Cincinnati Football Predictions
Cincinnati’s second season under coach Butch Jones was better than just about anyone could have imagined. After finishing 4-8 in his first year on the job, the Bearcats earned a share of the Big East championship with a 5-2 mark in league play. They took down Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl to finish the season with an impressive 10-3 record. Somewhat quietly, Cincy has reached double-digit victories four times in the past five seasons.
The Bearcats finished second in the Big East (26th nationally) in scoring offense in 2011 with 33.3 points per game. They ranked third in the league (61st nationally) in total offense with 385.7 yards per game. Improving on these figures looks to be a tall task after losing quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead.
Despite missing 3.5 games, Collaros passed for over 1,900 yards and threw 15 touchdown strikes. Pead rushed for over 1,200 yards and 12 scores. That’s a lot of offense the Bearcats will have to replace.
Junior Munchie Legaux is expected to take over at quarterback. He only completed 47.4 percent of his passes for 749 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions in limited action last year. Senior George Winn and Jameel Poteat will try to fill Pead’s big shoes at running back. Winn is the team’s top returning rusher. He rushed for 219 yards and two scores last season.
Fortunately, the Bearcats do return their top two receivers in junior Anthony McClung and senior Kenbrell Thompkins. These two combined for 93 catches, 1,219 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions last season.
While they have the ability to make plays, Legaux may not have the ability to get them the football. I already mentioned his poor completion percentage, and defenses won’t have to respect the run as much with Pead no longer in the backfield. Plus, he will be playing behind an offensive line that lost two All-Big East performers (Randy Martinez, Alex Hoffman).
The stop unit was a big part of Cincinnati’s success a year ago. It finished third in the Big East (20th nationally) in scoring defense with 20.3 points allowed per game. It also ranked second in the league (sixth nationally) against the run with only 96.2 rushing yards allowed per contest.
We could see a bit of a drop off in run defense after losing 3rd-Team All-American defensive tackle Derek Wolf and 3rd-Team All-Big East nose tackle John Hughes. The pass rush, however, has the potential to be very good with defensive ends Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano back. They combined for 11 sacks last year. In order to remain respectable against the run, defensive tackle Jordan Stepp must be able to step up.
There are also concerns in the linebacker unit as the Bearcats lose middle linebacker J.K. Schaffer, who recorded at least 100 tackles in three consecutive seasons. Starting outside linebackers Maalik Bomar and Nick Temple return, but they’re about to find out how much easier Schaffer made their jobs.
The secondary showed major improvement last season, and we should see it continue to improve in 2012 with three of four starters back. It came up with 16 interceptions a year ago, which was a big reason why the Bearcats led the Big East with a plus-12 turnover margin.
Big East Prediction: 5th Place
While I think Cincinnati still has a shot at a bowl game, I don’t see it seriously contending for a Big East title. Too many key pieces must be replaced on the offensive side of the football. The Bearcats will be weaker up front and will get less production from the quarterback and running back positions.
We’ll find out right away how much the losses will affect this team as the Bearcats begin the season against conference rival Pittsburgh.
|ACC||Big 12||Big East||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|