhythm of the game will be important for the Bearcats.
HB: Care to offer a prediction for the game?
JP: I have to imagine the 2012 loss is still on the minds of this Cincinnati squad, and they'll obviously be amped to get on the field for the first time this season. I really like the Bearcats' offensive line, quarterback, and wide receivers this year. With the injury to Ely and mismatch in Toledo's secondary, I think the edge goes to the Bearcats: 31-20.