CINCINNATI, Ohio — When you do something for the first time you want to put your best foot forward, right?
That had to be the thought for the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday. When their first Big 12 game came up on the schedule they drew Oklahoma, got a noon eastern kickoff and basically opened up the first full weekend of Big 12 play.
As a bonus? Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff came to town and they brought their top play-by-play crew, Gus Johnson and Trent Klatt, to call the game.
Pregame Hype and Enthusiasm
All Cincinnati had to do was show up and show out. And they did. And early.
I spent some time among the fans for both teams as Fox Big Noon Kickoff got underway in the commons area by the stadium. It was quite the scene. Fans being fans. College kids, you know, being college kids?
And, no, I don’t know who that one guy is flipping off (did you miss it? Go watch it again). But I can tell you this — lusty boos for Brady Quinn and Urban Meyer, solid round of applause for Mark Ingram and Rob Stone. General indifference to Matt Leinart.
Plus, the commish showed up.
The game was a sellout. The atmosphere was great. The student section was raucous. It was everything, Bearcats coach Scott Satterfield said, you want in a big-time college football game.
“Our fans, they’re incredible,” Satterfield said. “Our students, the student section, what a great atmosphere. This is what college football is all about. Our first Big 12 game, with a team like Oklahoma coming in to our stadium … when you sit there as a boy and you look at college football games, what do you want to see? That’s what we had today.”
This was a big-time game on a big-time network with a big-time television slot. It’s what Cincinnati signed up for when they decided to join the Big 12 two years ago.
They weren’t signing on to settle for being an also-ran in a Power 5 league, either. Not after going undefeated in back-to-back regular seasons in 2020 and 2021, with the latter season making the Bearcats the first team from a non-Power 5 conference to reach the College Football Playoff.
Since signing to join the league, the Bearcats have been building in the background. They’ve recruited two cycles on the back of their new league. They grabbed a coach from another Power 5 league in Satterfield to replace Luke Fickell after he bolted for Wisconsin.
By 2025, it should have a football facility that can compete with the likes of other Big 12 schools — the Indoor Practice Facility and Performance Center.
The Indoor Practice Facility will be 84,000 square feet and give the football team a year-around home for practice. The 96,000-square-foot performance center will include offices for the football program, and feature performance nutrition stations, a dining hall, sports performance weight room, athletic training room and mental health services.
That’s nearly 200,00 square feet of football support. It’s something close to what Texas Tech is building next to AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock.
The Bearcats are building to compete and they got a taste of it even before Saturday’s game.
“It’s an entourage when they travel,” Satterfield said of Oklahoma. “I mean, I don’t know how many planes and buses they took here. How many people did they have on the sideline? They had people that wanted to come before and after practice yesterday. I mean, it’s a boatload of people because they’ve won a lot of championships.”
The Bearcats want to build that kind of a boat with enough room for casual fans, die-hard fans, alumni and big-pocketed donors alike. Games like this give everyone a taste of what it could be like in the Big 12.
But there is also opportunity on the field.
With Texas and Oklahoma exiting stage left after this season, the Big 12 is banking on competitiveness being one of its calling cards. Turn on the television to a Big 12 game, the league hopes, and you’ll get a compelling, down-to-the-wire game.
The Game Itself
Well, Cincinnati-Oklahoma wasn’t always pretty. But it was compelling. Cincinnati lost, 20-6, but the Sooners never ran away with it. That was thanks to a Bearcats defense that held steady in high-leverage situations, didn’t give up big plays and managed to handle the fatigue that can come with an offense that plays at Oklahoma’s pace.
Or, as Bearcats offensive lineman Luke Kandra put it:
No, the offense didn’t get it done. Quarterback Emory Jones was the first to acknowledge that. The offense was 1-of-4 on fourth down, 3-of-15 on third down and missed on several deep plays that could have changed the complexion of the game. Cincinnati did outrush Oklahoma, but it didn’t mean much as Satterfield lamented all of the third-and-long situations the offense found itself in as the game went on. It seemed like Cincinnati was one play away all day.
But there was a silver lining, Jones said.
“We know we can compete in this league,” Jones said.
Satterfield echoed that.
“This is our first game in the Big 12 and we went toe-to-toe,” Satterfield said. “It should be encouraging to our guys and to our people (fans) to say, ‘Hey, listen, we’re not that far off.’”
No coach likes the idea of a ‘moral victory,’ but Satterfield and the Bearcats know that while the locals want success now, they’re playing a longer game.
The Future is Bright
What Cincinnati is building wasn’t going to be built on one game, win or lose. To be a dominant program in a league like the Big 12, it requires consistency everywhere — on the field, off the field, recruiting and transfer portal recruiting. It requires offering opportunities in the NIL space. It requires facilities that Cincinnati has committed to building. It requires a community bought into what the program is trying to accomplish.
On a day like Saturday, you look for signs that a program like Cincinnati was ready to meet a particular moment.
The Bearcats met that moment, went toe-to-toe with it and validated the Big 12’s decision to invite them.
Now, in six days, they have to do it again. In Provo. Against BYU.
That’s college football. You only get to enjoy meeting the moment for so long.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.