It’s been a long time coming but Gunner Kiel showed in his first college game what all the hype was about.
Kiel’s road from top recruit to vagabond quarterback to record setter looks like it has plenty of potential for a happy ending after Kiel put on the best debut by a quarterback in FBS history.
It may have been one or two season’s after most expected but Kiel’s debut was one for the record books as he threw for 418 yards and six touchdowns to lead Cincinnati to a 58-34 victory over Toldeo in his collegiate debut.
Kiel completed 25-of-37 passes to nine different receivers and set an American Athletic Conference record and tied the Bearcats’ program record with his six TD passes. Kiel also threw for most passing touchdowns (six) for a quarterback in his NCAA FBS debut, surpassing the previous mark held by Florida’s John Reaves, who threw five against Houston on Sept. 20, 1969.
The top-rated pro-style QB in the recruiting class of 2012, Kiel was playing in his first game since his senior year of high school in the fall of 2011. That layoff led to Kiel feeling some nerves and pressure, although you certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell by his performance.
“I was nervous, I came out real nervous and I think the entire week I had butterflies but we came out firing and the team did a great job,” Kiel said. “The offensive line did a great job protecting me, wide receivers came up with some great catches. Like I said before all of this, the only thing I have to do is drop back and throw it up and it proved tonight that we have some unbelievable wide receivers that are going to go attack the ball and going to compete.”
Blessed with size, arm strength and pedigree, Kiel was the apple of many top programs’ eye during his recruitment. He had offers from Alabama, Florida and Michigan among others but in a bit of a shocker Kiel committed to Indiana. But three months after giving the Hoosiers his verbal he decided to look elsewhere and that led Kiel to LSU, but his commitment to the Tigers lasted just three months.
He eventually committed to Notre Dame in January of 2012 and it looked as though the Kiel QB family tree would have another branch in South Bend. Kiel’s uncle, Blair, who died in 2012, was the starting quarterback for the Fighting Irish from 1980-83 and he spent time with the Buccaneers, Colts, Packers and Falcons. Gunner’s father, Kip, was a quarterback at Butler and brothers Drew (Illinois State) and Dusty (Indiana) were also quarterbacks.
However, the second Kiel era never got started at Notre Dame. Gunner redshirted for the 2012 season after losing the battle for the QB spot to then redshirt freshman Everett Golson. Kiel was also buried on the depth chart behind Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix and decided a fresh start was best.
That decision led him to Cincinnati and from the looks of his debut, it was a wise choice.
Kiel’s performance against the Rockets earned him American Athletics Conference Player of the Week honors for the week ending Sept. 14 and also served as a bit of redemption. Before the game Kiel was perceived by many as an indecisive and spoiled prospect who turned out to be overrated. He had to live with that for the past two years but now he has a chance to prove otherwise and his debut was a good start.
“I just came out and displayed what I can do. I really mentally prepared for this game. I watched a lot of tape,” Kiel said. “For myself, I think I silenced the critics. People were kind of bashing me but I just shook that off and played my game and had fun.”
The fun continues Saturday when Kiel and the Bearcats face Miami of Ohio. After that, a Sept. 27 showdown at Ohio State will be a big measuring stick. From what Kiel showed in the opener, he will be ready.
“His poise (was excellent). He made good decisions and he never got rattled,” Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “He exceeded my expectations. I didn’t think he would play that well. I thought he would struggle a little bit with accuracy and have a little bit of happy feet but I’ll take it. He’s really been focused all week long.”