Bearcat football has always been a tough sell even in the best of conditions, and to begin the season with a loss to what many perceive as a mediocre Mid American Conference opponent could spell disaster for the rest of the year. Compounding the problem is next week's contest at Penn State with their eighteen returning starters. A loss to EMU would test the optimism of any Bearcat fan and likely mean the Bearcats would return home from University Park with an 0-2 record. On September 17, a winless Bearcat squad would face a home attendance nightmare against Division IAA Western Carolina before heading on the road to face two very tough, veteran units in Miami of Ohio and Pittsburgh. So losing the opener could mean the Bearcats would be 1-5 for their Homecoming game against Connecticut.
Of course, football games are played between the lines and not on internet sites. That point was proven in 1999. Rick Minter's squad opened the season as expected with an impressive 41-3 win at home over Kent State of the Mid American Conference. Optimism was high as the Bearcats squared off in week #2 at Nippert against Division IAA Troy State, but the Trojans unexpectedly evened the Bearcat record at 1-1 with a 31-24 victory. Next up was the nationally ranked Wisconsin Badgers, and the UC faithful were expecting the worst. But that's not what they got. The Bearcats upset Wisconsin 17-12. Those Badgers ended up representing the Big 10 in the Rose Bowl and were ranked #9 in the country. The future again looked bright for UC, but the Bearcats would win only one other game that year, an unexpected 52-42 win at Miami.
Yes, there are "must wins" in football, but I have no idea when they occur. I know that no team has ever won the national championship after losing their opener to Eastern Michigan, but I'm not really expecting the Bearcats to play for the national championship this year.
Is this opener a "must win?" I'll get back to you after the Rutgers game on November 26th.