Cincinnati could be challenge for Ohio State

By Jim Naveau -

COLUMBUS – They said John Cooper didn’t get it. He just didn’t get the importance of the Ohio State-Michigan game said countless OSU fans when the Buckeyes won only twice over their biggest rival during the 13 years Cooper was Ohio State’s football coach.

Say what you want about Coop and Michigan, but he certainly knew about the significance of the reaction if Ohio State ever lost to another Ohio school in football.

With Cincinnati coming into Ohio Stadium Saturday to play Ohio State, I remembered a prediction Cooper made at his weekly press conference before one of the five games his teams played against Mid-American Conference teams.

Ohio State beat all five of those MAC opponents, which contributed to the 41-game winning streak the Buckeyes have against in-state opponents since losing 7-6 to Oberlin in 1921.

Before playing one of the MAC teams, Cooper looked into the future and said he thought someday a MAC team or some other Ohio team would win against Ohio State. Then he added, “I just hope I’m retired when it happens.”

On paper, the Cincinnati team coming into Ohio Stadium today has about as good a chance as any Ohio-based team in the last 98 years to end OSU’s winning streak.

The Bearcats were 11-2 last year, including wins over UCLA and Virginia Tech. They have several key players back from that team and opened with a win over UCLA this season.

And their coach, Luke Fickell, certainly is more familiar with the game day atmosphere in Ohio Stadium than most coaches. He played at Ohio State, coached there for 15 years and was even the Buckeyes’ interim head coach during the tumultuous 2011 season.

Cincinnati probably came closer to ending Ohio State’s domination of its in-state opponents than anyone else did in a 23-19 OSU win in 2002 in Paul Brown Stadium.

Ohio State scored to go ahead with less than four minutes to play and was hanging on to its four-point lead when Cincinnati got a first down at the Buckeyes’ 15-yard line with 1:01 to play.

UC quarterback Gino Guidugli, now the Bearcats’ quarterbacks coach, threw four passes into the end zone. Two were well defended and fell incomplete. The third down pass momentarily appeared to be a touchdown catch but fell out of the receiver’s hands. On fourth down, Matt Wilhelm tipped a pass and Will Allen came up with an interception.

So, is this the year it could happen?

With quarterback Desmond Ridder, who passed for 2,445 yards and rushed and rushed for 583 last year, and a 1,300-yard rusher in Michael Warren, the Bearcats have the talent to put some points on the scoreboard.

UC can play defense, too. It has seven starters back on offense and six on defense. It lost safety James Wiggins, one of its best defensive players, to a season-ending injury last week, though, and that could be costly.

If Ohio State’s offense goes silent like it did in the second quarter and much of the third quarter against Florida Atlantic, UC could make the Buckeyes pay a much steeper price than the Owls did.

But unless Ohio State plays down to that level again or turns the ball over too many times, the streak should continue. It’s not someday yet.

The prediction: Ohio State 28, Cincinnati 20.

By Jim Naveau