Cincy deserves credit, but you have to feel for Pitt

CFN’s Instant Analysis of Cincinnati’s 45-44 nail-biting victory over Pitt for their second-straight Big East title.

Bearcats belong in title game?

Oh Pitt.

The team has been the most talented in the conference for the last few seasons thanks to some fantastic recruiting classes under Dave Wannstedt, and it has more great players across the board than Cincinnati does, had everything going its way early on and appeared to be playing up to its talent level and was finally fulfilling its promise and potential.

But Pitt was being Pitt yet again — ripping defeat from the jaws of victory.

Cincinnati just kept coming and coming and coming after making most of its mistakes early on. But ever since Mardy Gilyard took back a kickoff for a touchdown to change around the momentum, everything changed and Pitt found a way to lose. The program deserves better.

Pitt is a team to root for. Everyone surrounding the program from the top down is a first-class, good guy, but when you lose as many close, tough big games as this program has, it’s hard to learn how to drop the hammer. Pitt can’t do it.

Of course, give credit to Cincinnati. For a team that has had things relatively easy all season long because it made most games that way, it showed the heart and the guts when pushed. The Bearcats converted their first two-point conversion this year, they went on a game-winning drive in just over a minute and they proved worthy of being the Big East champion.

downlevel description

This video requires the Adobe Flash Player. Download a free version of the player.

Now, we get to see what they can do in the playoffs as the aggressive defensive line and the explosive offense should make it interesting for … oh, yeah. College football won’t get a chance to see what the Bearcats can do in the national championship. Yeah, that’s fair.

— Pete Fiutak

Cincinnati’s revelation

In Cincinnati’s most awkward performance of this unbeaten season, Brian Kelly may have learned more about his team than at any point of the year. Odd how that works in sports.

The Bearcats had every reason to lose this game. They trailed by three touchdowns just before halftime. And not only were they on the road, but the conditions were ideally suited for conservative Pitt and workhorse RB Dion Lewis. Surely, this was the end of the perfection, right?

You’d think, but Cincy dug deep to a spot that it might not have known existed. What it found was resiliency and even a stop or two on defense in the second half. The team that had grown accustomed to playing out in front all year found out that it could battle back as well. Basically, Kelly learned today that he’s coaching a champion that transcends more than just the explosiveness of Mardy Gilyard and the clutch passing of Tony Pike.

A couple of sidenotes in what will go down as one of the greatest games in the history of Big East football: First, Lewis is Exhibit A, B, and C of why you can’t invest too much time and energy into the high school recruiting process. He’s a legitimate national star as a true freshman, yet was widely overlooked a year ago.

Second, how can anyone not love the persona of Kelly as a head coach? When Pike was struggling in the early going, he told his quarterback to become more aggressive and keep firing away instead of shutting him down or even summoning Zach Collaros from the bench. That’s coaching and confidence, which paid off for Cincinnati in the form of a second-straight Big East championship.

— Richard Cirminiello

Two strong QB performances

1. Brian Kelly should have pulled Tony Pike when his senior signal caller was replaying the 2009 Orange Bowl. Kelly didn’t. Pike got off the canvas. Cincinnati won the Big East championship on a beautiful Pike pass with 33 seconds left. Shows you how much some football writers know … and why Kelly has a midas touch only a few men (Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Chip Kelly) can match in college football.

Full credit to Pike for shrugging off several mind-blowing blunders to deliver daggers down the stretch. If Pike plays his best, the Sugar Bowl will be a fun, fun game to watch.

Get in depth

Want all the latest college football news and analysis, then check out the Scout Subscription Sale this weekend.

2. Pitt did collapse in the second half, but not completely. With the score tied at 38 in the final minutes, Bill Stull didn’t choke. The quarterback who wobbled late in the first half and struggled through most of the game’s final 30 minutes was golden on a touchdown drive that put the home team ahead by a 44-38 count.

We should be here talking about Stull’s superb season and the fact that Pittsburgh generally used the passing game to good effect after Dion Lewis’ strong start in the first quarter. We should be complimenting Stull on helping coordinator Frank Cignetti’s offense smoke Cincy for 44 points. Instead, because of a botched hold on a PAT, Pitt’s snake-bitten football history — roaring back to the surface of memory in this wrenching loss — is the only thing that will be mentioned in the mainstream press.

Bill Stull figuratively dropped the ball on some occasions, but not when this game was tied. The fate of that fine quarterback — who was unmercifully booed at the end of last season and the very beginning of this one — is the epitome of a sad sports story. Spare a kind thought for Stull and the rest of the stomach-punched Panthers today.

— Matt Zemek