by Greg Talkington
Outside of Conference USA and those who play the University of Cincinnati, there's not much talk about Gino Guidugli being one of the premier quarterbacks in the country.
But there ought to be.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Guidugli surpassed the 6,000-yard passing mark in his first two seasons at the helm of the Bearcats, leading them to a C-USA title in the process.
Despite the fact that Cincinnati returns just 10 starters from last season's team, Guidugli believes the Bearcats can be better.
The first step in proving that would be a win over West Virginia Saturday at Mountaineer Field.
"If we can eliminate mistakes, we can control our own destiny," Guidugli said. "We feel if we play our game, we can play with anybody."
Guidugli will get no arguments from the Mountaineers, who saw first-hand just how good he can be last season when they eked out a 35-32 win over the Bearcats at UC's Nippert Stadium.
Down 35-17 early in the fourth period, Guidugli rallied the Bearcats for a pair of touchdowns to pull within three points late in the game. With WVU unable to run out the clock, Cincinnati got the ball back at its own 10 yardline with just :51 to play.
Guidugli moved the Bearcats 58 yards in those final seconds to get close enough for a 49-yard field goal attempt by Jonathan Ruffin. But his kick hit the left upright on the game's final play.
"He's real smart," said WVU cornerback Lance Frazier of Guidugli. "He has the ability to look over a defense and once he gets under center, he can change something and pick you apart.
"He's a very precise passer."
West Virginia's cornerback on the other side of the field, Brian King, believes WVU will have to give Guidugli different looks early and often.
"We can't let him get into a rhythm," King said. "We've got to make him think so he can't develop that rhythm.
"You can be sure he's going to see some things we haven't shown yet."
Mountaineer safety Jahmile Addae says WVU must muster some pressure if they're going to slow Guidugli down.
"We've got to get some pressure on him," Addae said. "We can't let him stand back there and do what he wants.
"He's a great quarterback and there's no way we're going to completely stop him. But if we can get some pressure on him, then we'll have a chance to slow him down."
Guidugli threw for just 125 yards in UC's 40-3 win over East Carolina as the Bearcats rolled up 361 yards rushing. Guidugli is anxious to see if the running game is that good and if UC's young receivers can step up if needed.
"It was just one game, but (tailbacks) Richard (Hall) and (Derrick) Eddington showed us a glimmer of what they can do," Guidugli said. "We'll find out this week if our receivers can be as good as what we had here the past couple of years."
If there's a way to get them to that level, Guidugli will find it, WVU coach Rich Rodriguez said.
"He's the kind of guy they believe in and will rally behind," Rodriguez said. "They know they're never out of a game with him.
"He's the kind of quarterback that makes everyone around him a better player and a lot of that is because he's a great competitor."
Cincinnati defensive end Trent Cole concurred with that thinking.
"It's funny how he just has a knack of being able to bring us back," Cole said. "And he's done that since he was a freshman.
"It's great to have a quarterback like him. He never gets down and he's always there to keep us going."
Guidugli completed 20 of 30 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns last season against WVU. He also ran for a score and a two-point conversion. But you can rest assured he'll take the meager numbers he had against East Carolina two Mondays ago if it produces the same result.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org