By: Steven Lassan | 5/21/12, 12:40 AM EDT
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Big East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Butch Jones, 14-11 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bajakian | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Jancek
Cincinnati will have a different identity on offense this year. With no heir apparent at running back to replace Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead and no logical successor at quarterback to replace two-year starter Zach Collaros, look for the Bearcats to spread the wealth more evenly than they did last year, when they relied so heavily on Pead.
The running back duties will be shared by senior George Winn — who was Pead’s backup last year but carried only 40 times for 219 yards — and sophomores Jameel Poteat and Ralph David Abernathy IV. Junior college transfer Aaron Harris also will be in the mix.
At quarterback, junior Munchie Legaux started three games last year when Collaros was hurt with mixed results. He’s athletic and has a strong arm, but at times his throws are erratic. Junior Jordan Luallen is considered more of a running quarterback and has been switched to wide receiver to take advantage of his athleticism. He will also play occasionally at quarterback as a change of pace for the offense.
Wide receiver Anthony McClung led Cincinnati with 49 catches for 683 yards and six touchdowns.
Co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks left to become the coordinator at Illinois. John Jancek, who shared the job last year with Banks, is now in charge of the defense by himself. But the biggest losses for Cincinnati on defense are tackle Derek Wolfe, the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year, and middle linebacker JK Schaffer, a first-team all-conference selection. Junior Jordan Stepp showed promise last year at tackle and will replace Wolfe. Cincinnati has two solid ends in Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano and a veteran linebacker in Maalik Bomar. Sophomore Solomon Tentman will replace Schaffer, who was one of the defensive leaders.
All-conference safety Drew Frey, a sixth-year senior, returns to anchor the secondary. Cincinnati still has solid players in starting roles, but the Bearcats lack depth.
Pat O’Donnell led the Big East in punting a year ago with 43.8 yards per punt. Kicker Tony Miliano had a decent rookie year, but he needs to improve his consistency after missing three extra points and eight field goal attempts. Abernathy made a splash as a kickoff returner as a freshman, finishing second in the league with a 26.5-yard average and returning a kick 90 yards for a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl win vs. Vanderbilt.
Cincinnati is riddled with question marks, especially on offense. If the Bearcats are going to continue their recent success in the Big East, a lot of things will have to break right, beginning with the development of Legaux at quarterback. With no star players, Cincinnati will look to distribute the ball more equally on offense. Defensively, ends Stewart and Giordano must have productive years.
The best thing the Bearcats have going for them is a less-than-demanding schedule that includes two home games against FCS opponents (Delaware State and Fordham). With West Virginia gone to the Big 12 and replaced by Temple, the league’s toughest foe year-in and year-out is no longer around. This soft slate will give Cincinnati’s newcomers ample opportunity to grow into their new roles.
“The expectations and standards for us never change,” says Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. “Do we have a lot of new faces? Yes. But that adds to the level of excitement.”