The 2005 Cincinnati Bearcats were near the bottom nationally in nearly every offensive ranking. The good news for 2006 is that they have seven starters returning. The bad news is that three of the four starters lost were on the offensive line. The Bearcats will need this group to gel early in order to be competitive in the Big East.
The UC quarterbacks didn't play well in the spring game. As a group they passed for just 142 yards with three interceptions. Sophomore Dustin Grutza played in all 11 games last year but had an efficiency rating of just 111. Grutza is still the leading candidate for the job. The Bearcats did not recruit a quarterback this year, so the only candidates to beat out Grutza are senior Nick Davila or redshirt freshman Craig Carey.
It appears that it will be tailback by committee in 2006 for the Bearcats. The top four rushers from 2005 all return for the 2006 season. They are led by Bradley Glatthaar, who had 620 yards rushing in 2005. Greg Moore and Butler Benton will push Glathaar for playing time. Moore had a game-high 54 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in the spring game. Doug Jones is back for his third season starting at fullback. The 6'4", 282-pound fullback doesn't carry the ball much, but is an effective lead blocker due to his size. While UC did not have an overpowering running game in 2005, they were effective at 4.4 yards per rush. With everyone returning at tailback, they should improve upon the 2005 season.
Brent Celek returns for his senior season at tight end. Celek was second on the Bearcats team last year in receptions, hauling in 32 catches. The top four receivers from last year are all back for the 2006 season. Derick Ross, Earnest Jackson, Antwuan Giddens and Bill Poland combined for 87 catches last year. They are an experienced group for the quarterbacks to throw to. The passing game struggled in the spring game, but this group is the strongest position on the offensive side of the ball heading into the 2006 season.
The offensive line returns just two starters from 2005. Junior right tackle Digger Bujnoch is the only established starter heading into 2006. The other returning starter is senior Jeff Reinstatler at right guard but three different players were given starts at the right guard spot last year. Cincinnati is counting on junior college transfers Mario Duenas and Ken Rodriguez to take starting spots on the offensive line this year. The final spot will be up for grabs with Jon Tobin, Trevor Canfield and Khalil El-Amin being the leaders after spring ball. The offensive line struggled in the spring game and it will likely continue into the fall. In order for Cincinnati to be effective on offense, they will need to find five guys who can play. It doesn't appear as though it will be settled until fall camp.
The 2005 Bearcat defense ranked 78th nationally giving up just over 400 yards of total offense per game. The good news is that 10 starters return for 2006. Cincinnati started six freshmen at different points in 2005. That is unheard of in today's college game.
The defensive line returns three starters for 2006. This group is led by a pair of sophomores in defensive tackle Terrill Byrd and defensive end Trevor Anderson. Both started as freshmen last year and should be better this year after an off-season in the weight room. Defensive tackle Jon Newton also returns for 2006. The other defensive end spot will likely go to Anthony Hoke. This group was very productive in the spring game with Byrd having two tackles for loss including a sack and Anderson with five total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and one pass breakup.
The linebackers are lead by All-Big East and Freshman All-American Corey Smith. The outside linebacker had 64 tackles last year. The undersized (6-1, 200 pounds) Anthony Williams is back at the other outside linebacker spot after tallying 66 tackles in 2005. Senior Kevin McCullough is back at the middle linebacker position. McCullough had 60 tackles and was second on the team with 10 tackles for loss in 2005. Another sophomore to be, Ryan Manalac, made a pair of starts at the middle linebacker position last year and will add depth at the middle linebacker position. Highly touted freshman Freddie Lenix should battle for playing time as well. Lenix is the star of the 2005 recruiting class and could make an instant impact at outside linebacker.
The secondary returns intact for 2006 as well. Haruki Nakamura led the Bearcats in tackles and interception in 2005 from the free safety position. He will be paired with senior Dominic Ross at strong safety. Mike Mickens made the All-Big East second team as a freshman in 2005 and looks to improve on his standout freshman season at cornerback. Senior Antoine Horton is back for his third year starting at the other cornerback position. Cedric Tolbert and Marshawn Gilyard should be the backups at cornerback, while JaJuan Hall and David Wess will give the safeties a rest. Tolbert was yet another freshman who earned a start in 2005, and Wess played very well at the end of the 2005 season. Between Nakamura and Mickens, the Bearcats have two players in the secondary that could easily make the All-Big East first team in 2006.
The Special Teams
Kevin Lovell returns as the kicker in 2006. Lovell was just 4 of 9 on field goal attempts in 2005 and had problems with any kick over 30 yards. The Bearcats found a pair of punters in the spring game with Kevin Huber and Brian Steel both performing very well. Both will likely see action this year.
The 2005 Bearcat squad was very young on both sides of the ball and it showed. With a true freshman starting at quarterback and as many as six freshmen starting on defense, it was a recipe for disaster. The 2006 season will have its own challenges on offense with a revamped offensive line but the defense should be much better. Mark Dantonio may start feeling the heat in Cincinnati if there isn't improvement this year. He is just 12-12 after two seasons and the program seemed to have taken a big step back in 2005. The defense gave up more than 40 points on four occasions and more than 30 three times. The offense wasn't much better. The Bearcats never scored more than 30 points all year. The schedule isn't friendly this year with road games against Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and West Virginia. The Bearcats may not match their win total from 2005 and should be in a battle with Syracuse for the bottom spot in the Big East.