Head coach Luke Fickell, in his fifth season, has earned the Home Depot National Coach of the Year award after leading the University of Cincinnati (UC) football team to the only undefeated record in college football this year. Fickell will receive the award Dec. 9 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN during the Home Depot College Football Awards show.
Following an inaugural year of 4-8, Fickell has raised the program to a new standard that has resulted in just six losses since 2018. The program’s record is 41-6 over that timeframe and the Bearcats have competed in three bowl games, soon to be four.
“A lot of these things that we do, we just have to believe in the things that we do,” Fickell said on the development of the program. “Regardless of where you come from, it’s just about what you do together. We say we want to play for championships, well, we have another opportunity to play for a championship.”
The Cotton Bowl, on Dec. 31, will be UC’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff and first shot at a national championship. Cincinnati is rated nationally in the top 10 of both scoring defense and scoring offense, a testament to the quality that Fickell has brought together.
Fickell and the No. 4 Bearcats are the first non-Power 5 program to claim a spot in the CFP semifinals, another ranking record that the Bearcats seemingly broke every single week. Starting as the Associated Press’ preseason No. 8 team, the Bearcats exponential rise to the top was perhaps the most important milestone for all non-Power 5 programs.
“All year, we never really talked about it,” Fickell said of the CFP and rankings. “Our fans, our city, our community, our program. I didn’t want the weight of anything else on their backs, we just wanted to be us.”
Despite setting all sorts of records this season, Fickell is not the first coach to win the Home Depot National Coach of the Year as a Bearcat. Former head coach Brian Kelly, who moved to Notre Dame and now LSU, won the award in 2009 following a 12-0 regular season.
One of Fickell’s marquee wins of his career, and perhaps the reason Cincinnati is seeing all its attention this season, was over the Kelly led Notre Dame squad this past season in a 24-13 South Bend matchup. Notre Dame finished as CFP’s No. 5 team with their only loss being to the Bearcats.
Because of this win – and the 12 others Fickell led Cincinnati to this season – Cincinnati will travel to Arlington, Texas for the national semifinal, also known as Cotton Bowl this season. Fickell will have the chance to make even more history with this record-setting Bearcats roster, and answer the questions they’ve been asked since the start of the season: can Cincinnati be national champions?
“I think the most important thing is that our guys recognize that they’ve done something and there’s another opportunity ahead of them,” Fickell said. “It’s about us, not what Alabama’s done. That’s not what it’s going to be about for us. We’ll continue to focus on us like we’ve done all year.”