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2011 Cincinnati Preview
Cincinnati LB J.K. Schaffer
Cincinnati LB J.K. Schaffer
Posted Jun 5, 2011

Cincinnati was a Texas field goal away from possibly playing Alabama for the 2009 national title, and then everything changed after Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame. There's plenty of top-shelf talent returning from the disappointing 4-8 squad, but can Butch Jones get the Bearcats back in the Big East title chase? Check out the CFN 2011 Cincinnati Preview.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Butch Jones
2nd year at UC: 4-8
5th year overall: 31-21
Returning Lettermen
Off. 22, Def. 27, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 14
Ten Best Cincinnati Players
1. RB Isaiah Pead, Sr.
2. QB Zach Collaros, Sr.
3. LB JK Schaffer, Sr.
4. WR DJ Woods , Sr.
5. DT Derek Wolfe, Sr.
6. OT Alex Hoffman, Sr.
7. DE Brandon Mills, Jr.
8. WR Kenbrell Thompkins, Jr.
9. LB Walter Stewart, Jr.
10. LB Maalik Bomar, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Austin Peay
Sep. 10 at Tennessee
Sep. 17 Akron
Sep. 22 NC State
Oct. 1 at Miami Univ.
Oct. 15 Louisville
Oct. 22 at USF
Nov. 5 at Pitt
Nov. 12 West Virginia
Nov. 19 at Rutgers
Nov. 26 at Syracuse
Dec. 3 Connecticut

Yeah, Brian Kelly was an impossible act to follow, but four wins, Cincinnati? Butch Jones gets a crucial second chance to make a first impression on the sidelines this fall.

Kelly brought the Bearcats to unprecedented heights during his brief tenure in the Queen City, leading the program to back-to-back Big East championships in 2008 and 2009. With the bar as high as it had ever been, Jones was unable to keep the momentum going in his debut on the job. Cincinnati didn’t just regress last fall. It returned to the pre-Kelly days. Heck, it returned to the pre-Rick Minter days, going 4-8 and making the improbable journey from the BCS to missing bowl eligibility entirely. It was, to say the least, a rude awakening for a school that had just gotten accustomed to competing for titles and national exposure.

Cincinnati is down, but hardly out. Sure, Jones inherited enough quality players to win eight or nine games in 2010, but that’s now in the rear view mirror. A distant memory. A second season with the staff means less chaos, a better grasp of the systems, and fewer blank stares from the Bearcat personnel. It’s going to also help to return 16 starters, including the entire defense and three of the most important pieces of the offensive puzzle. In QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead, and WR DJ Woods, the ‘Cats have a trio of senior playmakers capable of keeping the program atop the Big East in scoring and total offense. Now, if only the defense can cooperate a little and make a few more stops in 2011, Cincy just might be back in business.

When it comes to Bearcat football, the city of Cincinnati has a short attention span. There are too many other distractions and a couple of professional teams, the Bengals and the Reds, serving as competition. The program squandered a lot of the local goodwill last fall, a disturbing reality that cannot become a trend. Jones and his kids have enough talent and seasoning to rebound, which is exactly what they’ll need to do in 2011.

What to watch for on offense: Thompkins toy. Cincinnati has a shiny new toy to play with on offense this season. In response to the graduation of all-star WR Armon Binns, the Bearcats went out and signed heralded JUCO recruit Kenbrell Thompkins out of El Camino (Calif.) Community College. An original commit to Tennessee, he’s a mega-talent, with the skills to be an instant hit in the Big East. He already impressed the coaches and quarterbacks in the spring with his size, explosiveness, and desire to trump veteran DJ Woods as the team’s primary pass-catching threat.

What to watch for on defense: Where’s Walter? Before spring, the coaching staff moved talented junior Walter Stewart from linebacker to defensive end, a more natural position for him. It makes except for the fact that the Bearcats are tissue thin at his old strongside spot, which explains why he’s listed on the post-spring two-deep as a possible starter at both positions. His eventual destination will depend on a handful of rookie linebackers, who are hoping to prove in the summer that they don’t need the help of the third-year starter.

The team will be far better if… it markedly improves in turnover margin. No single area doomed Cincinnati more than this one, a weekly dilemma that never plagued Brian Kelly’s teams. So ineffective were the Bearcats that they finished the season in the Big East in both takeaways and turnovers. If Butch Jones’ second team is going to bounce back this fall, it’ll need to tap into Kelly’s successful formula of protecting the ball and stripping from the other guys.

The Schedule: The turnaround for the Bearcats has to start with a big upset in the frist four games. Beating NC State at home in Game Four would be nice, but winning the September 10th game at Tennessee would be even better. There's a nice open date after the battle with Miami University to rest up and prepare for the Big East opener against Louisville, and there's another week off before kicking off November at Pitt. The West Virginia game is at home, but going to Pitt, USF, and Syracuse will be a problem.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Isaiah Pead. Pead hasn’t gotten nearly the national attention he’s deserved since arriving in Cincinnati. It could be because of the amount of talent that’s surrounded him, but it’s about to change. An exciting, multi-dimensional weapon out of the backfield, he ran for more than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns on just 157 touches, adding 26 receptions for 190 yards and another score. A cutback runner, he gets through the hole in an instant and has the speed to jet through the secondary when the line is doing its job.

Best defensive player: Senior LB JK Schaffer. The Bearcats have a gem in the middle of the defense, a run-stopper who can also drop back into coverage and blanket a tight end. Schaffer has gradually bloomed into the leader of a veteran defense, making 111 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and two forced fumbles in an all-star junior campaign. An ideal combination of athleticism, toughness, and instincts, he can sniff out the flow of a play better than any other Cincinnati defender.

Key players to a successful season: The secondary. If there’s one unit that the staff most wants to see improvement from, it’s a defensive backfield that was toothless in 2010. There are a ton of returning players, including CB Dominique Battle from a season-ending knee injury, but that alone won’t amount to much. After yielding 25 touchdown passes and picking off only eight, Cincinnati needs its secondary to make a collective quantum leap in 2011.

The season will be a success if ... the Bearcats reverse last year’s record and win eight games. Hey, just because the 2010 team tanked doesn’t mean the 2011 edition gets a lowered bar. Cincinnati retains more than enough talented players to perform closer to the way it did when Brian Kelly was calling the shots than in Butch Jones’ debut. Plus, with Austin Peay and a pair of MAC opponents in the first five games, the schedule sets up nicely for the kind of fast start that this program is craving.

Key game: Sept. 22 vs. NC State. Not only is this a fork-in-the-road type game in the first month of the season, but it’ll be a nationally-televised Thursday night affair. If Cincinnati is ready to make a statement that it’s back, this is as good a place as any to make it. Coming out flat at Nippert Stadium, however, could prove to be devastating, rekindling some of those sinking feelings from a year ago.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Yards per game: Cincinnati 417.3 – Opponents 369.4
- Yards per rush: Cincinnati 4.7 – Opponents 3.5
- Fumbles lost: Cincinnati 14 - Opponents 6

- 2011 Cincinnati Preview | 2011 Cincinnati Offense
- 2011 Cincinnati Defense | 2011 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- Cincinnati Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006