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- American football wide receiver
Before becoming the first Group of Five team to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff and before back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, the Cincinnati Bearcats had a chance to prove themselves against a top-five program in the country.
The Bearcats traveled to Ohio State for the second game of their 2019 season, one week after beating UCLA at Nippert Stadium. They were coming off an 11-win season, plus a Military Bowl victory against Virginia Tech, so they weren’t sneaking up on anybody.
No, this was a chance to show they were ready for the big stage as expectations for the program began to grow.
The final score: Ohio State 42, Cincinnati 0.
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“I think that was a necessary learning point,” receiver Alec Pierce said. “We needed that for our team. We were super young back then. A lot of the same guys we have playing played in that game and that was two years ago. It was just necessary for us.”
Ohio State, which featured four future first-round picks (quarterback Justin Fields, defensive end Chase Young, cornerback Jeff Okudah and cornerback Damon Arnette) and advanced to the College Football Playoff, scored on its second possession and had a 28-0 lead by halftime.
Head Coach Luke Fickell said in his postgame press conference, “It was a humbling experience for a lot of us.” It was the first time Cincinnati had been shutout since 2005 and it was a gut punch for a young Bearcats squad looking to prove themselves.
“I think it probably lit a flame under us,” Pierce said.
The Bearcats found a way to channel it as a positive for the rest of the 2019 season. They won nine consecutive games, beating a ranked UCF team, before losing in back-to-back games against AAC champion Memphis.
Since that Ohio State loss, the Bearcats lost on a last-second field goal to Georgia and beat Notre Dame on the road. Preparing to play Alabama in the Cotton Bowl next week, the Bearcats are confident in themselves.
“I think that was a good opportunity for us,” safety Ja’Von Hicks said of the Ohio State loss. “I think it’s just really not looking at the opponent like they are somebody we’ve never seen before. Just go out there and just play football because everybody plays football like the way we do. They’re just at a bigger program. There is no real difference. I think we learned a lot from ourselves and from each other because we lost and I think it kind of humbled us a little bit.”
Fickell has often mentioned this year his goal of creating a top program at UC – not just a top team. Playing games against the best programs are measuring sticks of that progress and there is no program that stands bigger than Alabama.
“It’s not just a top-five, this is the top program,” Fickell said. “I don’t care how long you go back. It’s an incredible measuring stick on an incredible stage with an incredible opportunity.”
Still, the 2019 loss to Ohio State shows how quickly the Bearcats have ascended the college football ladder. It’s a group of players that have been together for years and learned from the humbling experience.
Pierce, who caught four passes for 93 yards in his second career start in that game against Ohio State, grew as a player despite the blowout.
“It was a long time ago, but I think I definitely grew confidence from that,” Pierce said. “I know they had a lot of players. I think both of their corners got picked in the first round that year. I was definitely able to get some confidence from that.”
Now the Bearcats are past the previous Group of Five glass ceiling and looking forward to seeing how they measure against Alabama.
“It’s definitely wild,” Hicks said. “I definitely didn’t think this would actually happen (as a recruit). Now that it’s here, I’m not really surprised because I see the way we prepare, I see the way we practice and I see the way we play. So, I’m not surprised at all.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: College Football Playoff: Cincinnati Bearcats learn from 2019 loss