By: Cole Mantell (@lightningdragon)
We’ve talked recently about smaller schools in the CFSL in this series. Boise State laid the framework for this type of school. Where there may not be a large brand or a massive fanbase, a strong culture, game plan, and locker room can shine and create a unique environment over a larger school. Athletic Directors at these smaller schools are often credited with taking what might be a harder job at the start and making a truly memorable experience. However, if Boise State is the trailblazer, Season 19 is the payoff.
Small schools are relatively hard to find. Excluding the MAC, there have been exactly two CFSL schools that were not a member of the Power 5 conferences when they joined. Our example from earlier, Boise State, is one. Additionally, Hawaii was in the CFSL in Seasons 1 and 2, enjoying relative success as well as being an original member of the CFSL SEC. That’s it for the CFSL Group of 5 teams.
Enter the Cincinnati Bearcats. For the record, Cincinnati will not be joining Boise State or Hawaii in their exclusive Group of 5 club. At the time of writing and the time of Cincinnati’s announcement into the CFSL, the school is a current member of the Big XII and will be joining the CFSL Big XII. However, Cincinnati’s fame is in the Group of 5, and that fame and fanbase to work off of is what the new Cincinnati AD Ryan Recca will be tasked with.
“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to bring a unique school to the league and put the 513 on the map,” Recca said. While he is excited to bring the Bearcats to the CFSL, he also realizes it comes with challenges. “That also means as a program we have to work extra hard being one of the new kids on the block and show the others we belong here,” said Recca. Cincinnati enters the CFSL as maybe the school with the smallest starting fanbase. However, the new AD bringing them in is the best man for this job.
Recca grew up in Cincinnati and is well-suited for his hometown team. Not only does Recca have experience in the MAC, coaching Kent State up the road last season, but he is also a longtime former coach of Tom Pence at Florida State. Recca checks every box. He is part of the largest coaching tree in the CFSL, has MAC experience, and he is the hometown coach. He should be able to use that to his advantage in both recruiting and game planning.
And coming from Grin’s tree has its advantages. “Learning from Tom has been amazing. Since the day I was put on his staff, he has emphasized a team approach to coaching. He may be the AD but he trusts each of his coaches and we all had a say for gameplan or sim strategy,” said Recca.
Cincinnati is similar to a bunch of other schools entering the newly reformed Big XII this season. The Bearcats join Baylor and Colorado as the three expansion schools in the Big XII. That is tied for the most expansion teams in a conference (with the B1G). This makes the Big XII a must-watch conference. The three expansion schools face off in conference with four Season 18 playoff teams (Boise State, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Texas). This also includes a small market showdown between Boise State and Cincinnati in the conference next season, another matchup to keep an eye on.
This all adds up to a challenge for the new face of Cincinnati football. A challenge that is both exciting and even groundbreaking in some ways. We’ve seen Recca coach, but now to see him run a program as unique as Cincinnati in as interesting an environment next season. Not to mention, as the new AD told me, “Cincinnati has some of the cleanest uniforms out there.”