Cincinnati is heading Up North, and Luke Fickell is calling Michigan by name

CINCINNATI — Luke Fickell is simply taking his Cincinnati team up north. The former Ohio State defensive coordinator is calling the opponent by name.

“We’re playing Michigan,” Fickell said. “I’m at Cincinnati now. It’s a big game, but I write with blue pens now, too.

“Behind closed doors, I might shake a little bit.”

Under normal circumstances, there wouldn’t be any reason to even hesitate. The Bearcats have a different rival, after all. This isn’t The Game. And despite the opportunity and stage provided by a trip to the Big House for a marquee nonconference matchup on Saturday, Cincinnati doesn’t have much reason to give Michigan any special treatment.

But Fickell has lived practically his entire adult life in the most storied rivalry in college football. He also has a handful of staff members and a transfer from Ohio State who all have been trained to avoid a certain color shade and to stick to “Team Up North” as the proper way of addressing the opponent this week.

All of them, though, are swallowing some pride and going out of their way to make sure that a huge game for Cincinnati doesn’t become about Ohio State.

“If you’re going to be a part of this program and they’re really, truly going to do what you ask with extreme ownership and just not rent the program, I’ve got to dive all the way in,” Fickell said. “Those things that were a long time bred in me, those aren’t things I’m going to bring down here. That’s not my focus. And I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, that’s a rivalry.’

“No, I’ve got my mindset on what’s important to us, Miami [Ohio] is our rivalry down here. We’ve got to win our league, that’s more important.”

A win over the Wolverines would come with significant benefits for the Bearcats as they revamp the program to return to the national stage where they had been a fixture earlier in the decade.

And deep down, there would be be some extra satisfaction for Fickell or defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, strength coach Brady Collins, offensive lineman Kyle Trout and a handful of others.

Fickell personally still carries the painful memory of Ohio State’s 1996 loss at home in the last regular-season game of his career with him. He’s enjoyed plenty of success on the sidelines with the Buckeyes since then, including a five-game winning streak as Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator that helped set him up for the opportunity to battle Michigan again with a program of his own.

“Oh yeah, my senior year is by far the worst memory ever,” Fickell said. “There are still things about it, I don’t know if I would call them nightmares, but I wake up every now and then and it’s gut wrenching. We’re No. 1 or 2 in the country and have a far better team than them, and they came in and beat us. We can make excuses for whatever it was, but they beat us. I’ll never forget it. It hurts, but those are the things that motivate. Whether it motivates me here, motivates me to be a better coach, motivates me to make sure that we never underestimate a rival. It put a burden on myself, but that’s how you get better.

“I don’t think it would be respectful to bring all that down here to our program. Nonetheless, there’s still not a whole lot of blue in my closet.”

That shakiness may never go away. But Fickell is at least learning a new way to address his old rival.

The post Cincinnati is heading Up North, and Luke Fickell is calling Michigan by name appeared first on Land of 10.

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