Way-too-early preview: Cincinnati

Purdue opens the Darrell Hazell era with a tough road test against the Cincinnati Bearcats. The game is still 100 days away, but it's never too early to give it a preview. Boiler Sports Report details the season-opener at Nippert Stadium.

Game 1: Purdue at Cincinnati
Location: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Date: Saturday, August 31; Time: TBA
Line: Cincinnati -14

What happened last year: It was a wild season for Cincinnati, a team which finished 10-3 on the campaign with each of its losses coming by seven points or fewer. The Bearcats played a weak nonconference schedule plus a sluggish Big East slate. Their most noteworthy win came against Virginia Tech, but losses to Toledo, Rutgers and an overtime loss at eventual Sugar Bowl champion Louisville hurting the most.

After the season ended, head coach Butch Jones jumped to Tennessee, the latest of Cincinnati coaches who helped keep the program at a level of sustained success before moving on to a new job.

Profiling the coach: Enter Tommy Tuberville, perhaps a perfect fit for the Cincinnati program. The 17-year head coaching veteran left from Texas Tech after three seasons with the Red Raiders. His greatest success as a coach came with Auburn, but he was eventually fired.

The match of Cincinnati may be perfect; a program and coach looking for stability. The Bearcats have been left behind by up-and-coming coaching names—see Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, among others—and Tuberville is looking to get back to the top. With Cincinnati, Tuberville inherits a talented team with much of its core intact. He'll have the Bearcats competing at the top.

Key player: The numbers which senior linebacker Greg Blair posted last year are impressive to say the least. He racked up 138 tackles on the season, with nine for a loss. Add to that, he tallied a pair of picks and forced two fumbles. Basically, Purdue should be watching out for him. Blair is back for his fifth year of eligibility and will again be a key piece of the Bearcats' defense.

Ask the expert: Dave Berk, BearcatInsider.com — "One of the biggest things that happened for Tuberville and the program is Brendon Kay getting a sixth season for a medical hardship. He made himself into the starting quarterback late last year while many thought he could be the quarterback all along. … It all starts around Brendan Kay. You've got a good nucleus with the offensive line to build around. They're really getting a grasp of what Tuberville and the staff are bringing to the table."

Key for the Boilermakers: The first game of the Darrell Hazell era will be quite the challenge. A young Purdue team will have its hands full with a tough Bearcat bunch, and playing in a hostile road venue. To have success, the Boilers must keep their poise and stick to the game plan. This seems fairly elementary, but it's essential for a team getting its feet wet. Cincinnati has a new coach and schemes, too, but it boasts an experienced roster—something Purdue lacks. If the Boilers can counter with disciplined play, they'll have a chance.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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