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Prelude to a Season: #18

18.) Cincinnati Bearcats

CincinnatiWhat You Need to Know
2008 was quite a successful season for the Bearcats, as head coach Brian Kelly had his best season on the BCS stage, racking up an 11-3 record, a Big East title, and an Orange Bowl berth. The offseason saw his second contract extension in as many years, as the Bearcats administration has hitched their football wagon to Kelly’s fast-rising star. As 2009 dawns, Kelly finds himself with a veteran offense, untested defense, a brutal schedule, and a conference that is primed for the taking for the second consecutive season.

Offensively, the Bearcats return 8 starters to a unit that was 4th in the conference with just a shade over 370 yards per game. They were 2nd in the conference in passing, dead last in rushing, and 4th in scoring offense with 25.9 points per game. Leading the charge this year will be senior QB Tony Pike, who battled a broken arm last season, yet still managed to throw for over 2400 yards and 19 TDs. He was one of 4 players to play the QB position for Kelly, but looks to have a firm grip on the starter’s job. Also returning is senior WR Mardy Gilyard who will shoulder much of the burden of increasing production to help offset the loss of Dominick Goodman, whose 1028 yards and 7 TDs were second only to Gilyard. On the ground the Bearcats will look to a three-pronged attack in senior Jacob Ramsey, junior John Goebel, and Isaiah Pead who all combined for 315 carries, 1465 yards, and 9 TDs last season. The offensive line is the biggest question for UC, as two starters have been lost, one to the Arizona Cardinals in OG Trevor Canfield.

Defensively is where the predominant worries and questions are for UC as 09 begins. Losing 10 of their unit’s starters as well as Defensive Coordinator Joe Tresey, the Bearcats and Coach Kelly must essentially start over. In a perfect storm of sorts, new Coordinator Bob Diaco saw this as a perfect time to change schemes, and the Bearcats will transition from their former 4-3 defense to a newly installed 3-4. The only returning full-time starter is senior FS Aaron Webster. And while UC is losing 8 of their top 10 tacklers from last season, they do return a bit of experience, as 6 players besides Webster have at least 1 start last year including senior LB Andre Revels who started 7. Last year’s UC defense led by players like Terrill Byrd, Adam Hoppel, Connor Barwin and Lamonte Nelms racked up impressive statistics, finishing the season #25 nationally in total defense and leading the Big East in sacks and tackles for loss. For those sorts of numbers to remain steady or even improve, the newly installed defense with their fresh crop of talented young athletes will need to play beyond their actual experience.

The scheduler at Cincy certainly did the 09 squad no favors, as their non-conference schedule may be one of the toughest in the country. 2008 saw them travel to Norman for a game against the Sooners and 2009 shapes up to be just as challenging. Games against Oregon State, Illinois, and Fresno State with OSU on the road makes their non-conference schedule one of the best.

For Cincinnati, 2009 could easily be a rebuilding year with so many questions on the defensive side of the football. But fans of UC certainly expect no drop off in results, expecting Brian Kelly and company to continue dominating. The conference is void of any clear-cut power teams, so earning a second consecutive Big East title along with the BCS payday that comes with it is well within reach for 2009.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Tony Pike: 199-324, 2407 yds, 19 TDs, 11 INTs
WR Mardy Gilyard: 81 rec, 1276 yds, 11 TDs
RBs John Goebel & Jacob Ramsey: 255 att, 1271 yds, 9 TDs

Game to Watch
Three games essentially stand in the way for Cincinnati to repeat as Big East Champions, a task that may be derailed after game 1. A season-opening loss at Rutgers (9/7) would put Cincy behind the 8 ball in terms of the Big East. If that’s a win, then their October 15th contest against South Florida and their November 7th showdown with UConn will determine the conference champion.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the defense adapts to a new scheme with few big play mistakes and continued intensity and pressure up front. Simply put, the defense is the key to 2009’s success or failure for the Bearcats. A serviceable effort puts them in the driver’s seat for a Big East title.

Season Outlook
Replacing nearly your entire defensive roster, your defensive coordinator, and losing a 1000-yard receiver is often a recipe for disaster in major college football. Thankfully for Cincinnati they are members of the Big East, where there is no clear cut favorite, and there are several teams that will not require maximum effort to defeat. Out of conference, the Bearcats will finish no worse than 4-1, and have a legitimate possibility at 5-0. In the Big East, despite the fact that parity abounds, I look for UC to drop their season opener at Rutgers but rebound nicely with no other losses. They’ll finish the season 10-2 with a Big East title, a BCS berth, and many folks looking in Brian Kelly’s direction for national coach of the year honors.

One Response

  1. As a Bearcat fan, thanks for the props.

    Good and fair analysis. Defense is a huge question mark. Another big loss … All-American punter Kevin Huber.

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