Marshall lost to Cincinnati in the 2004 PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl, 32-14, and beat the Bearcats in the Motor City Bowl in 2000, 25-13. UC leads the all-time series with a 6-3-1 mark in ten meetings. For most second-tier programs, losing a coach the caliber of Mark Dantonio, the architect of the Bearcats' turnaround, would have been a crippling blow that might take years to overcome. In the past, UC would start with a good young assistant to keep the production rolling.
Things have quickly changed by landing Brian Kelly, one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks and the star who made Central Michigan a Mid-American Conference champion. Now only has Cincinnati made a swift recovery and should continue the momentum Dantonio built in his three years in the Queen City, it could be argued the program got an upgrade.
Head coach: Brian Kelly
1st full year: 1-0 (won International Bowl)
17th year overall: 138-51-2
Off. 25, Def. 28, ST 0
Lettermen Lost: 13
Ten Best UC Players
1. DT Terrill Byrd, Jr.
2. CB Mike Mickens, Jr.
. WR Derrick Stewart, Jr.
4. WR Dominick Goodman, Jr.
5. DE Trevor Anderson, Jr.
6. FS Haruki Nakamura, Sr.
7. OG Trevor Canfield, Jr.
8. OT Digger Bujnoch, Sr.
9. RB Greg Moore, Sr.
10. LB Corey Smith, Jr.
Aug. 30 SE Missouri St. WON 59-3
Sept. 6 Oregon State WON 34-3
Sept. 15 at Miami, Ohio WON 47-10
Sept. 22 Marshall 7:30 p.m. (TV-WOWK TV-13)
Sept. 29 at San Diego St
Oct. 6 at Rutgers*
Oct. 13 Louisville*
Oct. 20 at Pitt*
Nov. 3 at South Florida*
Nov. 10 Connecticut*
Nov. 17 West Virginia*
Nov. 24 at Syracuse*
* Big East Games
Kelly is a winner with a robust career record and the titles at Grand Valley State and CMU to back up the hype. He's also got a bowl victory with his new employer, a rare luxury for an incoming head coach and his players after being on the sidelines for the Bearcats' 27-24 International Bowl victory over Western Michigan. He's not coming in cold.
Even if the locals are too interested in the Bengals and Reds to validate it, you can win football games at the University of Cincinnati. Dantonio and Rick Minter proved that over the last decade taking the school to a very respectable six bowl games. Now the goal is to turn this former Conference USA power into a major conference champion and get to the BCS. If Louisville and Rutgers could make the jump into the special category, why not Cincinnati? That's the question Kelly is asking, and if he's able to work his magic, he could have a positive answer sooner than many other Big East fans might like.
For now, the Bearcats can forget about competing with the stars for the championship, yet they have more than enough returning talent to win at least seven games, land another bowl berth, and vie for that coveted opening directly behind the Big East's Big Two. Kelly will have this program dreaming big.
What to watch for on offense: Kelly plans to open things up offensively, so get ready for the spread offense to replace Dantonio's conservative, run-first approach. Even with a shortage of receivers, a sketchy quarterback situation going into the fall, and a couple of returning power backs in Greg Moore and Butler Benton, the new scheme will be implemented, but more gradually than the new staff would like. Receiver Dominick Goodman has the right size and athletic ability to be a star once he finds his niche.
What to watch for on defense: What it lacks in size, it'll make up for with speed and by swarming to the ball. It all starts up front for the Bearcats, who boast one of the league's deepest and quickest defensive lines. Kelly's Central Michigan teams thrived with a great pass rush, and his UC front four will provide the same production. Trevor Anderson and Anthony Hoke are disruptive coming off the edge and Terrill Byrd is an all-conference, run-stuffing tackle. Mike Mickens is a top corner, who'll always draw the opposition's best receiver.
The team will be far better if: The quarterbacks aren't ducking for cover every other time they drop back. The offense was pathetic at times last year mainly because of poor pass protection leading to poor overall execution. There's hope that two-step drops and three quality returning linemen, Trevor Canfield, Digger Bujnoch and Jeff Linkenbach, will sharply reduce the 33 sacks the Bearcats allowed last season, while the coaching staff will do whatever's needed to put the quarterbacks in better positions to succeed.
The Schedule: Kelly and his new team have a chance to get off to a fast start if everything breaks right. A home upset over Oregon State could lead the way to a 5-0 record before October kicks in, and then things get interesting with at Rutgers, Louisville, at Pitt and at South Florida. If the Bearcats can get out of that stretch with a win, consider it a success. Wins over UConn and Syracuse late in the year are a must to get to a bowl.
Best Offensive Player: Sophomore WR Derrick Stewart. Proof that good things sometimes do arrive in small packages, Stewart debuted in 2006 with 33 catches for a team-best 675 yards and five touchdowns. Track speed allows him to get behind the coverage, but at just 175 pounds, he needs to beef up to a handle a new spread offense that relies heavily on short-range passes with defenders nearby.
Best Defensive Player: Junior DT Terrill Byrd. Byrd is never going to amass gaudy numbers with the Bearcats, but those around him will because of his ability to absorb multiple blockers and create an upfield push. Like a young Warren Sapp, the all-Big East tackle compensates for his modest size with a very quick first step and a non-stop motor.
Key players to a successful season: Quarterbacks Dustin Grutza and Ben Mauk. Mauk transferred from Wake Forest with the idea that he'd be the star of the Kelly offense, but Grutza has been the main face of the passing game, for good and bad, for the last few years and will have a leg up on the race with more practice time. Mauk won't join the team until August allowing Grutza to get a major jump on running the attack, but no matter who the main man is, he'll have to be mistake-free and consistent.
The season will be a success if: The Bearcats go to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2001 and 2002. The Big East has gotten so good that every week will be a battle, and the Bearcats became so dangerous at times last season that no one will look past them anymore. The defense should be good enough, and the coaching so tremendous on offense, that anything less than a winning season will be a tremendous letdown. Kelly is that good.
Key game: Oct. 6 at Rutgers. Considering the way the Bearcats beat up, threw over, and flat-out embarrassed the unbeaten Scarlet Knights in a 30-11 win, they might be walking into the lion's den. A win would mean the world with Louisville, Pitt and South Florida to follow, but just taking RU's best shot and battling well for a full sixty minutes would show the team's moxie under adversity.
2006 Fun Stats:
- First quarter scoring: Cincinnati 56 – Opponents 32
- Fourth down conversions: Cincinnati 6 of 13 (46%) – Opponents 4 of 18 (22%)
- Fumbles: Cincinnati 26 (lost 12) – Opponents 15 (lost 9)