***** NCAA Football Preview - Cincinnati Bearcats *****
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: It has been a nice little run for the Cincinnati
Bearcats and the 2012 campaign proved to be no different. By racking up a
10-3 record the Bearcats earned double digit victories in a season for the
second straight year and the fifth time in the last six seasons. To put that
in perspective prior to this six-year stretch, Cincinnati had never won more
than eight games in a season.
The Bearcats roared out of the gate in 2012 beginning with a decisive 34-10
rout of Pittsburgh, followed by four more wins in succession. The Bearcats
then took tough losses in their first two road games against Toledo (29-23)
and in an overtime battle with eventual league champion Louisville (34-31).
From there Cincinnati rebounded well, collecting wins in four of its final
five regular season games.
With a 9-3 regular season mark the Bearcats earned a spot in the Belk Bowl but
entered the contest without Butch Jones who accepted the head coaching job at
Tennessee after the regular season. That didn't stop the Bearcats though, as
they knocked off Duke, 48-34, for their second straight bowl victory.
OFFENSE: Most teams would feel confident having their starter at quarterback
return. That isn't the case with Cincinnati. Though Munchie Legaux is back on
the roster, he has slipped on the depth chart after a year of erratic passing.
Legaux did go 6-2 as a starter but also completed just 52.2 percent of his
passes. Under new head coach Tommy Tuberville, it is Brandon Kay who will be
taking the snaps. Kay got some playing time last season and led the Bearcats
to a 4-1 record in the final five games of the season. Kay was much better at
making decisions, completing 63 percent of his pass attempts, with 10
touchdowns against just two interceptions.
The quarterback competition got even more interesting in the spring when
former Notre Dame signal caller Gunner Kiel transferred in. Kiel was heavily
recruited out of high school in 2011 but spent the 2012 season fourth on the
depth chart with the Fighting Irish.
"We are very excited Gunner has decided to enroll at UC," Tuberville said.
"He's a great talent and an even better person. He comes from a great family
with some strong quarterback lineage. We are looking forward to getting him
here and seeing what the future holds."
The quarterback race is likely between Kay and Kiel as each fits the mold that
Tuberville prefers at the position.
The most important skill position holdover for the Bearcats is on the outside,
where wide receiver Anthony McClung reigns. McClung didn't turn many heads
with his numbers on paper (34 receptions, 539 yards) but with the rest of the
receiving corps, including the tight end spot, made up of mainly untested
players, McClung will be leaned on heavily.
Perhaps even more crucial to Cincinnati's offensive attack will be making up
for the loss of George Winn and the 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns he rushed
for last season. Getting the first shot at the job will be junior Ralph D.
Abernathy. The 5-foot-7 back rushed for 366 yards on 69 carries as Winn's
backup and was also a factor in the passing game (28 receptions, 341 yards, 4
TDs). Tion Green and junior college transfers Rodriguez Moore and Hosey
Williams will also compete for touches.
Though the play of Winn was a big reason for it, the Bearcats led the Big East
in rushing last season thanks to one of the best offensive lines in the
conference. All five starters from that unit are back, including a pair of
all-conference first-team selections in Eric Lefeld and Austen Bujnoch.
DEFENSE: Under Tuberville the Bearcats will be utilizing a 4-3 front on the
defensive side of the ball. That is the same formation they favored a year ago
under Jones. It makes sense that Cincinnati wouldn't change much as the team
was solid on defense, ranking second in the Big East and 14th nationally in
points allowed (18.5 ppg), the team's best mark since 1995.
Greg Blair is the glue for the defense as the senior linebacker will be
anchoring the unit from the middle. Blair was a first-team All-Big East
selection last season, while piling up an impressive 138 tackles, 9.0 TFL and
a pair of interceptions. Blair will be joined at linebacker by returning
starter Nick Temple and Florida State transfer Jeff Luc, who has the potential
to elevate the group to new heights.
Up front the Bearcats will be inserting a number of players that have
experience in years, but not so much in terms of playing time. Jordan Stepp
and Camaron Beard were each starters a year ago and combined for nine sacks at
the defensive tackle position. Seniors Elijah Shuler, Mitch Meador and Adam
Dempsey will also be in the rotation, while sophomore Silverberry Mouhon
projects as the most likely break-out candidate.
The secondary will be in good hands with Deven Drane lining up at cornerback
and Arryn Chenault overseeing things from the safety position. Drane collected
40 tackles and tied for a team-high with nine passes defended, while Chenault
had a team-best three interceptions
SPECIAL TEAMS: Abernathy and McClung will fit right back into their spots as
the primary kick and punt returners, respectively. Meanwhile, Tony Miliano
will be back to perform place kicking duties after he knocked in 17-of-22
field goal attempts last season. However, the Bearcats have big shoes to fill
with punter Pat O'Donnell gone after he transferred to Miami-Florida. His
replacement will be junior John Lloyd.
OUTLOOK: Tuberville didn't exactly impress in his last stop at Texas Tech
where he went 20-17. However, he brings a wealth of experience and notoriety
to the position, which has served as a stepping stone for its last two coaches
(Jones and Brian Kelly).
"We're excited about the first year of coaching in this league with some new
players," Tuberville said of his new squad and league. "Cincinnati has been
one of the bright spots in college football for the last six or seven years.
So being at Cincinnati for me, I'm excited to try to keep it going and improve
There is talent on this roster but it is spread thinner than in past seasons.
Kay will have to show that he can replicate his success in a larger sample
size and Abernathy or one of the other backs in the stable will need to step
up. Both of those goals should be attainable behind a strong offensive line.
The schedule lines up nicely for the Bearcats, who don't play an overly
challenging non-conference slate (vs. Purdue, at Illinois, vs. Northwestern
State and at Miami-Ohio). Plus the Bearcats get Louisville at home to end the
regular season. That contest will come after the toughest stretch of the
campaign for Cincinnati when it travels to Rutgers and Houston in back-to-
Getting to double-digit wins for a third straight seasons isn't outside the
realm of possibility for Cincinnati. However, with the team lacking the
returning talent of years past, and its track record under first-year head
coaches (4-8 in Butch Jones' first season), the Bearcats might not be able to
reach that high this year. However, eight wins and a bowl game is well within
08/21 12:04:15 ET