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Cincinnati bears resemblance to Illinois football

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville hasn’t decided whether start BrendKay or Munchie Legaux (4) Saturday Illinois. | Al Behrman/AP photos

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville hasn’t decided whether to start Brendon Kay or Munchie Legaux (4) on Saturday at Illinois. | Al Behrman/AP photos

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Updated: September 4, 2013 9:50PM

The coach spoke again this week on topics he has stressed since the start of training camp.

His team is pretty green, with a bunch of first-year starters and new names all over the two-deep. That means depth is an issue, but it also means there are ongoing competitions at more than a few positions — and there’s no better motivator for a young athlete than the opportunity to play.

Will mistakes be made on the field? Sure they will. Throughout the season, but especially in September, it’ll be a big part of the coaching task to keep the players’ heads up and their minds sharp. Week by week, meanwhile, the depth chart will be re-evaluated.

We’ve heard Illinois’ Tim Beckman describe these circumstances over and over, but this time it wasn’t Beckman speaking. Technically, it was, but he wasn’t the only one saying it. A couple hundred miles to the southeast, Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville was echoing the very same analysis about his Bearcats.

“Illinois is kind of in a youth movement, as we are,” Tuberville said.

Oh, there are slight differences to be found, if one looks hard enough, between these teams, which will meet Saturday in Champaign (11 a.m., ESPN2, 560-AM). Just to pull from a hat: Cincinnati has four more conference championships than Illinois in the last five seasons.

But just because the Bearcats pretty much owned the Big East while the Illini were sinking to the bottom of the Big Ten, that doesn’t mean first-year coach Tuberville is on easy street.

“They’re going to give us all we want, and maybe more,” he said of the Illini. “It can be the opposite of what it was for us last week.”

Last week, Cincy opened at home and trounced Purdue by a double-take-inducing score of 42-7.

We all know the opposite of that isn’t going to happen.

So forget about the silly notion of a 35-point romp by the Illini. What about a one-point upset? Even the widest-eyed freshman fans in their first days on campus have their doubts that these Illini are capable of pulling it off.

But this is Cincinnati, not Alabama or even Louisville, which has far surpassed the Bearcats as the team to beat in the debut season of the American Athletic Conference. This is a program that literally is going nowhere — desperately seeking an invitation from the ACC (like Louisville), the Big 12 or any other of the true major conferences, but remains unwanted.

The Bearcats might never again have it as good as they did before Tuberville’s arrival.

Tuberville has some X’s-and-O’s challenges, too. He still doesn’t know if his starting quarterback is Brendon Kay or Munchie Legaux. (Go on, read that name as many times as you need to. Take your time.)

He hasn’t figured out who his best five offensive linemen are and is still jiggering around with his defensive ends, cornerbacks and tight ends.

That Purdue score? It’s mighty impressive. Of course, we don’t yet know how bad the Boilermakers are. Tuberville says the Illini have more talent, and he’s probably right.

Upsets happen all the time in college football. The Illini aren’t going to go anywhere themselves until they start getting in on the fun.

Something worth remembering: The last time Cincinnati had a new coach was in 2010, when Butch Jones took over for Brian Kelly. What a coach, that Kelly — his last Bearcats team went 12-0 before losing to Florida in the Sugar Bowl. And do you know how Jones’ first team followed that up? By going 4-8.

Can the Illini win this week?

We’re just saying there’s a chance.


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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