Public Split Between Western Michigan and Cincy in International Bowl
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It takes time for a team to become familiar with a new coach, and it’s often a process that continues throughout the season. Cincinnati has no choice but to make that adjustment much faster.
Brian Kelly will make his debut as Bearcats coach when they take on Western Michigan in the inaugural International Bowl at Rogers Centre in Toronto on Jan. 6.
Oddsmakers have made Cincinnati -7 point spread favorites
Cincinnati (7-5) was put into a unique situation when Mark Dantonio took the coaching job at Michigan State on Nov. 27. The school originally named defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi as the interim coach and planned to have him lead the Bearcats in their bowl game.
That plan changed when Brian Kelly was named the team’s new coach on Dec. 3. Kelly comes to the Bearcats after three seasons at Central Michigan, leading the Chippewas to a 9-4 record and a 31-10 win over Ohio in the Mid-American Conference championship game this year.
After consulting with Kelly and members of the team, athletic director Mike Thomas decided to let Kelly lead the Bearcats in this game. Kelly expects to have several members of his staff from Central Michigan assist him.
“Our goal was to put the best opportunity for success on the sidelines for our student-athletes,” Thomas said. “Coach Kelly and his staff have a wealth of knowledge regarding our opponent in the International Bowl and are ready to lead our team against Western Michigan.”
Kelly guided Central Michigan to a 31-7 win over Western Michigan (8-4) on Nov. 10.
“The opportunity to lead our team during the pre-bowl practices and in the International Bowl against Western Michigan is exciting,” Kelly said. “It’s important that our student-athletes be focused and properly prepared for success in Toronto. They will work hard, but will enjoy the bowl experience and all that the city of Toronto has planned for them.”
While unusual, this is not the first time a new coach has taken over a team after the end of the regular season and led it in a bowl game. David Cutliffe was named coach at Mississippi after the 1998 season and directed the Rebels to a 35-18 victory over Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl.
Kelly brings an impressive resume to Cincinnati. The Chippewas improved their win total in each of his three years at the school and had their first winning record this season since 1998 with their most overall and conference victories since that season.
Kelly considers himself an offensive coach and that represents a change in philosophy for the Bearcats, who have played under coaches that were defensive coordinators the past 13 years. Kelly helped make Central Michigan one of the nation’s top passing teams and plans to do the same at Cincinnati.
“It’s all part of it,” Kelly said. “We have a unique opportunity here. It hasn’t been an offense that people would necessarily want to change their schedule for. You’ll change your schedule to see this offense. People will come to the stadium when you win.”
The Bearcats could use some help on offense after averaging 20.6 points per game this season, ranking 84th in the nation.
One of Kelly’s first decisions will be to settle on a starting quarterback. Sophomore Dustin Grutza was the team’s starter most of the season, but senior Nick Davila led the Bearcats to their biggest win of the year, a 30-11 victory over then-No. 7 Rutgers on Nov. 18.
Grutza started against Connecticut in the regular-season finale, but was replaced by Davila after injuring his back late in the second quarter. Davila has six touchdown passes and one interception this season, while Grutza has nine TDs and has been picked off 13 times.
Another area of concern for Kelly is his team’s offensive line, which allowed 28 sacks, third-most in the Big East. That becomes a particularly big issue when the opponent is Western Michigan, which was second in Division I-A with 42 sacks. Linebacker Ameer Ismail led the nation with 17.
Although Cincinnati needed a win in its final game to finish above .500, it played a schedule that included five ranked opponents and was rated the second-most difficult by the NCAA.
Western Michigan’s eight wins were the school’s most since it had nine during the 2000 season. The Broncos finished second in the MAC’s West Division, closing the regular season with a 17-0 win over Akron.
“We are very excited to not only be a part of the Inaugural International Bowl but to also be taking the field with an opponent of Cincinnati’s caliber,” Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said. “It will be a great event for the fans of both universities to showcase their respective football teams on a national stage.”
While Cincinnati has a strong defense that ranks 31st in the nation, Western Michigan’s is even better. The Broncos boast the country’s sixth-best rushing defense, limiting opponents to 71.9 yards per game, and tied Wake Forest for the most interceptions in the nation with 22.
This will be Cincinnati’s fifth bowl appearance in seven seasons and eighth overall. The Bearcats had lost three straight bowl games before a 32-14 victory over Marshall in the Fort Worth Bowl on Dec. 23, 2004.
Western Michigan will be playing in a bowl game for the first time since a 35-30 loss to Fresno State in the California Bowl on Dec. 10, 1988.
Cincinnati is 2-0 against Western Michigan, but this is the first meeting since 1950.
This is the first bowl game played outside the United States since the 1937 Bacardi Bowl in Cuba.
by: Anthony White – theSpread.com – Email Us
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