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2008 CFN Cincinnati Preview
Cincinnati CB Mike Mickens
Cincinnati CB Mike Mickens
Posted Apr 21, 2008

Cincinnati is quickly becoming one of the brightest new stars from the Big East. With a great coaching staff, top playmakers like CB Mike Mickens, and plenty of confidence, this is no longer a sleeper team, even though it's still flying under the national radar. Check out the CFN Cincinnati Preview.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Preview 200

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2008 CFN Cincinnati Preview | 2008 Cincinnati Offense
2008 Cincinnati Defense | 2008 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Cincinnati Preview
| 2006 CFN Cincinnati Preview 

Cincinnati is coming off its first 10-win season since 1951 and finished with a rare spot in the final Top 25, but don’t count on the program getting fat, dumb, and happy anytime soon. 

The job of keeping the Bearcats from becoming content belongs to Brian Kelly, the second-year head coach who believes this program is destined for bigger and better things in the Big East, and has the potential to break out and become a national player, much like Louisville was able to do in the Bobby Petrino days. 

Head coach: Brian Kelly
2nd year: 11-3
18th year overall: 148-54-2
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 21, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best UC Players
DT Terrill Byrd, Sr.
2. CB Mike Mickens, Sr.
3. WR Marcus Barnett, Soph.
4. CB DeAngelo Smith, Sr.
5. G Trevor Canfield, Sr.
6. P Kevin Huber, Sr.
7. WR Dominick Goodman, Sr.
8. LB Corey Smith, Sr.
9. DE Lamonte Nelms, Sr.
10. LB Ryan Manalac, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 28 Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 6 at Oklahoma
Sept. 13 OPEN DATE
Sept. 20 Miami Univ.
Sept. 27 at Akron
Oct. 3 at Marshall
Oct. 11 Rutgers
Oct. 25 at Connecticut
Oct. 30 South Florida
Nov. 8 at West Virginia
Nov. 14 at Louisville
Nov. 22 Pitt
Nov. 29 Syracuse
Dec. 6 at Hawaii

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record:

Aug. 30 SE Missouri St W 59-3
Sept. 6 Oregon State W 34-3
Sept. 15
at Miami Univ. W 47-10
Sept. 22 Marshall W 40-14
Sept. 29 at S Diego St W 52-23
Oct. 6 at Rutgers W 28-23
Oct. 13 Louisville L 28-24
Oct. 20 at Pitt L 24-17
Nov. 3 at So Florida W 38-33
Nov. 10
Connecticut W 27-3
Nov. 17 West Virginia L 28-23
Nov. 24
at Syracuse W 52-31 Bowl
Dec. 22 Southern Miss W 31-21

Kelly arrived last year armed with a positive attitude and an offense that was the antithesis of Mark Dantonio’s conservative approach. The “Cat Attack” immediately cranked out 472 points, but the triggerman from that offense, QB Ben Mauk, is still in a major battle with the NCAA to get another year of eligibility, leaving a gaping hole behind center … for now. Obviously everything changes if Mauk is back, but the team has to prepare for life without him. 

Adequately replacing Mauk out of a group that includes, redshirt freshman Chazz Anderson, senior Dustin Grutza and Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones will dictate whether or not

there’s a detour in UC’s path to Big East contention. But overall, there’s not too much to worry about; Kelly is a tremendous developer of quarterback talent, and while there are several other areas in need of beefing up after last year’s breakthrough season, there’s nothing this coaching staff can’t handle. Cincinnati is quickly doing for Cincinnati’s offense what he did for Central Michigan.

While the offense has question marks just about everywhere, the defense will once again be rock solid.  Back from a group that led the nation in takeaways are DT Terrill Byrd, CB Mike Mickens, and CB DeAngelo Smith, each a member of last year’s All-Big East team.  The Bearcats have the athletes to bring pressure from every level, and a set of defensive backs with ball skills as good as the wide receivers.  Especially in the early going, Cincinnati will need this group of defenders to carry the team while the offense adjusts to a number of new starters.

Although Kelly clearly has Cincinnati headed in a northerly direction, he’ll have a hard time matching last year’s success unless one of the holdovers can do a fair impression of Mauk. Then again, little was expected last year from Mauk, who delivered 31 touchdown passes and more than 3,500 yards of total offense. Cincinnati will put up big numbers and be dangerous once again. Now watch as everyone fails to take the team seriously again.                    

What to watch for on offense: Was it the system or the quarterback which was responsible for Mauk, a journeyman before 2007, delivering one of the best seasons in school history. Each of the three contenders at quarterback has a steep hurdle to clear before approaching Mauk’s 31 touchdown passes and sterling passer efficiency rating. Grutza has underwhelmed in past opportunities. Jones is coming off shoulder surgery. Anderson is a freshman, but impressed enough this spring to be the likely starter if he comes up with a big fall. Cincy fans better hope it’s the system because the program is a little light on proven talent heading into the season.      

What to watch for on defense: More blitzes from the linebackers and safeties. What happens when your strength is at cornerback and your weakness is a lack of proven pass rushers? You take more chances in order to get in the face of the quarterback. Cincinnati already likes playing an aggressive brand of defense that flies all over the field and causes turnovers. This season, it might become a necessity if adequate replacements for ends Anthony Hoke and Angelo Craig can’t be found. As long as Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith are the corners, the Bearcats will be able to leave them on an island and turn a linebacker or safety loose on a blitz.

The team will be far better if… the offense gets more production from the running backs. The ground game disappeared late last year, a big concern considering the uncertainty behind center.  The best friend of the new quarterback will be a back or two who can keep defenses honest, while providing an element of balance to the Cincy attack. Both the pressure and the opportunity rest with junior Jacob Ramsey, the veteran in a backfield that lost three seniors to graduation. He showed flashes in 2007, rushing for 362 yards and three scores on 96 carries, and is coming off a solid offseason.  

The Schedule: There's an almost certain loss at Oklahoma in early September, but that's it as far as the first part of the non-conference schedule getting Eastern Kentucky, Miami University, at Akron and at Marshall before league play kicks in. The Bearcats will be good enough to go bowling, but getting to go to Hawaii in early December will still be a nice perk. The Big East schedule is more than manageable outside of a six-day early November test against West Virginia and Louisville, but there's an off-week before the key dates. South Florida and Rutgers have to come to Cincy.

Best offensive player: WR Marcus Barnett.  Along with Mauk, the biggest beneficiary from the arrival of Kelly, Barnett exploded as a freshman for 62 catches for 862 yards and 13 touchdowns.  A bona fide homerun hitter on the outside, he got better in his debut season before breaking his leg in the Bowl. His ability to stretch a defense helps loosen things up underneath for TE Kazeem Alli and receivers Charley Howard and Dominick Goodman.

Best defensive player: DT Terrill Byrd.  Byrd gets the nod for his ability to blow up opposing running games, although CB Mike Mickens could easily be here as well.  Byrd has been named First Team All-Big East in back-to-back years, using his leverage and quickness off the snap to dominate centers and command double teams. One of those linemen who makes everyone around him better, he’s the biggest reason Cincinnati was No. 19 nationally in run defense.  

Key player to a successful season: Whomever wins the quarterback job (if Mauk is still ineligible). Whether it’s Jones, Grutza, or Anderson, it’s imperative that the Bearcats develop a quarterback who can run Kelly’s system and get the ball in the hands of the playmakers.  Physically and emotionally, Mauk was a monumental part of last year’s 10-win season.  Adequately replacing him will be the key to success in 2008.   

The season will be a success if ... the Bearcats win nine games and find their quarterback of the future. This year is all about building on Kelly’s debut and bringing Cincinnati closer to being a perennial contender for a Big East championship. If it’s Grutza, a senior, who helps keep the momentum going, that’s fine. If it’s Jones or Anderson, however, who have a few years of eligibility left, that’s even better in the grand scheme of things.  

Key game
: Oct. 30 vs. South Florida. The Bearcats have had the Bulls by the horns the last two seasons, winning a wild one in Tampa last season, 38-33. This will be one of those Big East elimination games that thins out the crowd of teams aspiring to dethrone West Virginia. Plus, it’s a nationally televised Thursday night affair, giving Cincinnati a wider audience than normal to showcase its recent renovations since Kelly arrived.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- First quarter scoring: Cincinnati 140 – Opponents 53
- Average yards per punt: Cincinnati 46.1 – Opponents 38.6
- Sacks: Cincinnati 42 for 305 yards – Opponents 23 for 158 yards