1. The Butch Jones Effect: Jones has been in these shoes before when he took over at Central Michigan for Brian Kelly. Now the stakes are higher as Kelly built the Bearcats into a back-to-back Big East Champion and multi-BCS opponent. Jones knows the Big East and has seen first hand what Kelly has done, but now its time for Jones and his staff to leave their mark and a change in defensive and offensive terminology and schemes are ahead for the players. While the offense will still be a spread attack and one that throws the ball around, the defense looks to be headed back to the 4-3 after going one season in the 3-4. Several players on the defensive side of the ball should be happy as this will better suite their talents.
Jones is a veteran coach and his staff has shown they know how to win. There will be a few growing pains but overall the spring session should set the pace for preseason camp and the teams stay at Camp Higher Ground.
2. Quarterback: Tony Pike will be looking to his draft status this spring instead of fine tuning the Bearcats offensive attack. Zach Collaros showed in the South Florida games and each time he took the field he has talent and enough ability to guide the Bearcats to victory. But how will Collaros do when he knows he's the one in charge of the Bearcats? Zach will have many things to learn about the Bearcats offense and Chazz Anderson is sure to continue to fight for his chance to be the starter as well. At the time we write this there are still questions on the availability of Brendon Kay. After showing great progress last season, Kay went down with a freakish injury and looks to be out of spring drills. This is a setback for Kay and the Bearcats as he was sure to be looking to throw his hat into the fire for the Bearcats starting job.
3. Left Tackle: Jeff Linkenbach went from low ranking recruit to a multi-year starter at left tackle you could count on. Now the Bearcats will have to find a replacement for Linkenbach and the spring is going to prove that someone has the skills to take command of the position. Sean Hooey has been working hard since coming to campus but is still a work in progress. He's been given the chance to get some snaps under his belt and is getting a feel for the speed of the college game. But may still be a season away from being a fulltime starter. Another move could see Alex Hoffman move over from right guard. The spring should find several players looking to stake a claim to spots along the offensive line but left tackle is the spot everyone should be watching.
4. Defensive Change: The spring of 2010 will bring the Bearcats new defensive coordinators as Tim Banks and Jon Jancek look to bring the Bearcats back from one season in the 3-4. For the players this is the third change at coordinator in as many seasons as they've seen Joe Tressey and Bob Diaco the past two seasons. While I fully understood the move to the 3-4, going back to the 4-3 will open several players up for playing time they may not have seen. Also gone are several key seniors including All-American Andre Revels at linebacker. The defense is going to be young and mistakes are sure to be plenty early in practice, but there is talent as the Bearcats have recruited well on the defensive side of the ball and players like Jordan Stepp and Mike Hilty look to earn their stripes.
5. Replace Mardy Gilyard's Production: How do you replace Mardy Gilyard? You really can't, but the Bearcats may be in a position to come closer than anyone may have though as Vidal Hazelton will be available and looking to prove a point about his talent. All the tools are there and Hazelton should be 100% healthy. Another name to watch is Marcus Barnett as a new coaching staff could prove to give new life to the former All-Big East Freshman who posted 62 catches in 2007. But the biggest area that will need to be worked on is finding a player capable of making the Bearcats kick and punt return teams dangerous. Gilyard could change the flow of a game in so many ways and this spring will be used to find the player who will fill those voids.