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Tommy Tuberville has been an FBS head coach for 18 seasons -- four at Ole Miss, 10 at Auburn, three at Texas Tech, and one at Cincinnati. Through these nearly two decades, the 59-year-old Southern Arkansas grad has thoroughly, systematically taken apart any possible way to get a read on him. His teams start slow and finish fast one year, then start fast and finish slow the next. They enter a season with no expectations and surge up the rankings, then they start a season with elite expectations and crumble.
At Auburn, his Tigers twice began the season unranked and finished in the top 20. They also twice began the season in the top 10 and finished unranked. In 2003, they collapsed from No. 6 in the preseason to 8-5; in 2004, they began the season 17th and went 13-0.
At Texas Tech, his Red Raiders went to Norman and upset No. 3 Oklahoma, ending a long conference home winning streak for the Sooners; the next week, Tech lost at home to Iowa State by 34.
Tuberville is 6-3 all-time against top-five opponents but loses (or nearly loses) at least one completely dumbfounding game per year. Recent highlights: USF 26, Cincinnati 20 in 2013; Iowa State 41, Texas Tech 7 in 2011; Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2 in 2008 (a "win," but...).
He openly defies all expectations, good or bad. It's best to not have any expectations at all, but in my chosen field of work, that's hard to do. By nature, I set bars. Still, I should have known better than to call a Tuberville team "the country's most underrated program" in last year's preview. Despite his Tubervillian tendencies, and despite his offensive coordinator's non-committal approach to offensive style in the offseason (pro-style! tempo! spread! multiple!), I dived in and predicted that Cincinnati would challenge, and perhaps even surpass, conference favorite Louisville in 2013.
Predictably, then, Cincinnati absolutely tanked at the beginning of the season. The Bearcats got romped by Illinois, barely inched by a dreadful Miami (Ohio) team, and figured out a way to allow 20 points and lose to a USF team that couldn't score in 2013. As Louisville began to look more and more dominant, I began to feel dumber and dumber.
And then, of course, as soon as any semblance of expectations were off the table, the Bearcats actually became a pretty good team. They destroyed the AAC's lesser teams as one is supposed to do (and as other heavyweights like UCF routinely couldn't) -- average score against Temple, UConn, Memphis, and Rutgers: Cincy 41, Opponent 19. They won at Houston as the Cougars were seemingly peaking. And then they almost felled one-loss Louisville in the regular season finale.
And then they got destroyed by 6-6 North Carolina in the Belk Bowl, because of course they did.
The 2013 season was seemingly all of Tuberville's career in a 13-game package, from the lapses to the out-of-nowhere elite play. And even the final result was strange: a nine-win season from a team ranked 64th in the F/+ rankings (for reference, 7-5 Toledo was 62nd, 5-7 Indiana 56th).
There's just enough potential on Tuberville's second Cincy squad that you can talk yourself into the Bearcats winning nine or 10 games again if you're so inclined, especially against a schedule that features only one team projected higher than 37th. Meanwhile, there are just enough question marks -- quarterback, to name one -- to make you extremely queasy if you get a little too bullish. Good luck picking a side.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 64|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||Purdue||114||42-7||W||26.3 - 24.3||W|
|7-Sep||at Illinois||71||17-45||L||23.1 - 35.1||L|
|14-Sep||Northwestern State||N/A||66-9||W||43.4 - 21.5||W|
|21-Sep||at Miami (Ohio)||123||14-0||W||15.7 - 5.6||W|
|5-Oct||at South Florida||99||20-26||L||26.7 - 28.8||L||4.0|
|11-Oct||Temple||98||38-20||W||32.2 - 30.8||W||3.9|
|19-Oct||Connecticut||93||41-16||W||47.0 - 34.1||W||8.8|
|30-Oct||at Memphis||83||34-21||W||34.9 - 21.4||W||7.2|
|9-Nov||SMU||84||28-25||W||34.2 - 40.8||L||3.8|
|16-Nov||at Rutgers||91||52-17||W||48.7 - 23.2||W||9.3|
|23-Nov||at Houston||46||24-17||W||34.2 - 12.9||W||13.3|
|5-Dec||Louisville||12||24-31||L||44.7 - 23.3||W||15.0|
|28-Dec||vs. North Carolina||38||17-39||L||26.8 - 22.8||W||13.1|
|Points Per Game||32.1||47||21.0||14|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.7||27||25.0||36|
2. Peaking after it mattered
Despite the clunkers, there were at least a few encouraging early signs in 2013. The offense dominated Northwestern State as an upper-half FBS offense should, and the defense played at an above-average (or much better) level for three of the first four games. Still, Cincinnati was at best average over the first two-thirds of the year. And as the offense got its bearings, the defense lapsed.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Cincinnati 27.0, Opponent 23.1 (plus-3.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Cincinnati 37.1, Opponent 31.8 (plus-5.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Cincinnati 38.6, Opponent 20.6 (plus-18.0)
Even including the miserable bowl performance (which looked worse than it probably was, because of special teams), Cincinnati was a very good team over the final third of the season. That the Bearcats managed to look great while still going just 2-2 down the stretch may have been a bit Tubervillian, but there are certainly some signs of sustainable growth, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||47.5%||20||Succ. Rt. +||100.0||63|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.3||19||Def. FP+||98.4||76|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||66||Redzone S&P+||95.6||81|
|Q1 Rk||76||1st Down Rk||77|
|Q2 Rk||57||2nd Down Rk||28|
|Q3 Rk||68||3rd Down Rk||32|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Munchie Legaux||6'5, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||30||51||382||2||3||58.8%||2||3.8%||7.0|
|Jarred Evans||6'2, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Gunner Kiel||6'4, 208||So.||5 stars (6.1)|
|Hayden Moore||6'3, 193||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
3. Remember me?
At one point or another last offseason, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran proclaimed to be willing to dabble in basically every offensive style this side of the flexbone. It was hard to get a read on what his true intentions were, but when quarterback Munchie Legaux was injured and lost for the year against Illinois and Brendon Kay officially took over as the starter, Gran leaned on what made Kay the most comfortable. For the season, Cincinnati's was a slightly pass-first offense with a reasonably high pace. This made sense, not only because of Kay's capabilities but because Cincy's passing game was pretty far ahead of its running game.
Kay ended up putting together a pretty decent senior campaign, but he's gone now. Legaux got an extra year of eligibility and could be completely healthy by fall, but it appears he might struggle to surpass an old name looking to become Cincy's new starter.
Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel, who has thus far been known primarily because of his recruitment -- a five-star signal caller from Columbus, Ind., he committed to Indiana and new coach Kevin Wilson, then switched to LSU, then enrolled at Notre Dame. Facing years of serving as Everett Golson's backup, however, he transferred. It's been nearly three years since he first committed to Indiana, and he has yet to take a snap on the field, but the time could be coming. His first spring at Cincinnati wasn't amazing, but he finished it on a high note: 17-for-22 for 300 yards in the spring game.
With Kiel in the backfield, Gran could shift a bit away from pace and spread and more toward a "pro-style" attack (from now on, I'm putting "pro-style" in quotes, because it's impossible to figure out what it means anymore) with more reads and, in theory, a more plodding tempo. But there's no question that if Kiel begins to live up to five-star hype, Cincinnati's ceiling gets much, much higher.
|RD Abernathy IV||RB||5'7, 161||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||132||511||5||3.9||3.7||32.6%|
|Hosey Williams||RB||5'9, 199||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||115||655||4||5.7||5.7||41.7%|
|Tion Green||RB||6'0, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||91||413||7||4.5||3.4||38.5%|
|Munchie Legaux||QB||6'5, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||15||118||1||7.9||6.8||53.3%|
|Shaq Washington||WR||5'9, 174||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||6||65||1||10.8||16.8||50.0%|
|Rob Rice||RB||5'10, 178||Jr.||NR||4||18||1||4.5||1.8||50.0%|
|Rodriguez Moore||RB||5'10, 176||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||4||13||0||3.3||1.7||25.0%|
|EJ Junior||RB||6'0, 222||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Shaq Washington||WR||5'9, 174||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||100||77||791||77.0%||22.5%||70.5%||7.9||-64||8.3||99.5|
|Chris Moore||WR||6'1, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||73||45||645||61.6%||16.4%||50.8%||8.8||88||7.5||81.1|
|Max Morrison||WR||6'1, 173||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||51||29||447||56.9%||11.5%||54.8%||8.8||72||8.8||56.2|
|Mekale McKay||WR||6'6, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||34||16||485||47.1%||7.6%||59.3%||14.3||255||14.2||61.0|
|RD Abernathy IV||RB||5'7, 161||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||31||24||177||77.4%||7.0%||40.0%||5.7||-89||4.9||22.3|
|Alex Chisum (2012)||WR||6'3, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||31||9||140||29.0%||8.7%||54.8%||4.5||N/A||4.3||20.7|
|Jeremy Graves||WR||6'2, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||10||6||47||60.0%||2.2%||33.3%||4.7||-28||5.4||5.9|
|Hosey Williams||RB||5'9, 199||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||5||4||21||80.0%||1.1%||50.0%||4.2||-23||3.9||2.6|
|Tion Green||RB||6'0, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||5||2||12||40.0%||1.1%||0.0%||2.4||-20||1.1||1.5|
|Shai Alonzo||TE||6'4, 218||So.||2 stars (5.3)||4||3||81||75.0%||0.9%||N/A||20.3||47||0.0||10.2|
|Nate Cole||WR||6'1, 193||So.||3 stars (5.7)||4||4||39||100.0%||0.9%||0.0%||9.8||-1||5.3||4.9|
|DJ Dowdy||TE||6'4, 223||So.||3 stars (5.7)||2||2||6||100.0%||0.4%||0.0%||3.0||-14||2.7||0.8|
|Johnny Holton||WR||6'3, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Chris Burton||TE||6'3, 272||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Tyler Cogswell||TE||6'4, 248||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Tshumbi Johnson||WR||5'11, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Javon Harrison||WR||6'1, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Mark Barr||WR||6'1, 163||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Casey Gladney||WR||6'2, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Frank Labady||WR||5'7, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
4. Gunner's got options
In theory, you've got everything you could want in Cincy's skill position roster. Shaq Washington is a stellar possession receiver who caught more than three-quarters of his targets last year. Chris Moore, Max Morrison, and Mekale McKay are potentially great deep threats who combined to average 17.5 yards per catch and 10.0 yards per target in 2013. Ralph David Abernathy IV is the quintessential jitterbug back (albeit one whose averages have in no way matched his perceived potential), and Hosey Williams is a late-bloomer and a perfect vertical complement to Abernathy's more bouncy, horizontal threat. Throw in a batch of interesting youngsters (running back E.J. Junior, tight end Tyler Cogswell, three three-star redshirt freshman receivers, etc.), and this is a potentially loaded unit.
Of course, most of these players were involved last year, too, and the offense ranked only 53rd in Off. F/+. And that was with a more experienced line than Cincy will boast this time around. (The line should be fine, by the way. Three-year starting tackle Eric Lefeld is back, as are two other 2013 starters.) There is more potential than proven production here, and that becomes even more true if Kiel takes the reins.
|Eric Lefeld||LT||6'6, 309||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||32||1st All-AAC|
|Sam Longo||RG||23||2nd All-AAC|
|Parker Ehinger||RG||6'7, 292||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||25|
|Deyshawn Bond||C||6'2, 287||So.||2 stars (5.3)||13|
|Cory Keebler||RT||6'7, 294||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Kevin Schloemer||LG||6'7, 312||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Dominic Mainello||C||6'3, 280||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Justin Murray||RT||6'5, 294||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Tyreek Burwell||OL||6'5, 286||Sr.||NR||0|
|Ryan Leahy||OL||6'6, 282||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Luke Callahan||OL||6'5, 278||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.5%||26||Succ. Rt. +||95.9||71|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.2||24||Off. FP+||101.5||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||49||Redzone S&P+||90.6||87|
|Q1 Rk||76||1st Down Rk||77|
|Q2 Rk||57||2nd Down Rk||72|
|Q3 Rk||54||3rd Down Rk||65|
5. Dominating bad run games
Cincinnati ranked sixth in the country in rushing yards allowed per game. The Bearcats allowed 112 or fewer rushing yards nine times in 2013. Without taking opponent into account, they had one of the most stout run fronts in the country.
Of course, then you take opponent into account, and the shine wears off. Cincy played against one of the weakest sets of run offenses in the country. (Plus, the Bearcats benefited from having a pretty good blitz, and as we know, sacks count against rushing yards. But I've gone on that rant plenty of times.) Decent running teams found room -- Illinois and Temple rushed for a combined 5.5 yards per carry, and North Carolina and Louisville managed to go over 170 yards as well. Adjusting for pace, sacks, and opponent, Cincinnati's run defense was decent (60th in Rushing S&P+) but far from elite.
Whether Cincy can rank even in the top 60 this year could depend on a brand new set of tackles. Last year's top four are gone, including two (Jordan Stepp and Adam Dempsey) who combined for 16 tackles for loss in 2013.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Silverberry Mouhon||DE||6'4, 248||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||30.0||4.5%||12.5||9.5||0||1||2||0|
|Brad Harrah||DE||6'5, 258||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||19.0||2.8%||10.0||4.0||0||0||0||0|
|Terrell Hartsfield||DE||6'3, 246||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||18.0||2.7%||4.0||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Jerrell Jordan||DE||6'3, 248||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||4.5||0.7%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Chad West||DE||6'6, 262||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||11||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Mitchell||DT||6'2, 308||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||9||3.0||0.4%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Camaron Beard||DT||6'5, 287||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||10||2.5||0.4%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mark Wilson||DE||6'3, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Alex Pace||DT||6'2, 282||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Hakeem Allonce||DT||6'5, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Ja'Merez Brown||DT||6'4, 270||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Landon Brazile||DE||6'6, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
6. Play-makers on the outside...
On the edges of the defense, Tuberville and co-coordinators Hank Hughes and Robert Prunty have quite a bit to play with. Ends Silverberry Mouton, Brad Harrah, and Terrell Hartsfield combined for 15 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss in 2013. Strongside linebacker Nick Temple added 5.5 and 13.5, respectively. And three of last year's top four corners return as well and are joined by an interesting crop of freshmen.
Cincy was pretty good in attack mode last fall (14th in passing downs sack rate, first in standard downs line yards per carry; yes, those are both unadjusted for opponent), and especially with Mouton and Temple back, that should be the case again.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Nick Temple||SLB||5'10, 218||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||60.5||9.0%||13.5||5.5||1||1||0||0|
|Jeff Luc||MLB||6'1, 251||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||13||35.0||5.2%||6.5||1.5||0||2||3||0|
|Clemente Casseus||WLB||6'1, 227||Sr.||NR||13||18.0||2.7%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Solomon Tentman||MLB||6'2, 237||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||16.5||2.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Brown||LB||6'1, 206||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||6.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mason Antoun||LB||6'1, 225||Jr.||NR||9||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Hyland||LB||6'2, 230||Jr.||NR||10||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Eric Wilson||WLB||6'2, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Marcus Tappan||LB||6'2, 235||So.||NR|
|Kevin Mouhon||LB||6'2, 225||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
7. ...and a rebuild up the middle
The backbone of the defense, however, is a serious concern. The leading returning tackles (Brandon Mitchell, Camaron Beard) combined for 6.0 tackles last year. Middle linebacker Greg Blair, the heartbeat of the D, is gone. And safety Arryn Chenault, a reasonably sure tackler on a defense pretty good at preventing big plays, has graduated as well.
There is some rebuilding to be done here, and we'll see if Tuberville has the pieces he needs yet. It's hard to worry too much about a Tuberville defense, but this one has some concerns.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Zach Edwards||S||5'11, 186||So.||3 stars (5.5)||13||58.0||8.6%||2.5||0||2||7||1||0|
|Adrian Witty||CB||5'10, 187||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||13||36.5||5.4%||2||0||1||4||0||0|
|Howard Wilder||CB||5'11, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||27.0||4.0%||0||0||2||4||1||0|
|Leviticus Payne||CB||5'9, 183||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||19.5||2.9%||1||0||1||1||0||0|
|Andre Jones||S||6'1, 197||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||15.0||2.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Tyson||S||6'2, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||9||13.0||1.9%||0.5||0||2||1||0||0|
|Grant Coleman||CB||5'11, 162||So.||NR||6||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Marcus Foster||S||6'1, 204||So.||3 stars (5.6)||6||3.0||0.4%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darren Doston||S||6'2, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|J.J. Pinckney||CB||6'3, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Carter Jacobs||S||6'1, 193||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Odell Spencer||CB||6'0, 160||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Linden Stephens||CB||6'0, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|John Lloyd||6'2, 237||Sr.||33||42.7||3||6||9||45.5%|
|Tony Miliano||6'2, 186||Sr.||75||61.9||23||2||30.7%|
|Tony Miliano||6'2, 186||Sr.||54-56||7-16||43.8%||1-7||14.3%|
|RD Abernathy IV||KR||5'7, 161||Sr.||16||21.9||0|
|Rodriguez Moore||KR||5'10, 176||Sr.||14||21.1||0|
|Shaq Washington||PR||5'9, 174||Jr.||10||8.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||123|
|Field Goal Efficiency||124|
|Punt Return Efficiency||117|
|Kick Return Efficiency||98|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||20|
8. Disturbingly bad special teams
Cincinnati's special teams unit had major concerns even before it allowed two return touchdowns in the Belk Bowl. Kickoff efficiency had actually been the unit's only strength until that point. The Bearcats were among the nation's bottom 10 in field goal, punt, and punt return efficiency. That impacted their ability to finish drives (66th in Points Per Trip inside the 40) and, in terms of field position, negated the impact of a rather efficient overall offense.
They won nine games despite special teams, but with a few more questions on defense, the Bearcats cannot afford to be this awful in this regard, not if they have any illusions of a conference title.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|27-Sep||at Ohio State||10|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||9.3% (34)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||70|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-7 / 0.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (7, 6)|
9. Win on the road
When you think of Gunner Kiel opening up the offense for a trio of downfield threats and Mouton and Blair harrassing quarterbacks, it's easy to talk yourself into Cincinnati. And when you remember last year's loss to USF (with a lot of these threats playing roles) and realize that almost the entire backbone of the defense needs replacing, it's easy to talk yourself right back out. This is a pretty hard team to grasp even before you realize it's being coached by Tommy Tuberville, the ultimate expectations destroyer.
I'm struggling with what to do with this team, but I know this: whatever the Bearcats' goals are for 2014, realizing those goals will require winning on the road. Never mind the trip to Columbus on September 27; I'm talking about trips to Miami, SMU, Tulane, UConn, and Temple. With only a little bit of variation in quality, Cincy could end up 5-1 or 0-6 away from Nippert Stadium. That's what happens when there's a large cluster of conference teams of similar quality.
My gut says Cincy does pretty well this year. The offense really could sustain last year's late-season goals, and Tuberville teams have certainly won big road games in the past. The Bearcats are a step behind UCF but might be as well-stocked as anybody else. But you might want to do yourself a favor and avoid setting expectations of any kind for this team. It's just easier that way.
10. AAC balance of power
At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.
The schedule is rough. Never mind the trips out of town to play Penn State and Missouri in non-conference; the Knights must play at the No. 2, 4, and 5 teams on the list below as well. This may preclude them from back-to-back AAC titles, but taking schedule out of the equation, this is still easily the most known quantity in the conference. They are built for the long haul.
Houston was lucky but quite young in 2013, and the Cougars could be capable of just about anything. Meanwhile, I'm sticking Cincinnati in the middle of this tier as a cushion -- I'm scared of putting them too high or too low.
The AAC in no way has a wealth of elite teams, but like the old Big East, this conference should be competitive as hell. You could make the case for any of these seven teams to not only reach fifth, but potentially break into the second tier. (Okay, fine, Temple's not breaking into the second tier.)