Welcome to the Big East - Cincinnati Bearcats

In April 2003, the New York Daily News reported that the ACC was courting three members of the Big East. Six months later, four teams were out and four teams were in. The New Big East kicks off the next chapter of its dynamic existence on September 3 when West Virginia travels to Syracuse.



On April 17, 2003, the New York Daily News broke the story that the Atlantic Coast Conference was courting three members of the Big East Football Conference.  Six months later, the soap opera ended.  Four teams were out.  Four teams were in.  The New Big East kicks off the next chapter of its dynamic existence on September 3 when West Virginia travels to Syracuse.  This article is the second of a three-part series looking at the new members of the Big East Football Conference.  The first article introduced the Louisville Cardinals.  This article focuses on the Cincinnati Bearcats, a familiar opponent to Rutgers fans. 


The University of Cincinnati was founded as Cincinnati College and the Medical College of Ohio in 1819 just outside the heart of the City.  The colleges were combined into the municipal University of Cincinnati in 1870, the second oldest municipal college in the nation.  An engineering college was added in 1906.  In 1968, the University became affiliated with the state university system.  In 1977, the University fully joined the state university system.  The University of Cincinnati presently has an enrollment of over 35,000 students. 

Like Louisville, Cincinnati athletics first reached the national stage in the late 1950's and early 1960's with five consecutive Final Four appearances.  The legendary Oscar Robertson led the Bearcats to their first two Final Four appearances.  Cincinnati then won back-to-back national championships in 1961 and 1962.  The basketball program experienced a renaissance in the late 80s under Bob Huggins, who rebuilt the Bearcats into a national power.  In 1992, Cincinnati made its sixth Final Four appearance.  As with Louisville, the Cincinnati football program has traditionally been the lesser sibling at the University. 


Cincinnati's football history has many similarities to that of Rutgers.  Cincinnati is the fifth oldest Division IA program, playing its first football game in 1885 (against a local club team).  Cincinnati played its first intercollegiate game, which ended in a scoreless tie, in 1888 against nascent rival Miami (OH).  The University adopted the nickname Bearcats in 1914.  Like Rutgers, Cincinnati was an independent after Division I football split into two divisions in the mid-1970s.  However, unlike Rutgers, Cincinnati had several prior conference affiliations.  Cincinnati was a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, which is presently a Division III league, between 1910 and  1927, compiling a 27-49-10 record with no championships.   Cincinnati and five other schools broke away from the Ohio Athletic Conference and formed the Buckeye Athletic Association in 1928.  In eight years as a Buckeye member, the Bearcats compiled a 14-27-4 conference record and won championships in 1933 and 1934. 

In 1936, Cincinnati returned to independent status for twelve years.  The Bearcats participated in the Mid-American Conference between 1947 and 1953.  In those six years, Cincinnati achieved a 19-3 conference record and won four titles in 1947, 1949, 1950, and 1951.  Cincinnati spent five years an independent before joining the Missouri Valley Conference in 1957.  The Bearcats compiled a 23-25-2 record during thirteen years in the MVC and won crowns in 1964 and 1965.  Cincinnati returned yet again to independence in 1970.   Cincinnati gradually upgraded its schedule and began competing against many eastern independents.  In 1996, Cincinnati joined Conference USA. 


Conference USA was formed in 1996 from a collection of mid-south independents.  Cincinnati was a founding member.  The conference grew rapidly from six teams in 1996 to eleven teams in 2003.  Conference realignment, primarily triggered by the ACC raid of the Big East, cost Conference USA four teams (a fifth left to compete as an independent) but replaced them with six newcomers.  Conference USA enters the  2005 season with two six-team divisions -- Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, and Southern Mississippi in the Eastern Division and Houston, Rice, Southern Methodist, Texas-El Paso, Tulane, and Tulsa in the Western Division.   

Cincinnati was generally one of the better Conference USA programs: 

  • Cincinnati finished in a three-way tie for third among six teams in the inaugural season with a 2-3 record. 
  • Cincinnati finished a three-way tie for fourth in 1997 with a 2-4 record in a seven-team league. 
  • Cincinnati dropped to a 1-5 record in 1998, tied in the cellar of an eight-team league.
  • Cincinnati finished DFL (among nine teams) in 1999, winless in six games. 
  • Cincinnati bounced back with a 5-2 record in 2000, finishing in a two-way tie for second.
  • Cincinnati finished in a three-way tie for second (among ten teams) in 2001 with a 5-2 record. 
  • Cincinnati earned a share of the Conference USA title in 2002 with a 6-2 record. 
  • Cincinnati cratered in 2003, finishing ninth with a 2-6 record in the expanded eleven-team league.
  • Cincinnati rebounded in 2004 with a 5-3 record, finishing in a four-way tie for second place. 


Cincinnati has played in eight bowl games, including four in the past five years, and sports a 4-4 record:

  • In 1946 (January 1, 1947 actually), the Bearcats defeated Virginia Tech 18-6 in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. 
  • In 1949, the Bearcats dominated Toledo 33-13 in the fourth and final Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio. 
  • In 1950 (January 1, 1951 actually), West Texas State (now Texas-El Paso) nipped Cincinnati 14-13 in the Sun Bowl. 
  • In 1997, the Bearcats beat Utah State 35-19 in the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho. 
  • In 2000, Marshall defeated Cincinnati 25-14 in the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac, Michigan. 
  • In 2001, Toledo bested Cincinnati 23-16 in the Motor City Bowl. 
  • In 2002, North Texas State edged Cincinnati 24-19 in the New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana. 
  • In 2004, the Bearcats beat Marshall 32-14 in the Fort Worth Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. 


Well-known coaches who have practiced their craft at Cincinnati include:

  • Frank Cavanaugh.  The Hall of Fame coach known as the Iron Major began his 24-year career at Cincinnati in 1898.  He stayed only one year, where he had 5-1-3 record, before leaving for the head coaching job at the Denver Athletic Club.  Frank returned to college ball to coach at Holy Cross, Dartmouth, Boston College, and Fordham.  He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. 
  • George Little.  Cincinnati spawned a second Hall of Fame coach in the span of less than 20 years.  Little coached the newly named Bearcats in 1914 and 1915.  He achieved a 10-8 record in the Ohio Athletic Conference.  Little left Cincinnati for archrival Miami (OH).  After further stops at Michigan and Wisconsin, Little spent 22 years, from 1932 to 1953, as the Athletic Directors at Rutgers.  Little was instrumental in the planning and construction of the original Rutgers Stadium, which opened in 1939.  He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955.


           Frank Cavanaugh                              George Little 
Source:  College Football Hall of Fame            Source:  College Football Hall of Fame


  • Sid Gillman.  Cincinnati's third Hall of Fame coach in fifty years, Gillman was an offensive genius.  He arrived at Cincinnati in 1949 after four years as the head coach at Miami (OH) and then a year as an assistant at Army.  Gillman stayed at Cincinnati for six year, during which he compiled a 50-13-1 record, captured three Mid-American Conference championships, and won two bowl games.  Sid left Cincinnati for the head coaching job with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, where he began a 31-year career in professional football.  He coached in the 1955 NFL championship game and five AFL championship games with the San Diego Chargers in 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, and 1965.  The Chargers won the 1962 AFL championship (on January 5, 1963 actually).  Gillman was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989. 
  • Chuck Studley.  Cincinnati's second coach to move on to the NFL head coaching ranks, Studley arrived at Cincinnati in 1961 for his second head coaching job after one year as the head coach at Massachusetts.  Chuck coached at Cincinnati for six seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference, achieving a 27-33 record and earning two titles.  Studley was fired after a 3-7 season in 1966, two years removed from an MVC championship.  He resurfaced as an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals and spent the remainder of his career in the NFL.  He was the defensive coordinator of the 1981 Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers.  He served as the interim head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1983.  In 2002, the 73-year old Studley – out of football since 1991 – served as an assistant coach at Indian Hill High School in Cincinnati, where he coached his grandson for two seasons. 
  • Rick Minter.  Tim Murphy left Cincinnati for Harvard after the 1993 season, after rebuilding the Bearcat program over five years.  Minter arrived at Cincinnati in 1994 after two years as an assistant at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz.  Minter compiled a 53-63-1 record in ten season, won one Conference USA title, and earned four bowl bids (winning one).  Minter was fired after the 2003 season.  He reunited with Holtz as the defensive coordinator at South Carolina. 


                       Sid Gillman                                       Rick Minter
Source:  College Football Hall of Fame            Source:  Associated Press

  • Mark Dantonio.  Hired in 2004, the Cincinnati job is Dantonio's first stint as a head coach.  He spent the three previous years as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State (including the 2002 national champions).  In his first season, he reversed an early swoon – the Bearcats were 2-4 through the easy portion of the schedule – and led Cincinnati to a four-game winning streak through the meat of the schedule that propelled the Bearcats into bowl eligibility.  Cincinnati qualified for – and then won -- a bowl, the first in its last four attempts.  


                          Mark Dantonio                      Mark Dantonio
  Source:  UCBearcats.com                Source:  UCBearcats.com


For a school with a long football history, Cincinnati has produced very few big time players:

  • RB Ray Nolting played between 1933 and 1936.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 21-11-4 and won two Buckeye Athletic Association titles during Nolting's career.  He was the first Bearcat to play in the NFL.  He played eight years with the Chicago Bears, winning two NFL championships and appearing in two other championship games. 
  • TE Elbie Nickel played between 1940 and 1942 and then again in 1946 after the war.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 28-10-1 and won a bowl game during Nickel's career.  The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Nickel in the 15th round.  Elbie played professionally for eleven seasons for the perennial doormat Steelers.  He appeared in three Pro Bowls and set Pittsburgh receiving records that lasted until the dynasties of 1970s. 
  • QB Gene Rossi played between 1949 and 1952.  Rossi broke Bearcat passing records under Gillman's tutelage.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 33-10-1, won three Mid-American Conference titles, and appeared in two bowl games (winning one) during Rossi's career.  The Baltimore Colts drafted Gene in the 11th round but he didn't make the team.  Cincinnati retired his jersey in 1952. 
  • S Joe Morrison played between 1956 and 1958.  He twice led the Bearcats in interceptions.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 15-11-3 during Morrison's career.  The New York Giants drafted Morrison in the 3rd round and played him at six positions.  Joe played professionally for fourteen seasons for the Giants.  He appeared in four NFL Championship games in 1959, 1961, 1962, and 1963. 
  • DL Ron Kostelnik played between 1959 and 1960.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 9-10-1 during Kostelnik's career.  The Green Bay Packers drafted Kostelnik in the 2nd round.  Ron played professionally for nine seasons.  He won three NFL Championships in 1961, 1962, and 1965 and two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967. 
  • CB Al Nelson played between 1962 and 1964.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 16-14 and won two Missouri Valley Conference titles during Nelson's career.  The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Nelson in the 3rd round.  Al played professionally for nine seasons. 
  • S Brig Owens played between 1963 and 1964.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 14-6 and won two Missouri Valley Conference titles during Owens' career.  The Dallas Cowboys drafted Owens in the 6th round and immediately traded him to the Washington Redskins.  Brig played professionally for twelve seasons.  He is now a sports agent with several NFL clients. 
  • QB Greg Cook played between 1966 and 1968.  He broke the Bearcat's career passing records and led the nation in total offense in 1968.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 11-17-1 during Cook's career.  The Cincinnati Bengals drafted the local QB in the 1st round.  Greg won the AFL Rookie of the Year award in 1969 while leading the second-year AFL expansion team.  A shoulder injury sidelined him for three seasons and prematurely ended his career in 1973. 
  • WR/PK Jim O'Brien played between 1967 and 1969.  He set several Bearcat season and career reception records.  He still holds records for TDs and yards per catch.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 12-16-1 during O'Brien's career.  The Baltimore Colts drafted O'Brien in the 3rd round.  Jim attained immortality by kicking the game winning FG in the closing seconds of Super Bowl V.  His brush with fame was brief, as his NFL career lasted only four years. 
  • DL Bob Bell played between 1968 and 1970.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 16-14-1 during Bell's career.  The Detroit Lions drafted Bell in the 1st round.  Bob played professionally for eight seasons. 
  • PK Rich Karlis played between 1978 and 1980.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 9-24 during Karlis' career.  The Denver Broncos signed rafted Karlis as a free agent.  Rich played professionally for nine seasons, seven with Denver.  He appeared in two Super Bowls. 
  • LB George Jamison played between 1980 and 1983.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 18-25-1 during Jamison's career.  George spent two years in the United States Football League with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars in 1984 an 1985, winning championships each year.  After the USFL folded just before the 1986 season, Jamison migrated to the NFL in 1987.  Jamison played 12 seasons in the NFL, eight with the Detroit Lions, who had selected George in the 1984 supplemental draft of USFL players. 
  • OL Jason Fabini played between 1994 and 1997.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 16-14-1 during Fabini's career.  The New York Jets drafted Fabini in the 4th round.  Jason is still with the Jets. 
  • CB Artrell Hawkins played between 1994 and 1997.  Cincinnati had a combined record of 16-14-1 during Hawkins' career.  The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Hawkins in the 2nd round.  Artrell is currently with the Carolina Panthers after six seasons with the Bengals. 


In 1895, the University began planning to build a new football stadium in a ravine – somewhat similar to the siting of Rutgers Stadium – in Burnet Woods in the center of the campus.  Beginning in 1902, Cincinnati played its games at the newly constructed Carson Field, which was initially equipped with wooden bleachers built into the surrounding hillside.  Carson Field is the fourth oldest college football site in the nation.  Although lights were added in 1909 for practicing at night, the first night game was not played until 1923.  In 1916, construction of permanent brick and concrete stadium commenced but proceeded piecemeal, as funding allowed.  The 12,000-seat horseshoe stadium was completed in 1924 after a $250,000 donation from James Gamble provided final funding.  James Gamble Nippert Stadium – dedicated in honor of Gamble's grandson Jimmy Nippert, a Bearcat player who died of blood poisoning from a cleat wound in 1923 – is the sixth oldest stadium in Division I (A and AA). 

In 1936, the University lowered the field elevation by 12 feet and constructed additional seating to raise Nippert's capacity to 24,000.  In 1954, Reed Shank Pavilion was added to the east sideline and increased the capacity to 28,000.  In 1970, the University replaced the grass field with Astroturf.  The Bearcats played at Riverfront Stadium in 1990 while Nippert Stadium was renovated – while still preserving the vintage brickwork and wrought iron gate appearance – and the Pavilion was further expanded.  Nippert Stadium reopened in 1992 with 35,000 seats.  The University replaced the Astroturf with Field Grass in 2000. 


Nippert Stadium                          
Source:  UCBearcats.com      


Cincinnati and Miami (OH) own the nation's 8th oldest rivalry (first game, 1888) and the 11th longest running series (every year since 1909).  The Bearcats and RedHawks have played 109 times, with 84 games in Cincinnati.   The two schools shared a similar culture as state-assisted state universities located only 35 miles apart.  Cincinnati has a 44-58-7 record against Miami.  The annual game is played for the Victory Bell, which is a replica of a bell originally housed on the Miami campus. 

                             Victory Bell 
                  Source:  2004 Miami Media Guide

Cincinnati has developed a rivalry with fellow new Big East member Louisville over the past forty years.  The Bearcats and Cardinals have played 45 times, including almost every year (except 1993-1995) since 1966 through the Missouri Valley Conference, independence, and Conference USA.  The two schools share a similar culture as metropolitan state universities overshadowed by The State U.  Cincinnati has a 26-18-1 against Louisville.  The annual game is played for the Keg of Nails Trophy.  

                                                 Keg of Nails 
                                      Source:  CardinalSports.com

Cincinnati has played State U, the Ohio State University, only 14 times in its 120-year history.  Eleven games occurred prior to 1931, which included five straight years just before the turn of the century.  The two programs have played only three times since 1931 – in 1999, 2002, and 2004.  Cincinnati has a 2-12 record against the Buckeyes, and is 0-3 since the series resumed six years ago.  This relationship is far too young, too one-sided, and too inconsequential to even be considered a rivalry just yet, especially from Ohio State's perspective.  Once Cincinnati starts winning games, the series will get the Buckeyes attention.  Then, the question becomes, will the Buckeyes legitimize the fledgling rivalry or simply take their ball and go home? 


Cincinnati and Rutgers played ten games between 1980 and 1994, primarily as eastern independents before Rutgers joined the Big East in 1991.  Cincinnati, which had a winning team only once in these ten years, is 3-6-1 against the Scarlet Knights:

  • In 1980, Cincinnati (2-9) lost 24-7 at Rutgers Stadium in mid September, a few weeks before Rutgers (7-4) nearly upset #1 ranked Alabama.
  • In 1981, Cincinnati (6-5) won a low-scoring affair, 10-0, at Nippert Stadium in late September of a 5-6 season for Rutgers. 
  • In 1983, Cincinnati (4-6-1) again beat the Scarlet Knights, 18-7, at Nippert Stadium late in a dismal 3-8 campaign that eventually resulted in the firing of longtime Rutgers Head Coach Frank Burns. 
  • In 1984, Cincinnati (2-9) was dismantled 43-15 at Rutgers Stadium in late September of a 7-3 season for Rutgers. 
  • In 1986, Cincinnati (5-6) was again manhandled at Rutgers Stadium, 48-28, in mid-September by an equally mediocre Scarlet Knights (5-5-1) squad.  
  • In 1987, Cincinnati (4-7) lost a squeaker to Rutgers (6-5) in the season opener at Nippert Stadium. 
  • In 1988, the Bearcats (3-8) were whipped for the third consecutive time at Rutgers Stadium, 38-9, in early October by another mediocre Scarlet Knights team (5-6). 
  • In 1989, Cincinnati (1-9-1) played Rutgers (2-7-2) to a 17-17 tie in the season opener at Nippert Stadium, a disappointing start to a disappointing season that eventually cost Scarlet Knights Head Coach Dick Anderson his job. 
  • In 1992, Cincinnati (3-8) edged Rutgers (7-4) 26-24 at Nippert Stadium in a crucial game that cost the Scarlet Knights a rare bowl bid.  
  • In 1994, Cincinnati (2-8-1) dropped a low-scoring 14-9 affair in mid-October at Rutgers Stadium against a 5-5-1 Scarlet Knights team. 


Cincinnati's schedule and record over the past five years is summarized below: 


2000 (7-5)

2001 (7-5)

2002 (7-7)

2003 (5-7)

2004 (7-5)





Texas Christian


East Carolina


@ Ohio State




@ Army


West Virginia


@ West Virginia


Miami (OH)


@ Wisconsin


@ Miami (OH)


Ohio State




@ Syracuse


@ Indiana




@ Temple


@ Miami (OH)


@ East Carolina


@ Tulane


@ Ala-Birmingham


Miami OH)


Southern Miss






@ Houston


@ Tulane


@ Ala-Birmingham


@ Army


@ Louisville




@ Southern Miss






Miami (OH)






@ South Florida


Texas Christian




East Carolina


@ Louisville


Rhode Island


@ Southern Miss


@ Memphis


@ Memphis




@ Texas Christian


South Florida


Southern Miss




@ Hawaii


@ Memphis


@ Louisville






@ East Carolina


Motor City Bowl



Motor City Bowl



New Orleans Bowl

North Texas State



Fort Worth Bowl




Coming Next:  Welcome to the Big East – South Florida.  In the second of a three-part series, I'll take a look at the youngest addition to the Big East Football Conference – Division IA neophyte South Florida. 

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the upcoming football season with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board. 

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