Cincinnati sophomore quarterback Gunner Kiel made his first career start Friday night, and to say his debut was impressive is to be understated: He ended up setting an NCAA record.
Kiel threw six touchdown passes, the most in history by a quarterback making his college debut. That means that for one game, at least, Kiel actually surpassed all his high school hype.
Kiel (6-foot-4, 208 pounds) was the nation's consensus top-ranked quarterback and a top-30 player overall in the 2012 recruiting class. Kiel, from Columbus, Ind., which is about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville, originally committed to LSU before changing his mind and eventually signing with Notre Dame. He left Notre Dame after his true freshman season and transferred to Cincinnati.
The wait was worth it.
Kiel has a strong arm and he showed it off against the Rockets. He threw four TDs in the first half, which ended with Cincinnati leading 41-14; Kiel guided the Bearcats to TDs on all six of their first-half possessions. And after Toledo cut the lead to 41-34 early in the fourth quarter, he threw two more TD passes in the period to end any doubt as to the outcome.
"He exceeded my expectations," Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville told reporters. "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."
Kiel finished 25-of-37 for 418 yards and no interceptions. He was 16-of-19 for 294 yards in the first half, and the first pass of his career was a 52-yard completion to Mekale McKay, who began his career at Arkansas. McKay, who is 6-6, finished with nine catches for 175 yards and a TD.
"I came out real nervous, and I think the entire week I had butterflies," Kiel told reporters afterward. "But we came out firing and the team did a great job. The offensive line did a great job protecting me, wide receivers came up with some great catches and the only thing I had to do was drop back and throw it up."
Kiel has a chance to put up more big numbers next week, when Cincinnati meets hapless Miami (Ohio). He and the Bearcats play at Ohio State on Sept. 27.
The NCAA record for TD passes in a debut had been five, by Florida's John Reaves in 1969. Reaves eventually was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1972.