Cincinnati Preview 2006
Posted Aug 1, 2006

Starting from scratch isn't the worst thing in the world.

Offense | Defense | Depth Chart | Further Analysis

Mark Dantonio's second year as head coach was a tumultuous one, but he and his staff brought it on themselves by playing ten freshmen in prominent roles. Predictably, the team was inconsistent, but going 4-7 isn't a bad rebuilding year considering the program made the jump from Conference USA to the Big East. 

Dantonio's biggest job was upgrading the overall talent level. UC was always an above-average Conference USA team that next quite had the firepower or players to do more. That's part of the reason former head man Rick Minter was fired and Dantonio was brought in.

Unfortunately, it still might take another year of seasoning as all of last year's inexperienced, erratic first year players are now experienced, erratic second year players looking to improve. However, if UC could go 4-7 last year with all the problems, getting to at least six wins this season won't be that undoable a jump.

Head coach: Mark Dantonio
3rd year: 11-12
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 19, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 13
Ten Best UC Players
1. TE Brent Celek, Sr.
2. CB Mike Mickens, Soph.
3. LB Corey Smith, Soph.
4. FB Doug Jones, Jr.
5. LB Kevin McCullough, Sr.
6. FS Hakuri Nakamura, Jr.
7. LB Anthony Williams, Jr.
8. DE Trevor Anderson, Soph.
9. WR Earnest Jackson, Jr.
10. QB Dustin Grutza, Soph.

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 5-7

9/2 Eastern Kentucky
9/8 Pitt
9/16 at Ohio State
9/23 at Virginia Tech
9/30 Miami Univ.
10/7 Akron
10/14 at Louisville
10/21 South Florida
10/28 Syracuse
11/11 at West Virginia
11/18 Rutgers
11/25 at Connecticut

2005 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 3-8
2005 Record: 4-7

Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/3 Eastern Mich. W 28-26
9/10 at Penn State L 42-24
9/17 Western Carolina W 7-3
9/24 at Miami Univ. L 44-16
10/8 at Pittsburgh L 38-20
10/15 Connecticut W 28-17
10/22 Louisville L 45-22
10/29 at Syracuse W 22-16
11/9 West Virginia L 38-0
11/19 at South Florida L 31-16
11/26 at Rutgers L 44-9

First and foremost, the offense has to figure out how to score more. The D simply won't be good enough to hold Big East juggernauts like Louisville and West Virginia under wraps. 28 was the high point total by the Bearcats in the win over Connecticut with things coming to a dead stop over the final three games with only two touchdowns and 25 total points scored against West Virginia, South Florida and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights held UC to 146 yards. Yes, that Rutgers.

Quarterback Dustin Grutza has a year of experience and has decent weapons around him to work with. Doug Jones is one of the Big East's top tight ends, there are several experience backs to take the heat off, and receiver Earnest Jackson is a rising star. However, it all hinges on a line that has to rebuild after an awful 2005.

The defense, Dantonio's specialty, should be far better with a strong back seven and a young line that should be good enough to dominate by next season. The linebacking corps of Corey Smith and Anthony Williams on the outside and Kevin McCullough in the middle should shine, while corner Mike Mickens and free safety Haruki Nakamura are strong enough to grow into All-Big East performers.

This isn't going to be a Big East title season, and it might not even be a winning campaign, but UC had to build from the bottom up. The patience will pay off by the end of this year and into 2007.

The Schedule: The Bearcats certainly aren't taking it easy early on. The Eastern Kentucky layup needs to be when everything clicks with the Big East opener against Pitt coming six days later followed up by at Ohio State and at Virginia Tech. Miami University would be a week off for some Big East teams, but the RedHawks won the battle of Ohio 44-16 last season. Any distant dreams of winning the Big East title will go bye-bye with road trips to Louisville and West Virginia. There's a nice stretch of three conference home games in four weeks in the second half of the year.

Best Offensive Player: Senior TE Brent Celek. A great route runner with excellent hands, the 6-4, 255-pound senior made the most of what he was given to work with around him as the main playmaker in last year's offense. He can be a big play target and will be the number one option for quarterback Dustin Grutza.

Best Defensive Player: Sophomore CB Mike Mickens. A rail-thin 6-0 and 165 pounds, Mickens is one of the pound-for-pound toughest tacklers in the Big East. More importantly for the Bearcats, he's also growing into one of the league's premier cover-corners with 14 broken up passes as a true freshman.

Key player to a successful season:
The entire offensive line. The Bearcats allowed 40 sacks and only averaged 3.2 yards per carry. While there are several players with starting experience, this is hardly a line that knows what it's doing with three starters gone and needing several career backups to become reliable producers.

The season will be a success if ... Cincinnati wins seven games. There are mile-wide holes and several major problems to overcome, but it wouldn't be completely unrealistic if the Bearcats beat Eastern Kentucky, Miami University, Akron, South Florida, Syracuse and Rutgers. It'll likely take at least two upsets to come up with a winning season, but it's an attainable goal.

Key game: September 8th vs. Pitt. Cincinnati isn't good enough to hang around with Louisville, so a win over the Panthers will be vital to avoid a bad Big East start. With road trips to Ohio State and Virginia Tech ahead, a win will be vital to avoid a 1-3 overall start.

2005 Fun Stats: 
Scores through three quarters: Opponents 261 - Cincinnati 114
- Penalties: Opponents 81 for 685 yards - Cincinnati 68 for 576 yards
- Field goals: Opponents 16 of 19 - Cincinnati 4 of 9

The Last Time Cincinnati…
…played in a bowl game…2004 (Fort Worth Bowl v. Marshall)
…missed a bowl game…2005
…pitched a shutout…1995 (Virginia Tech)
…was shutout…2005 (West Virginia)
…scored 50 points…2004 (Southern Miss)
…went undefeated…1918
…won a conference title…2002 (share, C-USA)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…2002 (Gino Guidugli)
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2002 (DeMarco McCleskey)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2004 (Hannibal Thomas)
…had a first-round draft choice…1971 (DT Bob Bell)

Related Stories
Cincinnati Preview 2006 - Offense
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Cincinnati Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by  Aug 1, 2006
Cincinnati Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by  Aug 1, 2006

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