Big East Schedule preview: Cincinnati

The Rutgers football team could not have found a better situation to face the defending Big East Champions for the upcoming season. On opening night of a newly renovated stadium, the electricity of the Rutgers fans will be comparable to that of certain games against Louisville and USF.

And nothing is better for a new starting quarterback than to begin a season against a defense as green as the Bearcats'. The Big East Champion defense from last season returns one – that's right one – of its eleven starters from last season and there is no way that 10 new starters will be synced on the right page by the first game of the year.

It took Rutgers three games last year before the defense started clicking and that was with eight starters returning, not one.

Putting the defensive losses for Cincinnati in perspective, they are now without last year's leading tackler Ryan Manalac, their entire starting defensive line (Connor Barwin, Terrill Byrd, Adam Hoppel and Lamonte Nelms) and 75 percent of the toughest secondary in the Big East with the losses of cornerbacks Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith and safety Brandon Underwood.

Barwin, drafted in the second round by the Houston Texans, had 11 sacks for the Bearcats last season. Smith, taken in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys, had 53 tackles and two picks as his counterpart Mickens, also drafted by the Cowboys, had four picks and 70 tackles last year. But enough about Cincinnati's 2008 squad because this is 2009 and the bottom line is that Cincy returns almost nothing on defense.

The only returning starter from last year, safety Aaron Webster, had just 60 tackles last season, but expect both safety Brad Jones and defensive end Curtis Young to make names for themselves as starters this season.

But when it comes to Cincinnati, the real concern (for the opposing team) is the deadliest duo in the conference – quarterback Tony Pike and wide receiver Marshawn Gilyard.

Pike emerged last year as a more than reliable option for head coach Brian Kelly at quarterback after neither Dustin Grutza nor Chazz Anderson panned out. In 10 starts, Pike threw for 2,407 yards and 19 touchdowns.

On the other end of that combination is Gilyard, the biggest name at wide receiver returning in the Big East. Gilyard had 11 touchdown grabs and 1,276 yards on just 81 catches last season as well as two touchdowns in the kick return game.

For Rutgers to be successful, the bottom line is that the experienced front seven needs to get pressure on Pike and cornerback Devin McCourty needs to stay on Gilyard tight – no disintegrations.

The Scarlet Knights will look to rebound from a disappointing showing on Labor Day last season when Fresno State, behind three touchdowns from running back Ryan Matthews, torched the Knights 24-7 on their home field.

Other Bearcat notes: Rutgers has not beaten Cincinnati since 2005. Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly is the reigning Big East Coach of the Year. Kevin Huber, former Cincinnati punter, was the first punter taken in the 2009 NFL Draft.

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