2006 Opponent Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats

We move ahead and look at Ohio State's third opponent for 2006 with instate rival Cincinnati due to visit Ohio Stadium on Sept. 16. The Bearcats are coming off a tough 4-7 season, but coach Mark Dantonio has a wealth of experience back. Dantonio, of course, was an assistant for Jim Tressel on OSU's 2002 national championship team. Click here for more.

Here is the third in a Bucknuts.com series on Ohio State's 2006 football opponents as well as a preview, as the days wear on, for the Big Ten in 2006. We continue with the Sept. 16 game against Cincinnati.

Cincinnati

* Date, Time: Sat., Sept. 16, noon (ESPN-Plus regional syndication).

* Location: Ohio Stadium.

* Last Year, Bowl: 4-7. Big East: 2-5/sixth (tie).

* Coach: Mark Dantonio (third year at UC, 11-12)

* Returning Starters: 18. Offense (7): WR Earnest Jackson, LT Digger Bujnoch, RG Trevor Canfield, TE Brent Celek, QB Dustin Grutza, RB Bradley Glatthaar, FB Doug Jones. Defense (10): DT Terrill Byrd, DT Jon Newton, DE Trevor Anderson, OLB Corey Smith, MLB Kevin McCullough, OLB Anthony Williams, CB Mike Mickens, FS Haruki Nakamura, SS Dominic Ross, CB Antoine Horton. Specialists (1): K Kevin Lovell.

* Last League Championship: 2002.

* Last Bowl Appearance: 2004.

* Series Vs. Ohio State: This will mark the fourth and final meeting with Cincinnati as part of a four-game contract that began in 1999. Ohio State leads the all-time series with Cincinnati 12-2. The series began in 1893 with UC's only wins coming in 1896 and 1897, both in Cincinnati. The series was halted after a 67-6 win by OSU in 1931 at Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes have won all three of the games in the recent deal, including a 27-6 win in the 2004 opener. The schools have tentatively agreed to meet again in 2012 in Cincinnati and 2014 in Columbus.

* Schedule: Sept. 2, Eastern Kentucky; Sept. 9, Pittsburgh; Sept. 16, at Ohio State; Sept. 23, at Virginia Tech; Sept. 30, Miami (Ohio); Oct. 7, Akron; Oct. 14, at Louisville; Oct. 21, South Florida; Oct. 28, Syracuse; Nov. 11, at West Virginia; Nov. 18, Rutgers; Nov. 25, at Connecticut.

* Outlook: Dantonio will return to the site where he helped OSU win the 2002 national championship as its defensive coordinator. He also made his head coaching debut in the 2004 match-up between the schools.

Following that 2004 loss to Ohio State, Dantonio became just the second coach in UC history to lead the Bearcats to a bowl game in his first year on the job. (The other was former Buckeye player and coaching legend Sid Gillman.)

That 7-5 season was punctuated by a Fort Worth Bowl win over Marshall. But the youthful Bearcats fell off to 4-7 a year ago.

"We were a very young and inexperienced football team in 2005, and it showed," Dantonio said. "This is not the case this year. We have experienced depth at just about every position.

"We now have two full recruiting classes, and we are seeing daily the positive effects of our new facilities, our membership in the Big East and our BCS affiliation."

The hope for UC is that the offense will grow up after a tough 2005 season. Grutza had a rough baptism last year as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 1,799 yards and 11 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Grutza was among five quarterbacks competing for the starting job in preseason camp. Nick Davila and Tony Pike were also in the running.

"Quarterback is a position of leadership," Dantonio said. "We have experience coming back at our quarterback position in 2006. Quarterback will always be a position in which consistency, decision-making and the ability to make a positive play out of a negative one is essential."

The 5-11, 225-pound Glatthaar plowed his way to 620 yards a year ago. Jackson (27 catches) is the top returning receiver.

Ten starters return on a defensive unit that allowed a Big East-worst 401.6 yards and 31.4 points per game a year ago. The key names are Byrd up front, McCullough at MLB and Mickens at corner.

"Overall, our defense is much improved," Dantonio said. "We started five freshmen throughout the season in 2005 and were able to develop experience. We need to find play-makers. We need to stop the run and eliminate the big play. Last year, we didn't get enough turnovers, and our lack of experience hurt us in this area. We need to become a more opportunistic team in 2006."

The key will be to remain positive. UC's tough schedule will send the Bearcats to OSU, Virginia Tech, Louisville and West Virginia. UC will have to make hay at Nippert Stadium if it is to contend in the emerging Big East and also reach the postseason.

* Jerry Rudzinski Says: I think Cincinnati, first off, could be a team that eventually gets to the top-25 kind of ranking. You look at what that city has to offer socially as well as the university itself. I think it's a good draw for kids all over the Midwest. They have a great talent pool already in Cincinnati with the high schools there and they can go all over the state.

I think that program will be solid with Coach Dantonio. With him, you know what you're going to get. They're going to be organized. They're going to know their assignments. They won't have a lot of mental errors.

Now, they were 4-4 at one point last year and lost the last three games by a combined total of 113-25. They gave up 44 to Miami, 44 to Rutgers, 42 to Penn State and 38 each to West Virginia and Pitt. They have some growing to do.

They are catching Ohio State at the right time, no doubt. One of two things is going to happen. Ohio State is going to go down and beat Texas and be sky high and think they're world beaters. Remember, they don't have the maturity they had on defense last year. OSU could be too keyed up coming off a win at Texas, perhaps.

The other thing that could happen is Ohio State goes down and loses to Texas and comes home to play this game. Maybe they have a hangover for a couple of weeks after something like that.

UC will try and run the ball with Glaathaar. He averaged 4-1/2 yards a carry last year. He runs behind a good fullback with Jones as well. With the quarterback, Grutza, I see 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. They need to improve that ratio.

The OSU defensive line should get after UC and I think the weapons Ohio State has should be able to move the ball against the Bearcats.

* Steve Helwagen Says: This is a dangerous, in-between game. It comes a week after the big game at Texas and a week before the Big Ten opener with Penn State. Cincinnati has become this little engine that could down I-71. As a member of the Big East, they are on equal footing with Ohio State in terms of access to the BCS.

I think Mark Dantonio and his staff are primed to make that program a contender in the Big East, which is better than everybody thinks. (See West Virginia over SEC champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, in Atlanta, no less.)

To make that happen, Dantonio and his people will have to keep bringing in the talent on par with Pitt, WVU and, yes, Ohio State. He had a young team last year. Now they have some guys who have at least played.

The four tough road games they have make a winning season a bit of a dicey proposition.

Below are archives of past opponent previews:

Game 1: Northern Illinois

Game 2: Texas


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