The Bearcats (8-3 overall 3-2 Big East) will be playing for a share of the Big East championship and a possible BCS bid. The Huskies (5-6, 3-3) need to win in order to become bowl eligible and then hope someone invites them to dance. Critics of the Big East might scoff at the suggestion this game will be physical and meaningful, but it will be. The game is vitally important to both programs.
No, it's not Alabama vs. LSU for the national championship. It's not even Georgia vs. LSU for the SEC championship. And there won't be a Heisman Trophy candidate playing quarterback for either team. No Andrew Luck. No Matt Barkley
In fact, if you are determined to name the one quarterback who might possibly decide the outcome in Cincinnati, well . . . good luck. In this game, you've got your choice of four.
Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings have shared time at QB all season for the Huskies.
"You have to basically prepare for two different types of offenses with the quarterback position," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said this week of the Huskies.
And now Jones and Cincinnati have been forced to create a two-headed monster for the Bearcats. Cincinnati was in the Big East driver's seat until talented QB Zach Collaros broke his ankle against West Virginia Nov. 12 and was lost for the season. Muchie Legaux inherited the starting spot and the Bearcats struggled against Rutgers in a 20-3 loss.
But last week, in a 30-13 victory over Syracuse, Legaux threw for 169 yards and two touchdowns while sharing time with Jordan Luallen, who picked up 77 yards on eight running plays.
"There's no question, of late, that there has been more of a run game," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said of Cincinnati onTuesday. "With the two-quarterback system they employed last week, which was very productive for them, it might be a little more of their niche right now than it was before."
Jones said Cincinnati would stay with the same plan against UConn.
"I thought Munchie took great strides from week one to week two," Jones said. "And we think he's going to do nothing but get better. You can't put a value on game speed repetitions but Jordan is just an individual who brings another element to our offense.
"He brings so much to our football team. First of all, he's an individual who has great intensity, great energy. He's very intelligent and he's one of our team leaders. Our players really rally around him. I think you'll see his role become even that much more. We thought he came in and gave us a spark.
So what you have right now are two coaches who have a great deal of confidence in their two-quarterback situations. In UConn's 40-22 victory over Rutgers Saturday, McEntee and McCummings combined to form a productive tandem. McEntee completed 10 of 16 passes for 90 yards. McCummings completed his only pass for 22 yards. There were no touchdowns but there were no interceptions. And McCummings rushed 10 times for 47 yards and two touchdowns.
Each quarterback executed his own package and the transition between the two – a major problem early in the season – was seamless and well scripted.
"The plan is starting to finally work with two quarterbacks and I think people can finally see where we were going with this," said McEntee, who completed his first five pass attempts against Rutgers.
Of course, the Huskies broke out of preseason camp with three quarterbacks battling for the starting spot. Mike Nebrich saw limited time in the first four games of the season and hasn't played since the Buffalo game on Sept. 24. That's when Pasqualoni settled on McEntee as the starter, with McCummings coming in for his "wildcat" package.
"Mike has been in all the meetings and on the field getting the repetitions as the No. 2 quarterback," said Joe Moorhead, UConn's quarterbacks coach. "He has handled it well. He is taking advantage of all his physical and mental reps. You know, he's one play away from being in the game. He has to prepare like he's the starter."
McEntee, a walk-on better known for his YouTube "trick shot" video before this season, has taken a lot of heat from media and fans. He ranks seventh in the Big East in passing average and eighth in passing efficiency. McEntee, known as a traditional pro-style, drop-back passer, has thrown 10 touchdown passes and has been intercepted seven times, but the media joke has been that he leads the conference in "near interceptions."
What has gone widely overlooked or ignored is the fact that all three quarterbacks were learning a new offense under a first-year coach and a new staff. For that matter, so were all the other offensive players.
"As they've grown accustomed to the system, and the execution of it on the field, relative to what their role is, I think you've seen the execution improve," Moorhead said. "There's a lot on these guys plates. It's not just competing for the job and worrying about ‘How well am I going to perform when I get on the field?'
"It was a brand new system for all of us at the beginning of the year. They were trying to digest and execute, on top of it being the first time on the field for all of them."
As for the criticism, Moorhead said: "That's something I talked to the quarterbacks about in one of our first meetings. They made a willing choice to play the most scrutinized position in all of organized sports. You get a lot of credit when things go well and a lot of the blame when things go poorly. That's just the nature of the position."
And by the end of Saturday, one – or maybe two guys – will walk away feeling better than the others. That's just the way it is.