JIM KELLY: There's obviously been a lot of good changes take place since the mid 70's. We actually had some good teams. We were not in a conference, so one of the biggest things that's happened was Conference USA, then of course the Big East. That in my opinion is the biggest change in where the football program has gone.
They've been largely successful obviously the last couple years, but also over the last 15 years really. The facilities have improved tremendously, the fact of getting into to the Big East, a BCS conference; I think that's the biggest factor. They're able to attract the big athletes that they need to compete at that level.
BCI: Did you ever think when you were playing at UC that it would ever get to the level it is now?
KELLY: I think you always think it can. You never know when you're 20-21 years old what the formula is, you just want to play hard and have good players around you. But I don't think I ever doubted that it couldn't get to that level.
When Cincinnati entered the Big East, it's arguably not the strongest football conference in the BCS, but at that point in time I knew, and that was before Brian Kelly was hired, but you had the feeling that they were going to be in the mix pretty soon. If the Big East exists in three years, can UC win the National Championship? Yeah, they can. You saw how close they came last year to playing for it.
BCI: Do you think with how UC has performed in the BCS bowl games they went to the last two years has hurt at all?
KELLY: No, I don't think so. Last year with everything that was going on I think a lot of people are chalking that up to there being way too much going on. You were playing a great football team and for the circumstances they were definitely overmatched.
The year before in Miami at the Orange Bowl they just didn't play their best game, they could have won that game. I don't think it has a stigma that goes with like they can't win the big one; they can't win the bowl game, because they can. I think you just keep fighting on and sooner or later you overcome that. I mean they hadn't beaten Pittsburgh prior to last year since joining the Big East and I always looked at that (situation) as hey this is a different year.
Could there be a mental block? Yeah, but as you can see they overcame that and were able to knock off Pitt.
BCI: As far as that can't win the big one stigma goes, how important do you think the Oklahoma game this year is for this program?
KELLY: I think it's big. When the Oklahoma series was scheduled and UC went to Oklahoma a couple of years ago, I thought they really had a chance to beat that team. As they found out that was a very solid team. Not that this one won't be, but you're catching them in a little bit of a transition as well.
You lose Sam Bradford, even though he didn't play a whole lot, and you lost (Jermaine) Gresham and two or three linemen in the early rounds of the draft. So you lose a lot, but they just kind of reload but the key part is playing them kind of early, they're not at quite full stride yet. Now that doesn't mean that you can just walk on to the field and beat them but you do have an opportunity.
BCI: You've been broadcasting UC football for a while now, do you think the teams the last two years were the best two UC teams you've seen?
KELLY: Yeah, I would say so. I would say I've seen better defenses, particularly over the Minter years and Dantonio years there were some really good defenses. And even along the way, I'm trying to think back to some of the teams I was on; we were at one time ranked No. 2 in the country in defense. We had four guys off our defense that played in the NFL so we had a pretty good defense, but we were primarily a running team and didn't score a whole lot.
But I would say overall, particularly this past year, even though the defense gave up a lot of points and a lot of yards, they found a way to win. And that was probably the most incredible thing about last year's team. They were fun to watch, they really were.
BCI: What do you think about the season coming up?
KELLY: Well that's always a tough one because you have a new coach, a whole new staff, a new offense. It's a similar offense on paper, but the terminology is all different and a new defense. I honestly think from watching the defense, I think that personnel wise a lot of the guys are back so they're going to be better there. They have a different scheme in moving back to the 4-3 defense and they seem to have a little bit of depth of defense so I think they'll be better there.
On offense I think they're going to move the ball and score a lot. It's a little bit different offense and I don't know that they're going to need to score as much as they did last year. There's some real depth at wide receiver, a little bit of a lack of depth at offensive line and I think they're real solid at quarterback, one and two, but beyond that it's hard to say.
So I think they have some real depth. I just wish you had a real solid 10 guys you could rotate in at offensive line. Through the spring they were kind of playing with that right tackle spot, trying to sure that up, but all in all I think they are positioned to be good.
The schedule is tough. You have some tough road games at Fresno State and at North Carolina State before you get to the conference schedule. Then you have Oklahoma at home as well. Every game is winnable but every game is going to be tough as well.
BCI: How do you see the conference shaking out?
KELLY: I think Connecticut will be in the mix, obviously Cincinnati will be in the mix and Pittsburgh, and everyone is picking them to be strong again. You do have new staffs at South Florida and Louisville so those are a bit of unknowns, just like you don't know with Cincinnati so it's hard to pick. And of course West Virginia will be right up there.