As spring camps get started over the next few weeks, we’re going to be hearing plenty of bold predictions. Every champion of a BCS conference will be called a favorite for becoming the next national champion. Even teams that were not champions will be projected as champs, teams like Notre Dame, USC, Florida, Oklahoma, Miami, and maybe even Virginia Tech. However, there is one conference champion from last year that will be left off The List and maybe even out of the Top 25: Cincinnati.
There are a number of reasons for this; some legitimate, some not. Certain analysts will point to the humiliating loss in the Sugar Bowl, others will cite the coaching change, and still others will remind us that the Bearcats play in the lowly Big East. Those who count them out due to the loss to Florida conveniently forget that it had been a whole calendar year since the team had last lost a game. After falling 20-7 to Virginia Tech, the Cats launched a 12-0 regular season campaign using that game as a motivator. Those citing coaching changes may be onto something. In general, history is on their side, however the last time Brian Kelly left for a bigger program and Butch Jones took over, Jones won a conference championship in his first year, and with the team that Kelly built, there is no reason to think he can’t do it again. As for the perception of the Big East, the conference is no weaker than the ACC or the Pac-10.
It is for these reasons that I whole-heartedly believe that the Cincinnati Football Bearcats will again have a good season, however, I am willing to take it a step further. I am going to predict (barring injury to key players at QB and RB) that the Bearcats will finish the season with an 11-1 record.
Before you blow me off as just another homer, hear me out. Gilyard was the best deep-threat receiver Cincinnati has ever had, no question. But let’s not get carried away, he was no one-man show in the passing game. Armon Binns had no problem getting open either, he and Gilyard tied for the team lead in TDs. With Ben Giduigli and DJ Woods also returning, along with the arrival of Vidal Hazelton, this appears to be more of a possession passing game, but that will be no problem with another young defense.
Anyone familiar with Cincinnati’s last season will tell you that the only question at QuarterBack with Pike gone is: Is this team better off? Stepping in is the holder of the Big East single-game yardage leader Zach Collaros. He has the potential to be the next Dan LeFevour. And with the coach of the old LeFevour stepping in, he very well could live up to this potential.
Jones says he is more committed to the running game than Kelly was. This is great because Junior Running Back Isaiah Pead has been waiting for his opportunity for a breakout year. As a sophomore he recorded 806 rushing yards on 121 carries and 201 yards on 20 catches .It may be blasphemy, but I believe he can cutback like Noel Devine, but has the hands to line up the slot as a receiver.
All I can say about the defense is that I hope Jones takes it back to the blitzing, ballhawking kind we’re used to seeing instead of the conservative Cover-2 stuff we saw out of last year’s squad.
Because of all of these things, there are only three games I see this team losing:
1. Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium. Defense was the Sooners calling card with Sam Bradford out, but backup Landry Jones had a 130.8 rating, and should only get better in his sophomore year. A crowd of about 65,000 should help the Bearcats’ cause.
2. At UConn. The Huskies always appear to be that team that falls just short of a great year. In the past two years, they’ve scored 45 points on Cincinnati. They figure to get better offensively this year, now that they’ve got the no-huddle offense figured out. The fact that this is an away game makes it that much tougher.
3. Pittsburgh at Nippert. The Panthers jumped out to a 21 point lead in a thrilling loss to the Cats. Almost a year to the day after that game, this could very well be two 11-0 teams playing for a shot at the National Championship.
You may have noticed that I left West Virginia off the list. I have nothing against them, but I am not convinced they have a quarterback stepping up for Jarret Brown that can outgun Collaros if necessary.