Brian Kelly can well be called the "Magic Man" with the way he got the Bearcats offense to perform during the 2008 season. Without a pure 1,000 yard rusher and having to start three different quarterbacks due to injury, Kelly worked his magic and while it may not have always been pretty it did keep Bearcat fans on the edge of their seats.
In 2008 the Bearcats averaged just over 25-points per game scoring 362 overall points. How did they get there? Throwing the football… Yes the Bearcats did run the ball and rushed for an average of 117 yards per game and 1,647 total net yards on 455 attempts.
But throwing the football is the staple of the Brian Kelly offense and the Bearcats posted some great numbers when you take into account the number of starting quarterbacks and having played four quarterbacks overall that attempted passes during the season.
For the season the Bearcats passed for 3,542 yards for a 253 yard per game average. While the Bearcats scored 15 times on the ground they hit pay dirt 26 times from the air and did well with their Red-Zone chances scoring 82% of the times they reached inside the 20 yard line with a touchdown ratio of 61% of the time they reached the zone.
2009 has a chance to surpass those numbers as many key members of the offense return to play key roles.
The Known: For the first time since Bearcat Insider started covering the Bearcats program fans know what to expect from their quarterback. While fans felt comfortable with Dustin Grutza going into last season many were still hopeful of a last minute Ben Mauk return. It didn't happen and Grutza looked good until he went down against Oklahoma putting into action the Tony Pike era.
Pike has lived the rag to riches story during his Bearcats career. At this time last summer some wondered if Pike was in his final season with the program. That all changed during preseason camp as Grutza went down with an injury in a scrimmage and Pike was pushed to the front of the line as the most veteran member of the quarterback group.
That injury to Grutza may have been a saving grace as Pike got many reps during camp and when Grutza went down he was ready to take the reins. Pike got time on the field in the first two games before being the starter against Miami and Akron. But fans soon learned it wasn't safe to be a quarterback for the Bearcats as Pike went down against Akron and would miss the next two games before starting the rest of the season.
Now Pike is not only expected to have the Bearcats controls in full gear this fall but many expect him to have an even better year as the starter from day one.
How good can Tony Pike be? Pike had a good enough Junior Pro Day that some feel he'll have a great chance to be drafted in next springs NFL Draft.
The Battle: Look for a hard fought battle at the running back position. The Bearcats are blessed having Jacob Ramsey, John Goebel and Isaiah Pead as options. Each back is different and if the spring showed anything its that Brian Kelly is not afraid to play the hot hand.
Ramsey enters his senior season and will be the one pushed by Goebel and Pead. While the Columbus native led the team in rushing it was John Goebel who enjoyed a better on field performance with a better average per carry and scoring five more touchdowns on the year.
But fans were asking for Pead after his performance against Marshall and now with a full season and a spring under his belt he should be ready to really push his speed and athletic ability into the mix.
Not only do the Bearcats have three solid backs to call upon they have a few good back-ups that could find time on the field as well.
Will Be Missed: The loss of Dominick Goodman is a major loss and one Brian Kelly knows will be hard to replace. Goodman not only was a solid pass catcher he was a clutch performer making the big play when it was needed most.
But while the Bearcats lost one major threat they still have an even bigger one returning in Mardy Gilyard. The senior enjoyed his greatest season and if he comes into the season with all cylinders running could be a player that pushes for national honors.
Goodman and Gilyard scored 18 of the teams 26 passing touchdowns with Goodman having seven of them.
But there are still enough quality receivers on the roster and that was shown during spring practice as Brian Kelly was willing to move Marcus Barnett to cornerback pushing younger players like D.J. Woods to take their game to the next level.
While everyone knows how big of a loss Goodman will be the strength of the recruiting done at the position will keep the air attack lighting up the sky.
The Big Question: After watching spring practice and the spring game the Bearcats biggest question lies along the offensive line.
Battles will be fierce from the day the team reports with the staff looking at Alex Hoffman to continue the improvement he showed last season making a couple of big starts and C.J. Cobb will be back fully healthy after missing last season with a knee injury.
Depth will be a major question entering camp and there are questions as to who will be the key back-ups when camp breaks.