Vidal Hazelton targeting possible return

Could Cincinnati receiver Vidal Hazelton return as soon as this week?

Sounds unlikely, but Hazelton is trying to make it back in near-record time after tearing an ACL in the Sept. 4 opener at Fresno State. The senior and former USC transfer said last month that he was hoping to return before the end of the season.

First, though, Cincinnati needs to find out whether it's possible for Hazelton to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Head coach Butch Jones said Monday that the school is investigating the chances of success for petitioning for that extra season and hopes to come to a conclusion later this week.

"If we could get another year, that would be a huge benefit for him on the field and off the field, academically, as well," Jones said. "It would be a huge boost for us as well."

But if there's no chance of being eligible next year, Hazelton is shooting for playing again in the final two regular-season games for Cincinnati. The Bearcats are at Connecticut this week.

Jones said Hazelton has been practicing on a limited basis recently.

"We'll try to involve him much much more in this week of preparation and practice," Jones said. "We'll see how that goes. We're going to proceed with extreme caution, just to make sure everything is fine. But he'll have more of a role when we start practice on Tuesday."

Returning from a torn ACL in less than three months would be mighty impressive, especially at a position that requires lots of running and cutting. Hazelton, if he can contribute, would add to an already wildly productive receiving corps that helped Cincinnati gain 661 total yards and score 69 points on Rutgers last week.

It would be better to see Hazelton get a full offseason of recovery and then play an entire season next year, especially since the Bearcats still have a lot of work to do to gain bowl eligibility. But that may not be possible, given that he's already used a transfer year. The biggest fear is that he rushes back and gets hurt again.