As the most recognizable coach in the American Athletic Conference, Tommy Tuberville was a popular interview subject for the assembled reporters at the league’s annual media days in Newport, Rhode Island. Most interviews with the Bearcats’ head coach included the same two questions.
“Who is going to be your quarterback and what do you know about Big 12 expansion?” said Tuberville.
While conference realignment talk was unavoidable at the two day event, Tuberville’s more immediate concern is the other question – identifying his starting quarterback.
“We don’t have a quarterback that we can say right now is going to be our guy,” Tuberville told me. “We thought we would, but Gunner (Kiel) has battled injuries the last two years. If he can stay healthy and do what we think he can do, he could be the guy to take us to another level.”
But the senior is not the only proven quarterback on the roster. Sophomore Hayden Moore came off the bench for an injured Kiel at Memphis last year and passed for a school-record 557 yards in three quarters of action. The following week, Moore made his first career start against the University of Miami and led the Bearcats to a 34-23 win.
“I think it’s a great problem to have,” said Temple coach Matt Rhule. “As a coach, you can sleep well at night when you have two guys that have proven that they can play at the Division I level.”
And yet, there’s a third candidate for the starting job in redshirt freshman Ross Trail who had an impressive performance in Cincinnati’s spring game.
“I think it will be a tremendous battle,” said Tuberville. “Ross Trail is a heck of a football player. He just doesn’t have the experience.”
The uncertainty at quarterback is a big reason why Cincinnati was not among the three schools to receive votes for winning the overall conference title in the AAC’s preseason media poll. Houston, coming off a 13-1 season and a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl, received 27 of a possible 30 votes. USF (2) and Temple (1) received the others.
“If you look at the teams at the top, they probably have the three most obvious quarterbacks that played well last year,” said Tuberville.
Cincinnati did receive six first place votes to win the East Division crown, finishing third behind USF (15 votes) and Temple (9 votes).
“Cincinnati is always a team that’s going to be in contention,” said USF coach Willie Taggart. “They get good athletes, Tommy is a great football coach, and you have to come ready to play any time you face Cincinnati.”
“We know the level of talent they have,” said Rhule. “A veteran defense, two great quarterbacks, and two great tailbacks, so we know our work will be cut out for us.”
“We have a chance,” said Tuberville. “We’ll have a better defense, our kicking game will be better, and we’re going to have to run the ball a little bit more just because our receivers are going to be younger. But we’ve got to find a quarterback.”
The QB battle begins when UC holds its first training camp practice on Wednesday afternoon, and Tuberville plans to name a starter by the middle of August.
“I would probably say two weeks after we start,” Tuberville told me. “That will be after our second scrimmage.
“We have got to get a first team quarterback that’s with all of the first team receivers, running backs, and offensive line to work our technique and get our timing right. I’d would say within a couple of weeks we’ll have that roster filled.”
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