2006 Record: (8-5, 4-3)
Coach: Brian Kelly (1st year at Cincinnati, 138-51-2 overall)
Starters Returning: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense, 0 specialists)
Starting Specialists Returning: None
For starters: When Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati for his home at Michigan State, the
Bearcats went again to the state of Michigan connection to get their man
Brian Kelly from Central Michigan University. That is bad news for fullbacks
and good news for wide receivers. Once Cincinnati settles on a quarterback, the
ball will spend a lot more time in the air this year.
Offense: Dustin Grutza is the
retuning signal caller, but was anything but effective and consistent. The 6-2
junior performed well during the spring, but he will find some competition from
Ben Mauk, a transfer from Wake Forest, in the fall. Whoever fits better
into the spread scheme should be the starter, but at the least the Bearcats have
a couple of experienced quarterbacks to choose from. And with a talented group
of receivers, both quarterbacks have the potential to succeed in the new
offense. Dominick Goodman led the team in receptions and is a legitimate
all-conference player. Earnest Jackson and Jared Maritn have some
experience, but will be asked to drastically increase their production,
especially with the ineligibility of expected returning receiver Derrick Stewart. Doug Jones will move from his starting fullback position to
tight end, since the word fullback will only be uttered in Cincinnati on fourth
and goal from one. Jones is a solid receiver and will join Connor Barwin,
if healthy, at the tight end position.
The Bearcats will throw a little more than last year, but that does not mean they will still not depend on a trio of quality rushers. With Greg Moore, Butler Benton and Bradley Glatthaar, Coach Kelly has a nice mix of backs to choose from. Moore was the featured back last year, rushing for 709 yards and four touchdowns, but anybody could excel in the spread look. With the return of three starting linemen, most notably Trevor Canfield and Jeff Linkenback, and a deep group of experienced players who spent last year coming off the bench, the line will be a strength for the offense.
Defense: The Bearcats finished 25th in
the nation in rushing defense and much of the front seven returns. Tackle
Terrill Byrd could be the best in the conference and with Adam Hoppel
and Anthony Hoke joining him on the line, nobody will have much of a
successful rushing attack against Cincinnati. Trevor Anderson, a would-be
junior who tallied six sacks in 2006, has opted to transfer leaving the only
hole up front. The big loss on defense is Kevin McCullough. The linebacker led the team
in tackles and tackles for loss, but returning starters Leo Morgan and
Corey Smith have enough talent to replace the production.
The secondary has a big replacement of its own. Strong safety Dominic Ross topped the team with four interceptions and was a big part of the successful run stopping defense last season. Hard hitting free safety Haruki Nakamura is the leading returning tackler and will be the new leader of the unit. At the corners Cincinnati has one of the best in the Big East in two-time all-conference honoree Mike Mickens. The other corner will have a new starter, but DeAngelo Smith has plenty of experience as the primary backup in 2006.
The Bottom Line: With a little offense, the Bearcats can stick around with the big boys of the Big East. But picking up the spread system in one year is asking a little too much. Still, there is a slew of playmakers on offense and as long as somebody can get them the ball, the offense will move the chains. There are some big losses on the defensive side of the ball, especially the unexpected loss of Anderson, but the frontline has enough depth make his absence matter less than it initially appears.
|08/30||SE Missouri State|
|09/15||at Miami (OH)|
|11/03||at South Florida|
DT Terrill Byrd is a big reason why the Bearcats finished 25th in the nation against the rush.