Cincinnati went into the 2014 season expected to contend for an American Athletic title and they did just that. The Bearcats finished in a 3-way tie at the top of the conference with Memphis and UCF at 7-1. However, Cincinnati did get destroyed at home 14-41 by the Tigers and avoided having to play the Knights.
The Bearcats went 2-2 in non-conference play with their two losses coming against Ohio State and Miami (FL), leaving them at 9-3 in the regular season. They would drop to 9-4 with an ugly 17-33 defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl (2-point favorites).
Cincinnati will be headed into their 3rd season under head coach Tommy Tuberville, who has gone a solid 18-8 in his first two years on the job. Tuberville looks to have another AAC title contender in 2015, as the Bearcats return 13 starters (8 offense, 5 defense). It’s also worth noting that Cincinnati will unveiling newly remodeled Nippert Stadium (played home games at Paul Brown Stadium in 2014).
|9/19||@ Miami (OH)|
|11/28||@ East Carolina|
Estimated Wins: 8.38
Despite having to replace starting quarterback Brendon Kay (3,302 yards, 22 TDs), the Cincinnati offense didn’t miss a beat in 2014. The Bearcats put up 34.0 ppg and 460 ypg. Only Memphis (36.2 ppg) and East Carolina (35.8 ppg) averaged more points among AAC teams.
A big reason for the offense not taking a step back, was the emergence of former Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel, who started out his career in Cincinnati by tying the school-record with 6 touchdown passes in the opener against Toledo. Kiel ended up throwing for 3,254 yards with 31 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions, despite playing the majority of the year with injured ribs.
Kiel figures to have an excellent shot at putting up even stronger numbers in his junior season, as the Bearcats return their top 6 receiving options from last year, including the talented senior trio of Shaq Washington (761 yards, 4 TDs), Mekale McKay (725 yards, 8 TDs) and Chris Moore (673 yards, 8 TDs).
While the passing game continued to produce at a high level under Kiel, the running game suffered a minor setback. The Bearcats only averaged 157 ypg on the ground, their lowest output since 2010. A lot of that had to do with losing starting running back Hosey Williams after just 4 games. On the bright side, true freshman Mike Boone got a chance to showcase his talents and ended up leading the way with 650 yards and 9 touchdowns (6.4 yards/carry). While Williams is back for his senior season, Boone is expected to retain the starting spot he earned over the course of last season.
As for the offensive line, Cincinnati has to replace 1st-Team All-AAC left tackle Eric Lefeld, but look to be in good shape. The Bearcats return 3 starters and are expected to move 1st-Team All-AAC right guard Parker Ehinger to left tackle. The unit was hit hard with injuries last year and should have some better luck in that department in 2015. All signs point to this being one of the top offensive lines in the American Athletic.
The defense ended the year allowing just 27.2 ppg, but that’s a misleading stat given they played a number of really bad offenses. The Bearcats gave up 30+ points in 7 of their 13 games. They had a 3-game stretch early in the year where they allowed a ridiculous 146 points.
Improving defensively in 2015 won’t be easy with just 5 starters coming back. The biggest area of concern is a defensive line that played a big role in Cincinnati giving up 184 ypg on the ground (4.8 yards/carry), which was their worst mark since 2001. While they get back 2nd-Team All-AAC defensive end Silverberry Mouhon, they have to replace each of the other 3 starters. Guys like sophomore defensive end Mark Wilson, senior defensive tackle Brandon Mitchell and junior college transfer Hakeem Allonce will need to step in and play well.
Things don’t look a whole lot better at linebacker, where Cincinnati loses 1st-Team All-AAC middle linebacker Jeff Luc (team-high 134 tackles, 6.5 sacks) and 2nd-Team All-AAC outside linebacker Nick Temple (113 tackles, 3 sacks). They do get back senior starting outside linebacker Leviticus Payne, but all the hype is surrounding red-shirt freshman Kevin Mouhon (younger brother of Silverberry), who has received all kinds of praise from the coaching staff.
The strength of the defense figures to be a secondary, which returns 3 starters from last year, including talented junior safety Zach Edwards, who had 121 tackles and 2 interceptions as a sophomore. They also get back senior corner Adrian Witty, who started the first game before suffering a season-ending injury. Not to mention they add in Arkansas transfer Chris Murphy, who was the scout team player of the year last season (projected to take over 1 of the starting corner spots).
Regular Season Win Total
AAC Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
According to the oddsmakers, Cincinnati has the best of odds of any team to win the American Athletic, but the first order of business will be to win the newly formed East Division, which includes 3 other serious contenders in Temple, East Carolina and UCF.
While the Bearcats had a couple of difficult non-conference games against Ohio State and Miami (FL) last year, the overall schedule wasn’t all that challenging. That’s not the case in 2015. Cincinnati draws Miami (FL) and BYU in non-conference action, while having to go on the road in conference play to face Memphis, Houston, and East Carolina. They are the only 1 of the 4 contenders in the East to draw the top two teams out of the West in Memphis and Houston and have to play both on the road.
Despite the more challenging schedule and a defense that looks like it will give up its fair share of points again in 2015, the offense figures to carry the Bearcats to another strong season. I have Cincinnati going 2-2 in non-conference play and 6-2 in the ACC to finish up at 8-4 and just under their 8.5 win total. It wouldn’t shock me if they exceeded my expectations and got to 9 wins, as they have reached that exact mark in each of the last 4 regular seasons.
American Athletic (East)
American Athletic Record
Win Total Prediction
OVER 7 Wins – I don’t see five losses on the schedule. Alabama A&M, UConn, Tulsa, South Florida are four near-automatic wins. Cincy should win at least two out of three against Miami (Ohio), Temple, and UCF which gets us to six already. Road games against Houston and ECU won’t be easy but one is going through a coaching change and the other lost their star QB. Memphis, Miami (FL) and BYU will be tough but this team should still easily get to at least eight.
OVER 7 Wins – Cincinnati has won more than 7 games in 8 of the last 9 seasons. Unless they lose their coach and quarterback in the same week, then I think they are set to win 8-10 games. They have a premier QB, the best WR core they’ve had in years, and a coach and OC who love to run the score up. If the defense is average they could even run the table. Gunner Kiel will set school passing records if he stays healthy. Tuberville’s recruiting will finally pay dividends this season and Cincy should at least be in the AAC title game (if not hosting it). Cincinnati seems like a safe bet to hit 9 or 10 wins, but college football is filled with variables and is never a completely safe bet.