Expectations are a funny thing. The way our mind shapes things into positives and negatives, into dark and light, into up and down, is almost incomprehensible when one tries to imagine it. When this is focused on the Cincinnati Bearcats football program, expectations can be both easy and hard to meet. Life is difficult. Cincinnati football is difficult.
The way Gunner Kiel’s career started was almost unfair. Kiel produced arguably the single greatest game in Cincinnati history. He threw for over 400 yards and matched the school record with 6 touchdown passes. Cincinnati scored 41 points in his first half. It can be hard to look at Gunner Kiel now and not think of that game. With his sky high expectations coming out of high school, his first game performance only threw things into a new stratosphere for a lot of the fan base. I’m not intending to call them unreasonable, but they see a Gunner Kiel that can do this every week. They see a quarterback that can throw the Bearcats to victory every week. With his right arm and god given talent, Cincinnati can never be too big of an underdog because he always gives a puncher’s chance.
The Gunner Kiel of the last season and a half has been a different story. He’s played in 12 games total. He played in 13 his sophomore season, albeit he played a series at Tulane and wasn’t a factor. He’s been generally unreliable. His health has been a major factor in his production. Fair or not, Kiel went his entire Cincinnati career without producing a full season of action. That’s disappointing for a variety of reasons.
Kiel threw 31 touchdowns his first season at UC. He’s only added 24 to that total. If you told someone that Gunner Kiel was going to finish second in UC history for touchdown passes, you would have imagined that he went pro after last season. There was no way that three years of Gunner Kiel would leave him so far from the record. Yet, there is virtually no way he’s going to come close unless he has one of the greatest stretches in UC history. He’d have to throw 25 TDs to pass Gino Guidugli. Since his high is 31, which matched the school record for a single season, that’s quite the long shot.
Watching the Bearcats victory against East Carolina energized a large portion of the fan base that has been disenchanted with the team overall this season. The coaching staff is a major reason why. Some of the decisions made, most famously at the quarterback position, have drawn their share of criticism. Many, many fans wanted Kiel to start from week one. After shaky showings to begin the year, followed by a blowout loss at home to Houston, that drumbeat only became louder. Some of the expectations became if Kiel wasn’t starting, the team wasn’t going to win. That was only proven true in their minds when Ross Trial started against South Florida after Hayden Moore had been injured and Moore started at Connecticut. Cincinnati lost both games if you were somehow unaware. Neither quarterback looked especially good. That’s how we ended up in this position where the negative expectations were pinned on the team.
Positive expectations are pinned on Gunner Kiel. The breakout game for the offense against East Carolina’s awful defense did nothing to change the expectation from the portion of the fan base that thought UC was going to lose without Kiel. Gunner comes back, UC gets back to huge offensive numbers and wins. Kahlil Lewis has the best receiver game of the year. Mike Boone looks like Mike Boone again. For a week, everything was right in the world.
Today’s game against Temple offers a huge challenge. Not only are the Bearcats touchdown underdogs, the Owls are looking to stay in the driver’s seat for their second straight East division title. Temple beat the brakes off South Florida last week. A South Florida team that came into Cincinnati and whooped up on the Bearcats. Temple is playing very well.
The Owls came into Cincinnati last season and beat Cincinnati. Kiel started that game. It was one of the two or three worst games he’s had as the UC signal caller. He threw a career high 4 INTs. One of them came in the game’s closing moments to snuff out a late Cat rally. The game at Temple his sophomore season saw Kiel produce just 174 yards and a TD. It was his most pedestrian game of the season. Matt Rhule and his coaching staff have kept Gunner in check. The chess game will continue in a few hours.
One of the things that’s most curious to me is how quickly expectations will shift this evening. With a win, the fans that have been extremely vocal about how Tommy Tuberville has mismanaged this team will only have more ammo because the Bearcats won again behind Kiel.
With a loss, the fans will continue to be extremely vocal about how Tommy Tuberville mismanaged the team because the problems are too big that not even number 11 can overcome them. They will argue he was put in a disadvantageous position, that if he started the entire season, this would be a different story.
No matter which way you cut things, the expectations for Gunner Kiel will shift to form whatever story we the fans want them to tell. It’s also very clear that the portion of the fan base that has checked out on Tommy Tuberville will not accept any positive that the players produce. Any winning behind Kiel will mean that he made the wrong move from week one and he should go. Any losing will only add to the frustration of another lost season where UC is not a player in the AAC and he should go.
The funny thing is, Cincinnati was predicted to finish 3rd in the East. They are currently 4th. While the Cats aren’t quite to where they were projected in the preseason, they are right there in the middle of the season. It’s not where we wanted them to be, but I don’t think nationally they’d be considered a disappointment. Of course as Cincinnati fans, we expect more because this is our team. We see the best and hope for positive outcomes. With how topsy turvy expectations can become, the coach losing his job is seen as a positive outcome for some and it not happening will fail to meet expectations.
Life is weird. The only constant is that we want Cincinnati to win. Go Bearcats.