PITTSBURGH -- By Sunday night, fifth-ranked Cincinnati might need a new head coach and a new itinerary that includes a trip to Pasadena, Calif. for the national championship game on Jan. 7. Or, Brian Kelly might still be head coach and a trip to the Sugar Bowl might be in store. The Bearcats' situation off the field is as crazy as it has been on the field. And that is saying something.
Saturday at Pitt, the Bearcats rallied from 21 down to beat the No. 14 Panthers, 45-44, and secure at least a BCS bowl invitation. Afterward, an agitated Kelly criticized the media's handling of his rumored interest in the Notre Dame job.
"Stop reporting information that is not backed up by facts," Kelly said. Late in Saturday's game, ABC reported that Kelly would "entertain" discussions with the Fighting Irish about their vacant head coaching job. Though it is widely expected in Cincinnati that Kelly would take the Notre Dame job if offered, the coach has refused to comment on his status. After the wild win Saturday, things were no different.
"I'm not going to talk about any job situations," Kelly said. Good thing there were plenty of other worthy conversation points. Such as:
• The play of UC's Mardy Gilyard. The senior accounted for 381 all-purpose yards. His 99-yard kickoff return with just over a minute left in the first half kept the Bearcats in a game that Pitt had been dominating. The touchdown return cut Pitt's halftime lead to 31-17. Then, with the Panthers up 38-24 early in the fourth quarter, Gilyard caught a pooched kickoff and ran it 49 yards to the Pitt 23. UC scored in four plays.
It was Gilyard's third return touchdown of the year. "Fear of failure," Kelly said, when asked to explain Gilyard's heroics. "He does not want to lose."
• Quarterback Tony Pike, a longshot Heisman Trophy candidate until breaking his left forearm earlier in the year, spent three quarters looking absolutely lost, completing 11-of-29 passes and throwing three interceptions. He was bad enough that backup QB Zach Collaros warmed up in the third quarter.
"Forcing things and over-thinking," was Pike's explanation. As desperation set in, Pike simply started reacting instead of trying too hard. He went 11-for-15 in the fourth quarter. The winning drive took just 1:03 and four plays. On that fourth play, Pike threw his best pass of the day to wideout Armon Binns, who caught it in stride inside the Pitt five-yard line and tumbled into the end zone, for a 29-yard score.
• The Cincinnati defense, undersized and often criticized, allowed just 13 points in the second half. "It was the first time this year we gained energy offensively off our defensive stops in the second half," Kelly said.
All of which has the Bearcats faithful rejoicing, and wondering at the same time. Kelly made his team's case for a national title game, saying, "We played a tough Big East schedule and we're undefeated. The schedule we've played: We went to the West Coast and (beat) Oregon State. We won 12 straight games."
Kelly did concede his team should not receive a title-game invite ahead of Texas if the Longhorns beat Nebraska for the Big 12 title. "They've been ranked ahead of us all year."
As for his future, Kelly remained uncharacteristically mum. Good thing his team did the talking Saturday.