No. 8 Bearcats sidestep speculation as trip to Indiana looms
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell spent this week preparing his team to hit the road.
He talked about the sellout crowd, the hostile environment the eighth-ranked Bearcats expect to face Saturday at Indiana and the potential impact it could have on the game plan.
Then, suddenly, Fickell was dealing with a different kind of noise — coaching rumors. He and his players have tried to tamp down speculation by keeping the focus on football.
“The great thing about college football now is it's really back and you have the environments, you have the crowds," he said. “For us to play a really, really, really good Indiana team that we’ve been talking about since the summer and then you throw the road changeup and the crowd, it's something we haven't experienced in a year and a half."
Yet almost as soon as Southern Cal athletic director Mike Bohn fired coach Clay Helton on Monday, the murmurs began about Fickell being reunited with his former AD in Los Angeles.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder, last season's American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, quickly explained on Twitter his coach wasn't going anywhere. Fickell concurred Tuesday.
“Can’t even talk about Indiana yet?" he cracked after the first question. “Look, I know nothing. We know nothing. I don’t talk to anybody, I barely even talk to my own family during the season. So I wouldn't ever talk about it nor would I even answer a phone call."
And all this ahead of the first of two showcase games, with potential playoff implications, for Cincinnati (2-0).
Indiana (1-1) opened the season at No. 17 — its highest preseason ranking since 1969 — before falling out after an embarrassing season-opening loss at Iowa.
Michael Penix Jr. rebounded last weekend by throwing two touchdown passes, running for another score and taking advantage of two special teams scores to blow out Idaho. Now, in front of what could be the biggest non-conference crowd in Bloomington since 1987, Indiana wants to get its season back on track.
“We’re not changing anything," all-Big Ten cornerback Tiawan Mullen said. “We know they have a very good offense, but we want to show who we are truly."
Fickell sees a difference in these Hoosiers, too. Instead of using the game to send a message, as some previous Indiana teams attempted, Fickell sees a program similar to Cincinnati's that has only one goal — keep winning.
The first game in this series since 2000 will be a throwback weekend for Hoosiers fans.
Memorial Stadium will be sold out for the first time since a 27-20 overtime loss to No. 17 Michigan on Oct. 14, 2017, and it comes on the first parents' weekend in two years. It will be the largest non-conference draw since the Hoosiers squared off against Kentucky on Sept. 17, 1987, in front 51,077.
The Hoosiers will be dressed in the same retro uniforms they used that day when the late Bill Mallory was coaching. He won a school record 69 games. Everyone expects another large turnout.
“It just shows the support we have, that people believe in us,” Penix Jr. said, referring to last weekend's student section. “I remember when we first came back inside (the locker room) we were pumped. We were very excited to go out there and play.”
POWERED BY FORD
Bearcats running back Jerome Ford, a transfer from Alabama, seems to have found a home in the Queen City.
He ran for 97 yards in his first career start, last season's Peach Bowl. He's already topped the 100-yard mark in both of this season's games while running for 7.8 yards per carry. Fickell said he believes he's still capable of bigger and better things.
“He really was what changed the momentum (last week)and he opens things up for Desmond and the other guys,” Fickell said. “He’s very very adept to running routes, catching the football and making contested catches.”
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