Crystal Ball Prediction Vs. West Virginia

Bearcat Insider predicts the Bearcats carry an undefeated record into its Big East matchup vs. West Virginia. Will the Bearcats remain unscathed after traveling to Morgantown, WV and taking on the always dangerous Mountaineers?

Last season, Cincinnati nipped West Virginia 24-21 at Nippert Stadium en route to a Sugar Bowl berth. Isaiah Pead had a career game in the Mountaineers game in 2009, rushing for 175 yards on 18 carries, including a two-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

The Mountaineers biggest returning threat is clearly senior running back Noel Devine. In 2009 Devine 1,465 yards on 241 attempts (6.1 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. However, he was held relatively in check by the UC defense last season managing 88 yards on 25 carries and zero scores.

West Virginia did rush for 202 yards in the matchup last season with then-freshman Ryan Clarke had 60 yards on five attempts and a score. Clarke has a nose for the end zone scoring eight touchdowns as a freshman.

The Mountaineer rushing attack should be potent again as they return those two running backs and four starting offensive linemen from a year ago.

While the rushing attack should be good again, West Virginia does have a new signal caller under center after the loss of senior quarterback Jarrett Brown. The likely replacement for Brown is sophomore Geno Smith who passed for 309 yards and had a 65 percent completion percentage in five games last season.

Whoever the quarterback is, they will have some quality returning targets to throw to in senior wide receiver Jock Sanders and junior wide out Bradley Starks.

Sanders accounted for 72 receptions and 688 yards with three touchdowns last season, while Starks was the third leading receiver from a year ago with 29 catches for 405 yards and two scores. Starks could be more of a target in the red zone with his 6-foot-3 frame.

The Mountaineers only lose two starters from a defense that ranked 36th in the nation in total defense allowing 336 yards per game in 2009 and gave up 21.69 points per game. Look for those rankings to improve in 2010 as they have a very veteran group coming back.

West Virginia returns their two leading playmakers on the defensive side in defensive back Robert Sands and defensive lineman Julian Miller. Sands led the team with five interceptions while Miller led in sacks with nine and several passes deflected at the line.

This game could be the best overall test to date in the Big East for the Bearcats with the Mountaineers rushing attack and likely improved defense from a defense that was pretty solid a year ago.

Prediction: 27-24 West Virginia. The Bearcats are likely to lose at least one game this season and this could very well be that game. The Mountaineers are always very tough in Morgantown and while Pead had a career game against them last season, it will be tough for him to duplicate those numbers against them again.

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