While Toledo's football season is merely entering its third week, the Rockets have already found time to pack in a lot of drama. Since the season's start, Toledo has gained a new starting quarterback, delivered a blowout, received a blowout, and lost that new starting quarterback. It's been a memorable two weeks in the Glass City.
By contrast, Toledo's opponent this week, Cincinnati, has yet to play a snap this year. To their chagrin, the 0-0 Bearcats front-loaded their schedule with two byes, and will open their season by hosting the comparatively battle-tested 1-1 Rockets Friday at 7 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium.
As a team that has yet to even suit up this season, the Bearcats are something of an unknown quantity. Adding to that, like Toledo did in its opener, Cincinnati will be breaking in a new, highly-touted transfer quarterback as its starter.
Gunner Kiel, who was listed by Rivals.com and others as the top quarterback recruit in the country, has already worn plenty of different hats in his young college career before ever taking a snap. The 6-foot-4 sophomore committed first to Indiana, then LSU, before enrolling at Notre Dame, from which he transferred to Cincinnati after a redshirt freshman year. With his mind seemingly made up and the starting job locked in, Kiel can finally try to live up to his billing starting Friday.
With an untested quarterback and an empty win-loss column, this year's Cincinnati squad could be hard to peg. Last year's Bearcats enjoyed modest success in head coach Tommy Tuberville's first year at the helm, finishing 9-4, third in the American, with a loss to North Carolina in the Belk Bowl.
While any insight on the 2014 Bearcats would merely be speculation, the presence of the well-traveled Tuberville offers a peek into what Toledo might face Friday. The former Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech head coach has won seven bowl games in 18 seasons as a head coach, punctuated by a Sugar Bowl title following an undefeated season with Auburn in 2004. Though Tuberville had a background as a defensive assistant before becoming a head coach, his teams have routinely featured explosive offenses behind eventual pros like Deuce McAllister, Jason Campbell and Ronnie Brown.
His first year with the Bearcats seemed to follow that trend. Cincinnati ended the year with a top-25 offense behind then-senior quarterback Brendon Kay, and flirted with the national rankings before the season-ending bowl loss. While Kay is gone, Cincinnati's running back duo of Ralph David Abernathy IV and Hosey Williams return after combining for 1,173 yards last year. If Kiel can live up to his (delayed) hype, the Bearcats could carry a strong offense into the new season.
Cincinnati's defense was a middle-of-the-pack outfit last year, but it will have the advantage of facing a (yet to be determined) new starting quarterback for the Rockets. Toledo head coach Matt Campbell has not named a new starter after the loss of previous starter Phillip Ely to a torn ACL, but neither replacement candidate (Logan Woodside or Michael Julian) has substantial game tape from which to draw any conclusions. In any case, Toledo will be expected to pound the rock behind running back Kareem Hunt, who has triple-digit rushing yards and multiple touchdowns in each of his first two games of 2014.
While these teams might look unfamiliar to one another this year, the two Ohio squads have a bit of a history. Friday's game will mark the eighth contest between these programs, with Cincinnati leading the all-time series 4-3. The Rockets have, however, won two consecutive matchups, the former a 2001 Motor City Bowl triumph and the latter a 29-23 result in Campbell's first full season as Toledo head coach.
For now, a lot is unknown about Friday's matchup. But with Cincinnati considered a preseason favorite to be among this year's top Group of Five teams and Toledo in need of some good news following a Saturday of insult and injury, both teams will be keen on figuring things out quickly.