Cincinnati Preview - Rebuild Or Reload?
Cincinnati WR Anthony McClung
Cincinnati WR Anthony McClung
Posted Jun 20, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2012

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Butch Jones
Second year: 14-11
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Cincinnati Players
1. DE Walter Stewart, Sr.
2. SS Drew Frey, Sr.
3. WR Anthony McClung, Jr.
4. P Pat O'Donnell , Sr.
5. CB Deven Drane, Jr.
6. DE Dan Giordano, Sr.
7. WR Kenbrell Thompkins, Sr.
8. LB Maalik Bomar, Sr.
9. LG Austen Bujnoch, Jr.
10. LB Nick Temple, Soph.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 6 Pitt
Sep. 15 Delaware State
Sep. 29 Virginia Tech (in Land.)
Oct. 6 Miami Univ.
Oct. 13 Fordham
Oct. 20 at Toledo
Oct. 26 at Louisville
Nov. 3 Syracuse
Nov. 10 at Temple
Nov. 17 Rutgers
Nov. 23 South Florida
Dec. 1 at Connecticut
Okay, Bearcats, are you rebuilding or reloading in 2012?

Cincinnati delivered the much-needed bounce back season that it desperately sought in 2011, winning 10 games, but also lost to graduation an enormous amount of talent on both sides of the ball from that squad. In fact, of the eight players named First or Second Team All-Big East, only P Pat O'Donnell and S Drew Frey remain on campus. Now what?

When Brian Kelly was in charge, there was no retreat in the ‘Cats. However, Butch Jones has already had one rough campaign in the Queen City, going 4-8 in his 2010 debut. With fresh starters littered all over the depth chart, the coach and his staff need to show that they're no one-hit wonders. Considering the extent of the holes in the backfield, along the offensive line and in the front seven, it will not be an easy goal.

For starters, the Bearcats must retool a backfield that was previously the domain of a couple of all-stars, QB Zach Collaros and RB Isaiah Pead. While nothing has been etched in stone, the replacements will either be Munchie Legaux or Brendon Kay at quarterback, and George Winn or Jameel Poteat at running back. The drop-off in offensive production is inevitable, especially since the O-line is getting a mini-makeover as well.

On defense, Cincinnati is getting hit particularly hard right up the middle, where stalwarts Derek Wolfe, John Hughes and JK Schaffer used to roam. The ‘Cats will be quick and feisty on the perimeter, but the days of allowing 2.7 yards per carry might be over for a while.

Spring and summer drills are always crucial for a program, but even more so this year for Cincinnati. The Bearcats, namely the coaching staff, can ill-afford a nosedive akin to what took place two years ago. Kelly's unprecedented three-year reign assured that mediocrity or a prolonged slump will no longer be tolerable at this university.

What to watch for on offense: The battle for carries. The moment of silence for graduating RB Isaiah Pead has long passed. The Bearcats must now move on to the business of regrouping in the running game, especially with an inexperienced quarterback taking the reigns as well. George Winn is the veteran and the frontrunner heading into summer, but it'll be worth keeping a close watch on the challenge of sophomore Jameel Poteat. The blue-chip signee from the 2011 class may lack experience, but has a far higher ceiling than anyone on the roster, which is going to make for an interesting battle for reps in August and beyond.

What to watch for on defense: The new men in the middle. The Bearcats will be easier to run on in 2012, an inescapable fact. However, tackles Camaron Beard and Jordan Stepp, and middle linebacker are determined to make sure that decline is not as precipitous as anticipated. Beard and Stepp are actually talented linemen, who might not look so out of place this fall if Derek Wolfe and John Hughes weren't their predecessors. The heir apparent to JK Schaffer at linebacker, Solomon Tentman, is a wild card. He has the talent and the solid spring behind him to flourish, but has also had a history of knee problems.

The team will be far better if… it remains healthy from wire-to-wire. Of course bumps and bruises will be inevitable, but Cincinnati must avoid the kinds of injuries that test the depth chart, like the ones to QB Zach Collaros and CB Dominique Battle a year ago. Save for a handful of spots, the Bearcats no longer enjoy the degree of depth that they did in the past. The loss of key players sidetracked the program in 2011. This season, an ill-timed twist, tear or break is liable to whisk the program right off the rails, and out of the postseason picture.

The Schedule: The Bearcats start out a bit late getting a Thursday game against Pitt to kick things off, but things get easier with Delaware State and a week off to follow to prepare for the lone nasty non-conference date against Virginia Tech. With Miami University, Fordham and Toledo to follow, if all goes well, 5-1 is a possible start before going to Louisville. With the date against the Hokies technically being played on a neutral field - even though it will be a pro-Tech crowd - the Bearcats get only three true road games before finishing the year off at UConn.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Anthony McClung. In light of the graduations of Pead, Collaros and all-star linemen Alex Hoffman and Randy Martinez, McClung assumes the role of the offense's best player. He was weekly threat out of the slot for the passing game in 2011, grabbing a team-high 49 balls for 683 yards and six touchdowns. He gets out of his breaks quickly, and has a knack for turning a quick slant into an explosion through the secondary. Too slippery for linebackers to contain, he'll remain the preferred target of the quarterbacks.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Walter Stewart. Stewart is about to step outside of the shadows of former teammates along the front seven. The new leader of the D, and one of the best pass rushers in the Big East, he's found a home at end after also spending time at linebacker. The quintessential long and lean pass rushers off the edge, he used a gigantic wingspan and 6-5, 244-pound frame to rack up 11 stops for loss, six sacks, eight batted balls and three fumble recoveries. Even without two premium tackles to deflect some attention, Stewart is capable of surpassing last year's impressive numbers.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Munchie Legaux. Legaux hasn't even won the right to replace Collaros yet, but he better. The Bearcats need him to hold off senior Brendon Kay, who just doesn't possess the same potential to take over a game with his arm and feet. In order for the spread offense to click, the system requires an athletic hurler who can keep defenses guessing. Legaux has the raw skill set to be that guy in Cincinnati, but now he has to go out and be that guy on a consistent basis.

The season will be a success if ... the Bearcats finish the season with at least eight victories. Anything less will be a disappointment considering that the schedule features just four games outside of the state of Ohio, and just one opponent, Virginia Tech, that'll probably be off-limits. Delaware State, Miami U., Fordham and Toledo are the other four non-conference games, all of which should be W's. Yeah, Cincinnati has plenty of rebuilding to do, but the 2012 slate is tailored-made for a soft landing as new starters get injected into the lineup.

Key game: Sept. 6 vs. Pittsburgh. The Bearcats would prefer to play this game after using an FCS team as a sparring partner, but no such luck. The opener for Cincinnati could be a tone-setter for the first half of the season, and will certainly have an impact on a Big East race that will be wide-open right through to the end of November. The ‘Cats are facing a lot of uncertainty at key positions entering the new year. Winning a league game could provide the launching point that this program desperately needs to allay some worries.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Scoring: Cincinnati 433 – Opponents 264
- Yards per rush: Cincinnati 4.6 – Opponents 2.7
- Rushing touchdowns: Cincinnati 28 - Opponents 10

- 2012 Cincinnati Preview | 2012 Cincinnati Offense
- 2012 Cincinnati Defense | 2012 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- Cincinnati Previews  2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006