There are a number of reasons why Cincinnati and West Virginia aren't where they want to be this season. But if you had to boil it down to just one factor, point to turnovers.
The Bearcats have a minus-8 turnover margin, while the Mountaineers are minus-5. Those are the worst two margins in the Big East and among the worst nationally. Those turnovers have played a huge role in recent losses.
West Virginia threw three interceptions in a 19-14 setback at home to Syracuse two weeks ago, then fumbled seven times (losing four of them, including a crucial one in overtime) in Friday's 16-13 defeat at Connecticut.
Cincinnati has been plagued by costly fumbles and interceptions all season, including last week in a 31-7 home loss to Syracuse. Chazz Anderson threw an interception in the end zone as the team was trying to cut the score to 17-14, and teammates lost two more fumbles. Turnovers also killed the Bearcats' chances against Oklahoma.
Blame the coaching staffs if you like, but it's not as if they suddenly stopped teaching proper technique.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said he puts his team through "an intense turnover circuit" in practice that includes running through obstacles, drills that date back to the Don Nehlen days in Morgantown. Yet his team already has 11 lost fumbles, four fewer than all of last year. Among FBS teams, only UCLA has lost more fumbles this year than the Mountaineers.
"We are going to hit it hard this week," he said of the turnover drills.
Cincinnati's lack of ball security is even more puzzling. Many of the same players are handling the ball as last season, when the Bearcats were the last team in the nation to lose a fumble and led the FBS with only two lost fumbles all season. They've already coughed it up 10 times this year, which ranks 110th nationally.
Yes, it's a new coaching staff, but Butch Jones' 2009 Central Michigan team tied for eighth nationally last year with only six lost fumbles.
"It's all fundamentals," Jones said. "We coach it on every play. We do drills. The players understand. It's almost like being a baseball player in a batting slump. A lot of times you're running down the field thinking, 'don't fumble, don't fumble, don't fumble' and you fumble. We just have to continue to coach it and harp on it. That ball holds our dreams, hopes and aspiration and is a nugget of gold."
Right now, both teams' hopes and aspirations have lessened because of their inability to hold onto the ball. If they don't get that fixed during this bye week, this season will be severely tarnished.