2014 CFN Preview - Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati RB Hosey Williams
Cincinnati RB Hosey Williams
Posted Jul 12, 2014

Preview 2014 - Abandoned at the realignment altar, the Bearcats might dominate. (Getty Images)

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 2014

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By Richard Cirminiello

- 2014 Cincinnati Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Tommy Tuberville
2nd year: 9-4
19th year overall: 139-81
Returning Lettermen
Off. 24, Def. 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 19
 Ten Best Bearcat Players
1. LT Eric Lefeld, Sr.
2. DE Silverberry Mouhon, Jr.
3. LB Nick Temple, Sr.
4. WR Chris Moore, Jr.
5. WR Shaq Washington, Sr.
6. S Zach Edwards, Soph.
7. QB Gunner Kiel, Soph.
8. LB Jeff Luc, Sr.
9. RB Hosey Williams, Sr.
10. DE Brad Harrah, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Sep. 12 Toledo
Sep. 20 Miami Univ.
Sep. 27 at Ohio State
Oct. 4 Memphis
Oct. 11 at Miami
Oct. 18 at SMU
Oct. 24 USF
Oct. 31 at Tulane
Nov. 13 East Carolina
Nov. 22 at Connecticut
Nov. 29 at Temple
Dec. 6 Houston

Abandoned at the realignment altar, the Bearcats will now turn their attention to dominating the American.

Cincinnati has quietly been one of college football steadiest programs in recent years, winning no fewer than eight games in seven of the past eight seasons. Still, it got no love from the likes of the ACC or the Big Ten when the realignment carousel was spinning out of control in recent years. Second-year head coach Tommy Tuberville wants to use the perceived slight as a motivational tool as he keeps working to ramp up the culture on campus. Now that Louisville and Rutgers have left town, the Bearcats ought to be perennially competing for league titles.

Coaches change, yet Cincinnati keeps rolling along, without any interruptions. Tuberville is the latest coach to succeed in the Queen City, following in the footsteps of Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones. Cincinnati had a couple of slip-ups in 2013 to Illinois and South Florida before capturing six games in a row, including wins over bowl-bound Rutgers and Houston, to finish 9-4. Things could get even more interesting for Tubby in 2014, now that former Notre Dame QB Gunner Kiel is eligible to play.

Kiel hasn’t been handed anything this offseason, despite a solid outing in the spring game. But it’s doubtful the former five-star recruit will be benched, even when fifth-year senior Munchie Legaux returns this summer from last year’s horrific season-ending knee injury. Kiel, assuming he wins the job, will be surrounded by a deep cast of playmakers at running back and wide receiver. Cincinnati has been among the league’s most potent offenses over the past five seasons, a trend unlikely to change in 2014.

Five starters are gone on defense, with the biggest hole being right up the middle. The Bearcats must replace both starting defensive tackles and all-star MLB Greg Blair. DT Jordan Stepp was named First Team All-AAC in 2013, while Blair led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Cincinnati has historically been stout against the run, a recent leaning that’ll be severely tested in 2014.

Cincinnati remains one of college football’s better-kept secrets, but hardly by choice. Since 2006, the Bearcats have gone 74-30, despite using four different head coaches over that time. Yet, the program gets about as much respect as a 32-yard field goal. Tuberville is unfazed by his team’s Q rating. Now that he’s had a year at the helm, he wants to keep Cincy on a winning track, while becoming the new gatekeeper atop the American.

What to watch for on offense: Whoever wins the quarterback job will absolutely love his supporting cast. The Bearcats are loaded at the skill positions with speed, size and diversity. Tuberville is so happy with backs Hosey Williams and Tion Green that he’s permanently shifted all-purpose playmaker Ralph David Abernathy to slot receiver. Abernathy joins a corps welcoming back five of last season’s top six pass-catchers. Chris Moore and Mekale Mckay, who turned 16 catches into 485 yards and seven touchdowns, can stretch out defenses with their speed and general big-play potential. The backs and receivers will keep opponents guessing and frustrated all season long.

What to watch for on defense: Shoring up the middle of the D. Cincinnati allowed just 3.2 yards per carry in 2013, good for No. 7 nationally. But maintaining that stoutness will be difficult without the services of MLB Greg Blair and tackles Jordan Stepp and Adam Dempsey. Senior Jeff Luc, the high-profile transfer from Florida State, has transitioned from weakside to middle, which should help solidify the linebackers. Out of sophomore Alex Pace, junior Brandon Mitchell and up-and-down senior Camaron Beard, the Bearcats are hoping to piece together a viable tackle rotation for this season.

The team will be far better if… it shores up special teams. The Bearcats did a lot of things well in 2013, but special teams were not one of them. They ranked 121st nationally in net punting, yielding over 15 yards a return, while getting little or no spark out of their own return men. There’s an awful lot to like about Cincinnati in 2014, especially with the addition of Kiel at quarterback. But, it’ll remain an incomplete program until it can tighten things up in all three phases of the game.

The Schedule: It's an odd slate in terms of getting it off the ground - most teams will be two games in before the Bearcats kick the season off against Toledo. And then it's eight straight weeks of games before getting a break, and along the way, Saturday games become a memory with two Friday night games (USF, at Tulane) and a Thursday-nighter (East Carolina) over the course of a month. Home dates are also few and far between just two home games between October 4th and December 6th. In conference play, key games against USF and East Carolina are at home, and there aren't too many big away battles - SMU and Connecticut are the toughest ones. Can the Bearcats make a statement in non-conference action against Ohio State and Miami on the road? If they can win just one of those two, a monster season might be there - it they can hold up.

Best offensive player: Senior LT Eric Lefeld. On an offense built from the interior out, the unit’s signature player is fittingly a lineman. Lefeld is a returning All-AAC First Team performer, a striking ascent for the one-time unheralded two-star recruit. The 6-6, 309-pound former D-lineman and hoops star plays with the light feet and athleticism inherent to all really good pass blockers, kicking out and sealing off the perimeter. Lefeld is a central reason why Cincinnati has been no lower than second in the league in sacks allowed in each of the last three years.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Silverberry Mouhon. Mouhon is on the verge of becoming the latest in a growing line of Bearcats’ pass rushers to continue playing at the next level. He emerged into a force a year ago, often requiring more than one blocker to keep him out of the backfield. When Mouhon pins his ears back and head upfield, he makes the job of the defensive backs and his fellow linemates substantially easier. He’s about to become a household name, particularly within pro scouting circles.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Gunner Kiel. Cincinnati didn’t land one of the biggest names of the 2012 recruiting class to have him wallow on the bench with a clipboard in his hands. Tuberville wants to turn Kiel loose so that he can build off predecessor Brendon Kay’s final year. The Bearcats have a dizzying mix of playmakers, especially in the receiving corps. It’s going to be up to Kiel to maximize the ability of those pass-catchers by hitting the ground running in his Bearcat debut. If Kiel stumbles, the team will be forced to employ Munchie Legaux, who’s coming off major knee surgery, or JUCO newcomer Jarred Evans.

The season will be a success if ... the Bearcats win the American. Louisville is in the ACC. Rutgers plays in the Big Ten. Blake Bortles left UCF to play in the NFL. The road to a title is highway-wide for Cincinnati. It’ll be battled-tested coming off a salty non-conference schedule that includes trips to Ohio State and Miami, and East Carolina and Houston will visit Nipper Stadium. If quarterback play lives up to expectations, the Bearcats have every reason to be aiming for a third league title since 2008.

Key game: Nov. 15 vs. East Carolina. The American will be wide-open this season, with a number of teams vying for the crown. UCF isn’t on Cincinnati’s schedule. East Carolina is, and the Pirates are eyeing supremacy in their maiden voyage in a new league. This duel at Nippert Stadium could wind up being a quasi-semifinal game, with the winner remaining alive until the first Saturday of December. The Bearcats also host Houston on Dec. 6, a game that might not have as much relevance if they can’t first handle ECU.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Third-down%: Cincinnati 48% – Opponents 33%
- Yards per game: Cincinnati 472.1 – Opponents 315.6
- Sacks: Cincinnati 35 - Opponents 17

- 2014 Cincinnati Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players