Eighth-ranked Bearcats hit the road for big challenge

CINCINNATI -- The University of Cincinnati football team faces an imposing challenge on Saturday.

Coach Luke Fickell’s Bearcats travel to Bloomington, Ind., for their first road game of the season against the Indiana Hoosiers, but that’s not the only issue they’ve had to deal with over the past week or so.

First, there was last week’s news that that Cincinnati had been invited to move from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12, an invitation formally accepted on Friday.

Then, there was the speculation about Fickell’s Cincinnati future in the wake of the University of Southern California firing coach Clay Helton on Monday. Rumors started swirling that the Trojans would try to lure Fickell away from the Bearcats. It makes sense, especially since USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn is the same guy who hired Fickell for the Cincinnati job before moving west, but the fifth-year Cincinnati coach did his best to defiantly kill those rumors during his weekly media session on Tuesday.

“Look, I don’t talk to anybody,” Fickell said. “I barely talk to my own family during the season, so I wouldn’t ever talk about it, nor would I even answer a phone call or anything like that. I know nothing, nor does it make me have any interest. It’s not a big deal. It’s nothing but distractions if people allow it to be, and for us, it can’t be, but I also want to say that this is the greatest thing that can happen for us because it is a reflection on what these guys have done on the football field. It has nothing to do with me. It has to do with what Desmond Ridder and Myjai Sanders and Ahmad Gardner and those guys have done to put our program in the light. I hope that there are a lot of those calls and things like that at the end of the year, because at the end of the year, if you’re playing really good ball, those things are going to happen.

“We pride ourselves on people calling at the end of the year, whether it’s for me or your coordinators or those juniors that they want to come out for the draft because they’re playing really, really good football. It’s a compliment to all if somebody is bringing anything like that up.

“I don’t normally listen until even January when you start to read some things, but this is a crazy world – a crazy business,” he added. “I think it does nothing more than show a lot of us that stability is great in this business. When you can create some stability and the things that are around you, the grass is not always greener. If you are going to spend any time thinking about it, it does make you realize what great fortunes you have to be building something and have some stability, not just for you as a person and you as a family guy, but you as a program and the kids in your program.”

Last week’s ongoing Big 12 developments may have played a role in Cincinnati coming out a bit flat in this past Saturday’s 42-7 win over Murray (Ky.) State. The Bearcats, coming off a 49-14 romp over Miami in the season-opener, and Racers – a Football Championship Subdivision team that plays in the Ohio Valley Conference – were tied, 7-7, at halftime. Cincinnati, responding to Ridder’s impassioned halftime speech, got three touchdown runs from 5-foot-11, 220-pound fourth-year junior running back Jerome Ford in the second half.

“It fired us all up, hearing Des pop off,” Ford, a transfer from Alabama in his second Cincinnati season, said about Ridder, the Bearcats’ fifth-year senior quarterback. “It got us all going. It was great showing how much power Des has. When he speaks, everybody listens. He’s a great leader.”

Fickell admitted to being distracted by the press conference that interrupted Friday’s final preparations for Murray State.

“That drives me nuts,” he said after Saturday’s win. “This is such an exciting time and a big opportunity – not just for the team and the university, but for the city and the fan base – but it’s hard when you’re dealing with 18- and 22-year-old kids and their ability to stay locked in and focused on knowing that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. It’s a great growing experience to be challenged and have to face real adversity.”

The 2-0 Bearcats, who dropped a notch from seventh to eighth in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, are likely to face their biggest challenge of the young season in the 1-1 Hoosiers, who include on their roster third-year sophomore defensive back Deland McCullough II, a transfer from Miami. Indiana bounced back from a season-opening 34-6 conference loss at Iowa with a 56-14 home win over FCS Idaho.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Cincinnati at Indiana, Noon, ESPN