Cincinnati would love to have quarterback Tony Pike healthy as it tries to run the table and possibly reach the BCS title game.
Based on their performance without the standout senior last week, however, they may not need him back just yet.
A visit to Syracuse doesn’t figure to present a big problem for the unbeaten Bearcats whether Pike or Zach Collaros is under center Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
Cincinnati’s no-huddle, spread offense did not miss a beat last Saturday behind Collaros, who went 15 of 17 for 253 yards and three touchdowns and added 52 rushing yards in a 41-10 win over Louisville.
The sophomore got the start one week after Pike re-injured his left (non-throwing) forearm, dislodging a plate that had been surgically implanted when he broke the arm last season. After Pike left the Oct. 15 game against South Florida, the more mobile Collaros ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
“It doesn’t matter who is under center with our offense,” said star receiver Mardy Gilyard, who caught his eighth touchdown pass of the season against Louisville. “Personally, I think it adds a little bit more spice to our offense with Zach in there because it keeps the defense guessing.”
Still, Pike has been a major reason why the team ranks second nationally with 40.7 points per game. It’s more likely he remains out at least one more week as his arm heals after a new plate was inserted.
“I’ve got to see where we are with some of the modifications we’re making with the cast,” Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “Tony is really going to kind of navigate through this. I don’t think that we’ll know anything for a couple of days. He’s gotta get out there and get comfortable first.”
The Bearcats (7-0, 3-0 Big East) certainly want him healthy for key late-season meetings with West Virginia and Pittsburgh, the other two teams who entered this week unbeaten in conference play.
After Pike led Cincinnati to the conference title and an Orange Bowl appearance last season, the team has higher aspirations this year. Although they are ranked eighth in the BCS standings, the Bearcats are hopeful an unbeaten finish would vault them into the conversation for the title game.
“I actually think we’re in better (shape) than most teams,” Kelly said. “We’re going to play at least two top 20 teams down the stretch here. That’s exciting for us. Everything is in front of us. We love our situation. Let’s keep playing. It’s early in the race, kind of anybody’s game.”
Kelly’s team will certainly have to take care of business against Syracuse, which is 3-27 in Big East play since the start of 2005.
The Orange (3-4, 0-2) already have lost twice at home in league play, allowing 34 points in each defeat, but they are coming off a 28-14 win over Akron as Delone Carter ran for a career-high 170 yards and three touchdowns.
Carter took the pressure off quarterback Greg Paulus, the former Duke basketball player in his first season with the Orange.
Paulus was 12 for 17 for 105 yards and a touchdown after having thrown two TDs and six interceptions in the team’s two Big East losses. He was replaced during a 34-13 loss to West Virginia on Oct. 10.
“He managed (the Akron) game well,” first-year Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. “He didn’t do anything for us to lose the game. He made some good decisions that don’t get talked about.”
It will likely be much tougher for the Orange against Cincinnati, which Marrone called “one of the best teams in the country, if not the best team in the country.”
The Bearcats have won four straight against Syracuse, with Gilyard racking up 11 catches for 114 yards to spark a 30-10 victory Nov. 29.
Gilyard’s next touchdown reception would be his 23rd for the Bearcats, breaking the school record.
Cincinnati had 544 total yards in a 52-31 victory in its last visit to the Carrier Dome on Nov. 24, 2007.