Looking Ahead To Week One - Rutgers

The University of Cincinnati Football team enters the 2009 season as the defending Big East Champions. But the conference did their top program no favors scheduling their season opener on the road and in conference. As we get closer to the season Bearcat Insider will start to look at the season and we start with Rutgers.

In 2008 the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers finished where many had projected them to with an 8-5 record after beating North Carolina State in the PapaJohns.com Bowl 29-23.

Just like last season the Knights will open their season at home against a tough opponent in the Bearcats. Will they have the same results and take a home loss in the opener? Brian Kelly and his team will look to start their championship defense in a hostile environment against a team looking to get back to where they peaked a few years ago.

Offense

Starters Lost: 3

Much like the Bearcats the Scarlet Knights have a lot of starters returning on the offensive side of the ball. But the team's key offensive weapons are the ones that are gone.

Departed are quarterback Mike Teel and two of his main targets Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. Bearcat fans will miss Teel who never seemed to find his grove against the Bearcats the past couple of seasons.

Britt was a big-time playmaker capable of keeping his team in a game but the offense started with Teel and the Knights will have to find a replacement.

Whoever takes snaps from center in the season opener is anyone guess as two seniors without a single start (Jabu Lovelace, Domenic Natale) have never started a game during their careers.

Don't be surprised if an underclassman pushed the duo early since Lovelace wasn't able to take part in spring drills as he recovered from surgery on his ankle.

Natale has played in five games since transferring to Rutgers from Michigan State. He'll be the front runner but D.C. Jefferson or Steve Shimko could also push the Knights coaching staff to look towards the future.

This is year two without Ray Rice and the Knights will again look for a group effort to fill his shoes. Four backs including junior Kordell Young will battle for touches. Each of the backs are different in their ability and while they've yet to show one is ready to step to the front and replace Rice they do compliment each other and are solid players.

The strength on offense for the Knights is their offensive line anchored by future NFL players Anthony Davis at left tackle. Davis is the best player on the team and this could be his last year at the college level.

Projections: With a new quarterback at the helm things look good for the Bearcats in this game. While Brian Kelly would like to have this one a week later he knows how to get his team ready and the Knights have no idea on what the Bearcats will be bringing at them with their new defensive schemes. Look for the Bearcats defense to apply pressure all day and keep the Knights on the ground early and in the air late.

Advantage: Cincinnati

Defense

Starters Lost: 5

While it's well known the losses the Bearcats have on the defensive side of the ball the Knights are also looking to replace a large part of their production.

The five starters lost from last years defense accounted for almost 35% of the teams tackles, almost 40% of the team's sacks and 50% of the team's interceptions.

The strength of the Knights defense comes from the linebacker position as Ryan D'Imperio is a force from his middle linebacker spot. Keeping D'Imperio in check will be the key for the Bearcats offense.

Another player to watch is outside linebacker Damaso Munoz who was a key part in the Knights success late last season after a very slow start.

The Knights will be looking for playmakers in the defensive secondary after looking two really good players. Devin McCourty is the mainstay as he returns for his senior season.

Projections: Brian Kelly and Tony Pike enter the season knowing what they can do together. There are no questions as to the talent level the Bearcats have on offense and while season openers sometimes get sloppy the Bearcats offense should have a clear advantage in this game.

Advantage: Cincinnati

Special Teams

Rutgers is solid on their special teams as place kicker San San Te and punter Teddy Dellaganna performed well last season.

Te converted 12-of-17 field goals and went 45-48 on extra points.

Dellaganna showed a strong leg with an average of 41.2 yards per punt. He also showed he had the ability to keep the ball inside the 20-yard line 18 times last season.

So What Will Happen?

Since knocking off Rutgers in that memorable game in 2006 the Bearcats have controlled the Knights on the field. Don't look for 2009 to end the teams winning streak while also placing the Bearcats at the top of the Big East Conference early. It's a long season and many will pick the Knights to earn a home victory but picking up a conference win in week one is a major accomplishment and Brian Kelly is known for accomplishing big things.

Prediction Score: Cincinnati 34 – Rutgers 13


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