If 2009 taught the Cincinnati Bearcats anything, it let them know to compete with the big boys, they must improve their defense in 2010.
While the offense was impressive last season finishing No. 11 in the nation, the defense had its share of questions, particularly at the end of the season.
The Bearcats finished the year ranked No. 67 overall in total defense, allowing 374 yards a game. Their scoring defense was a little better and finished at No. 44 allowing slightly over 23 points per game. Nevertheless, if Cincinnati wants a repeat of last season, the defense needs some vast improvements.
From last season's Sugar Bowl team, the Bearcats will have to replace six starters on defense including lineman Ricardo Mathews and Alex Daniels, linebackers Curtis Young and Andre Revels, and defensive backs Aaron Webster and Brad Jones.
It may not seem like much, but Mathews was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and Daniels and Webster have also signed NFL contracts. Revels was the teams best defensive player.
Switching back to a 4-3 should help because Cincinnati is loaded at defensive line. Junior tackle Derek Wolfe returns in the middle along with junior John Hughes who saw considerable action last season.
At defensive end, sophomores Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills, both of whom played big minutes last season are back. The defensive line is young, but has as much playing experience as any group.
At linebacker, junior team leader J.K. Schaffer is back after a stellar sophomore season. He will be joined by sophomore Walter Stewart who started last season and has bulked up tremendously in the offseason. Stewart has a chance to do great things for Cincinnati over the next three years.
The third linebacker spot is up for grabs with no player having seen much playing time yet at Cincinnati. The front-runner may be sophomore Maalik Bomar who has impressed in the spring.
In the defensive backfield sophomore safety Drew Frey returns to anchor the secondary. Junior Dominique Battle is back at corner and once again the other two starting positions are up for grabs.
Sophomore cornerback Chris Williams is quietly making a name for himself. He was the Bearcats biggest recruit in the class of '09, but a near MCL tear caused him to miss considerable action last season. Also a possibility are red-shirt freshmen Will Sadler and Camerron Cheatham.
The defense has the potential to be better and they will need to be if Cincinnati is planning on running the table again.
Depth continues to be the big issue with Cincinnati. There is simply not much to choose from defensively after the starters.
Many people will say the defense was atrocious last season and at times it was, the fact is the offense had a tendency to score so quick the defense was constantly on the field.
Overall the defense was average, but average just does not cut it when it comes to winning BCS Bowl games.
For Cincinnati to take that step to the next level, the defense must improve and new head coach Butch Jones is fully aware of that.
Look for the Bearcats to control the ball a little more in 2010 with a balanced offensive attack.
The defense will be improved, but not great and Cincinnati should have no problem reliving the magic of 2010.