The 2011 season saw one of the great regular season performances from a Cincinnati running back in a long time when Isaiah Pead rushed for 1,259 yards and 12 touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, Pead was a senior and was taken in the 2012 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams, ending his Cincinnati career. With Pead's departure, the position was up for grabs going into 2012.
George Winn had some experience and was the logical choice, being that he was the senior, but Cincinnati had other options as well with guys like Ralph Abernathy IV and Jameel Poteat. However, after observing a few preseason practices, it was clear who the favorite was, and that honor belonged to George Winn. Luckily for Bearcat coaches and fans, Winn didn't take long to prove himself.
In the first game for Cincinnati, a nationally televised showdown with Big East rival Pittsburgh, Winn rushed for 95 yards on just 11 carries, including taking the opening carry of the game 58 yards for a touchdown, to help lead the Bearcats to a decisive victory and definitively answering the question of who should be UC's starting running back. The rest of the season was a montage of great performances from the senior running back, rushing for fewer than 70 yards only once, a 35 yards performance against Rutgers in week 10.
Like I've said numerous times throughout the year, Winn's great season went beyond statistics, he brought a leadership quality to this team that they desperately needed, given the question marks surrounding the quarterback position. While not a vocal leader, Winn led by example, always running hard, never taking a play off and showing the rest of the team what can be accomplished through hard work and dedication. While stats did not tell the whole story of Winn's season, some of the performances were too good to ignore. His 30 carry, 165 yard and three touchdown performance against Syracuse was one of the best of the 2012 season, with Winn showing off his arsenal of moves, running over a linebacker on one play, then running around a sprinting defensive back on the next.
When all was said and done, Winn finished the 2012 regular season with 227 carries for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns. From a virtual unknown, to one of the best backs in the Big East, George Winn's 2012 season was one to remember, and one that Bearcat fans won't soon forget.
While Winn was having a season to remember, Ralph Abernathy IV was putting together his own impressive campaign as Cincinnati's jack-of-all trades. The sophomore from Atlanta lined up at slot receiver, running back and outside receiver for the Bearcats and provided a threat on any given play.
Abernathy finished the 2012 season with 366 yards rushing and three touchdowns while accumulating 297 receiving yards on 25 catches and three additional touchdowns. While the stats might not jump out at you, his contribution to Cincinnati's offense was impressive. Abernathy was a nightmare for opposing coaches to game plan against. He could take a screen pass for a touchdown, like he did twice on the road against Louisville, or he could line up at running back and find a little space in the offensive line and break off a big run, like his 52-yarder against Toledo. The surprising factor in Abernathy's season was his lack of usage in the last few games.
While clearly the most explosive player on Cincinnati's offense, his touches declined in each of the last three games, baffling fans and the media alike. While the end of the season may be one to forget, the overall product was a joy to watch, and one we look forward to seeing for the next few season.