It was an offseason filled with change for the Cincinnati Bearcats. As the start of the season is only days away, there are high expectations for a team with plenty of fresh faces.
The Bearcats are welcoming a new head coach in Tommy Tuberville this year. They are also joining a new league, as the American Athletic Conference will begin its inaugural season.
Cincinnati is coming off yet another 10-win season and a share of the Big East title. With a plethora of talent coming back on both sides of the ball, expectations are certainly high in 2013. The Bearcats were picked to finish second in their league by the media.
With the regular season fast approaching, here is a preview of what to expect from the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2013.
The 2012 season was another successful year for the Bearcats. Cincinnati not only finished in a four-way tie for the Big East title, but also won 10 games for the fourth time in five years.
While in previous seasons—particularly under former head coach Brian Kelly—Cincinnati did it with offense, the 2012 team had an excellent defense, allowing only 18.5 points a game. The Bearcats feasted on turnovers all season long.
Those turnovers allowed Cincinnati to win some close games throughout the year.
The regular season featured wins over Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Syracuse among others. Cincinnati finished the season by making a late comeback to defeat Duke 48-34 in the Belk Bowl.
While some of the talent from the team graduated, plenty of key young players emerged. Those players are going to be counted on heavily in 2013.
Offense—Returning Starters: 7
SR Brendon Kay* 6-4, 228 or SR Munchie Legaux 6-5, 200
FR Bennie Coney 6-3, 216
JR Ralph David Abernathy IV 5-7, 161
SO Tion Green 6-0, 220
SO Jared Golden 6-1, 240
SR Jordan Luallen 6-3, 240
JR Alex Chisum 6-3, 195
SO Max Morrison 6-1, 173
SR Anthony McClung* 6-0, 177
JR Shaq Washington 5-9, 174
SO Chris Moore 6-1, 190
FR Nate Cole 6-1, 193 or FR Jeremy Graves 6-2, 190
SR Blake Annen 6-5, 250
FR DJ Dowdy 6-4, 223
JR Eric Lefeld* 6-6, 309
JR Cory Keebler 6-7, 294
SR Austen Bujnoch* 6-5, 290
JR Kevin Schloemer 6-7, 312
SR Dan Sprague* 6-3, 290
FR Deyshawn Bond 6-2, 287
SR Sam Longo* 6-5, 305
SR Andre Cureton 6-6, 310
SO Parker Ehinger* 6-7, 292
SO Justin Murray 6-5, 294
Defense—Returning Starters: 5
SO Silverberry Mouhon 6-4, 248
SO Josh Posley 6-1, 252
SR Mitch Meador 6-4, 290
SO Brandon Mitchell 6-2, 308
SR Jordan Stepp* 6-1, 285
SR Adam Dempsey 6-2, 260
JR Jerrell Jordan 6-3, 248
JR Brad Harrah 6-5, 258
JR Nick Temple* 5-10, 218
SO Corey Mason 6-3, 223
SR Greg Blair* 6-2, 252
JR Solomon Tentman 6-2, 237
JR Jeff Luc 6-1, 251
JR Clemente Casseus 6-1, 227
SR Deven Drane* 5-11, 187
JR Darren Doston 6-2, 195
SR Arryn Chenault* 6-0, 208
SO Kevin Brown 6-1, 206
FR Andre Jones 6-1, 197
FR Marcus Foster 6-1, 204
SO Trenier Orr 5-11, 177
SO Leviticus Payne 5-9, 183
JR John Lloyd 6-2, 237
JR Tony Miliano* 6-2, 186
*denotes returning starter
Cincinnati has been relatively healthy all camp with the exception of senior wide receiver Anthony McClung.
McClung is the top returning receiver on the team. He has been held out for most of the preseason camp with a hamstring injury.
It was originally injured over the summer, but it appears McClung is on track to be ready for the season opener on Aug. 31 against Purdue.
Senior quarterback Brendon Kay, who is battling for the starting job, has been limited for precautionary reasons because of a sore arm.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on this season for the Bearcats:
Ralph David Abernathy IV: With big shoes to fill, Abernathy takes over as the starting running back, replacing George Winn. He is the fastest player on the team and has the ability to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
Last season Abernathy carried the ball 69 times for 366 yards and three scores. He also caught 28 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns. He excels as a kick returner as well.
Brendon Kay: Kay is likely to win the starting quarterback job over Munchie Legaux. The sixth-year senior stepped into the starting role last season midway through the year after Legaux struggled.
He is known for his excellent arm but also has enough mobility despite multiple knee injuries to move around in the pocket and find the open receiver. If he can build off the success he had at the end of last season, Kay could be an all-conference performer in 2013.
Greg Blair: No question that this guy is the best player on the team. Blair led the Bearcats in tackles last season with 138.
He is not only the best player on the team, but is also the vocal leader on the defensive side of the ball. This tackling machine could finish the season with 150-plus tackles.
Silverberry Mouhon: Mouhon is a defensive end with a wealth of potential. He stepped up last season during his freshman campaign during the absence of Walter Stewart. He could be one of the keys to the defense in 2013.
No player on the team showed more improvement throughout the season than Mouhon. If he continues to progress like he did in 2012, he could be one of the best defensive ends in the league by the end of the year.
Eric Lefeld: Cincinnati returns its entire offensive line, but nobody is better than junior left tackle Eric Lefeld. He will have the task of protecting the quarterback's blind side in 2013.
Lefeld and guard Austen Bujnoch are the two anchors on an offensive line that might have the most talent in the conference. If the group can stay healthy, they could do some amazing things up front for Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is one of many college football teams welcoming a new head coach. Tommy Tuberville takes over the program after spending the past three seasons at Texas Tech. He replaces former head coach Butch Jones, who left for Tennessee.
Tommy Tuberville has had quite a collegiate coaching career. He has been a head coach for 17 seasons and has a 130-77 career record. He is somebody who is known for his offensive schemes. Tuberville likes to throw the ball around. His Texas Tech squad ranked second in the country last season at 361.9 passing yards per game.
Along with the arrival of Tuberville comes new assistants. Here are those fresh faces:
Eddie Gran—Offensive Coordinator: Gran served as the wide receivers coach at Cincinnati from 1992-1993. He has been an assistant for 28 seasons, most recently at Florida State. He is known for his recruiting and has always done well developing the running game.
Art Kaufman—Defensive Coordinator: Kaufman held the same role last season at Texas Tech under Tuberville. He is a 29-year veteran and has always had an excellent defense when it comes to slowing down the passing game.
Robert Prunty—Associate Head Coach/Defensive Ends: Prunty is known as a very strong recruiter and will spend his time working with the defensive ends.
Steve Clinkscale—Defensive Backs: Clinkscale was the defensive backs coach at Illinois last season and will hold the same role at Cincinnati. He has also spent time at Toledo.
Tyson Helton—Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends: Helton spent the past six seasons as the running backs coach at UAB. He also served as the program's recruiting coordinator.
Darren Hiller—Offensive Line: Hiller spent last season as the offensive line coach for Nevada. He is a 20-year veteran as an assistant. He has also spent time at Arkansas State. Hiller inherits an offensive line that returns all its starters.
Darin Hinshaw—Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks: Hinshaw has been at Tennessee the past three seasons. Last year he was the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. He will mentor the quarterbacks in 2013.
Blake Rolan—Wide Receivers: Rolen was an intern at Tennessee last season and will be the wide receivers coach at Cincinnati. He learned under Hinshaw at Tennessee. Those two will be working together very closely all season long.
Fred Tate—Defensive Tackles: Tate has been at multiple FBS schools, but most recently Texas Tech in 2012. He will work closely with defensive ends coach Robert Prunty but will concentrate on the defensive tackles.
The schedule for Cincinnati only features one ranked team but does have a few marquee games:
Saturday, Nov. 16 at Rutgers: With the exception of Louisville, Rutgers looks to be the stiffest competition in the league. The Scarlet Knights were picked to finish right behind Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference.
Thursday, Dec. 5 vs. Louisville: There is no question that this is the biggest game of the season. It is also a Thursday night ESPN telecast. It might be the final time these two rivals meet for quite some time, and the conference title could also be on the line. It is a home game, which should help the Bearcats.
Here's the entire schedule:
August 31 vs. Purdue
September 7 at Illinois
September 14 vs. Northwestern State
September 21 at Miami (Ohio)
October 5 at South Florida
October 11 vs. Temple
October 19 vs. Connecticut
October 30 at Memphis
November 9 vs. SMU
November 16 at Rutgers
November 23 at Houston
December 5 vs. Louisville
For the Cincinnati offense it all starts up front.
With all five starters coming back on an offensive line that was solid last season, Cincinnati will be able to dominate the line of scrimmage against most of its opponents in 2013.
The offensive line will need to be strong without a proven running back, as Ralph David Abernathy IV takes over for George Winn.
Without a proven running back, there is going to be a heavy concentration on the passing game. Last season Texas Tech was second in the country at 361.9 passing yards a game. Cincinnati will use a lot of three and four wide receiver sets on all downs.
New offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will have to work in some new skill players, but leading returning receiver Anthony McClung will be the top target of either Brendon Kay or Munchie Legaux.
It is not going to be easy because Gran is going to have a much more complicated offense than Cincinnati has had in the past. There are going to be multiple blocking schemes. Last season the team ran virtually two schemes, the inside zone and the outside zone. This season there will be four or five different concepts.
Rising junior Alex Chisum could also be a threat down the field. He only caught nine passes last season after a solid freshman campaign but might be the most talented receiver on the field, averaging 15.8 yards a catch for his career.
The Bearcats will not be afraid to use their tight end in the offensive scheme. That group will not be as talented as last season but still can help out.
Tight end Blake Annen will have huge shoes to fill, replacing Travis Kelce, but he will be a huge target over the middle.
Last season the Bearcats averaged over 200 yards a game on the ground and through the air. That is not likely to be the case this season, but the balance will still be there.
The group averaged 32.3 points a game last season. Expect much of the same in 2013.
The defense of the Bearcats all starts with the man in the middle, Greg Blair. The senior linebacker was first on the team last season with 138 tackles.
Blair will be an anchor of a defense that will certainly be strong in the passing game. Last year defensive coordinator Art Kaufman led Texas Tech to the top of the Big 12 in passing defense.
The secondary will be anchored by two seniors. Deven Drane will be entering his third season as the starting cornerback, and safety Arryn Chenault also brings a wealth of experience. Freshman Andre Jones could make an immediate impact at safety.
Last season, Cincinnati also liked to load up the secondary, but the strength of the group in 2013 will likely be linebackers. Expect to see the more standard 4-3 scheme for most of the season.
Linebacker Nick Temple will join Blair, along with Florida State transfer Jeff Luc. Luc was a very highly touted linebacker in the 2010 recruiting class. He will make an immediate impact next season for the Bearcats.
Losses of names like Walter Stewart, Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills on the defensive line will be hard to replace. One player to keep an eye on is sophomore Silverberry Mouhon. He saw significant action last season as a freshman.
When it comes to schemes, Kaufman will employ a man-to-man approach, but will also sprinkle in a zone defense when necessary. He is going to have the confidence in his secondary to leave some of those players out on an island on certain occasions.
This is a defense that ranked 14th in the country last season, only allowing 18.5 points a game. It might not be quite that strong this year, but it should be very close. Expect the Bearcats to try to get as much pressure on the quarterback as possible. They tend to thrive on turnovers and will need to get some this year to have the sustained success they did in 2012.
The 2013 season for Cincinnati will boil down to a few X-factors:
Transitioning to a new coaching staff: There is almost always some type of learning curve with a new head coach. Cincinnati saw that firsthand, going 4-8 in 2010 under first-year head coach Butch Jones. In 2013, Cincinnati will need to avoid that kind of transition year.
Winning the big games: For the Bearcats, the season will likely come down to two of the final three games of the year. A road date with Rutgers and a home battle against Louisville are the two games that will likely decide the fate of Cincinnati. Wins in those games will likely mean a conference crown and a BCS berth.
Developing a running game: While there are no superstar receivers, there is enough talent to be very productive at that position. The running game might be a different story. Both Ralph David Abernathy IV and Tion Green were not counted on heavily last season in the running game. They both will be this season to create balance in the offense.
Picking the right quarterback: Senior Brendon Kay ended last season as the starter, and even though Tuberville has not announced a starter yet, Kay would appear to hold the slight edge over former starter Munchie Legaux. Picking the right guy for Tuberville's offense will be another key for Cincinnati in 2013.
Here are a few storylines to keep an eye on throughout the season.
Quarterback battle: It looks like it will come down to the wire between Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux. No matter who is named the starter when the season begins, the other player will be waiting in the wings. Since both are seniors, neither wants to relinquish the position. It should be very interesting to watch these two battle it out all season long.
How will Tommy Tuberville fair?: Bringing in a new head coach is always a big deal, but a name like Tommy Tuberville certainly sent shock waves around the Clifton campus. That was a much bigger name than Cincinnati fans are typically used to. That is one of the reasons why the Bearcats are expecting a huge season in 2013.
The development of young players on defense: With the graduation of six seniors on defense, including three along the defensive line, there are going to be some fresh faces on that side of the ball for Cincinnati. Some young players to watch include sophomore defensive end Silverberry Mouhon, sophomore cornerback Trenier Orr and freshman safety Andre Jones. Those young players should make an impact, as well as Florida State transfer Jeff Luc.
There is little doubt that Cincinnati is one of the best teams in the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats will be able to compete with anybody in the league.
Even though there are a few intriguing games before conference play begins, it does not look like Cincinnati will stumble early on. A pair of Big Ten teams start off the season, as Cincinnati plays Purdue at home followed by Illinois on the road.
After much easier games against Northwestern State and Miami (OH), Cincinnati begins conference play at South Florida. The Bulls welcome a new head coach but talent-wise are not on the same level as the Bearcats.
The conference opener is followed by perhaps the easiest stretch of the conference season with the likes of Temple, Connecticut, Memphis and SMU. After those games, there is a chance Cincinnati could be 9-0 heading into a road contest against Rutgers.
That is not going to be an easy game, as the Scarlet Knight defense often gives Cincinnati fits.
A road trip to Houston comes next, followed by the huge season finale at home against Louisville. That completes a regular season that ranks No. 101 in the country as far as schedule strength is concerned.
Look for the Bearcats to finish the season 10-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play.
That record will put Cincinnati in the Russell Athletic Bowl as the second place team in the league.
Expect a successful double-digit win season once again from Cincinnati in 2013.