The American Frontier: Cincinnati

Streeter Lecka

We continue our exploration of the AAC by previewing UConn's second conference opponent this year, the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Long before summer practices began, 2013 had already well established itself as a year of change for UConn football.

New logo.

New conference.

New helmets whose design may one day induce a fan aneurysm.

And should the team stammer its way to another 5-6 record, a new final opponent scheduled to stand in the way of possible bowl contention.

Victors over the Huskies in their last two, critical season finales, the Cincinnati Bearcats now stand as UConn’s second listed foe in conference play. The teams will square off on Saturday, October 19th in the Queen City at a time that is TBA. It will be the Huskies’ sixth game of the year, as the Memphis Tigers now own the hypothetical opportunity to play spoiler in their final game.

But for now, we’re onto a different kind of cat.

Last year

Led by former head coach Butch Jones, the Bearcats clawed their way to one of the most ordinary 10-3 seasons in recent college football memory. At its conclusion, Cincinnati outlasted Duke for a 48-34 Belk Bowl victory in the game’s waning minutes. The year was otherwise highlighted by a mid-season change at quarterback from Munchie LeGeaux (pronounced as you’d hope- “leggoooooo”) to Brendon Kay. Kay came on strong late for his team, throwing for 577 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s last two contests. The Bearcat defense was stout from start to finish, allowing just over 18 points per game.

However, unlike most bowl-winning 10-3 clubs, Cincinnati then began to employ an entirely new coaching staff with the departure of Jones to Tennessee. Former Auburn and Texas Tech general Tommy Tuberville has brought a new defensive mindset to one of a handful of teams that has a shot to be the first to hold the reins of the AAC.

Offense

Kay and Legeaux are once again at center stage doing battle to become the team’s starting quarterback, in a clash that should conclude soon. But, the strength and story of the unit lies up front. Four starters return on the offensive line, which will be plowing fields of space for anyone lucky enough to stand behind them. All Big East first-team members Eric Lefeld and Austen Bujnoch will man the left side, while former Ohio State transfer Sam Longo stands in at right guard. Flanking Longo is another pair of starters from last season, senior center Dan Sprague and rising star tackle Patrick Ehinger.

The Bearcats lost their top rusher and two leading receivers from 2012 in the form of 1,000-yard gainer George Winn, wideout Kenbrell Thompkins and tight end Travis Kelce. Ralph David Abernathy IV is a dynamic, speedy back who will contribute in a variety of ways and, along with a stable of other runners, should fill Winn’s void well. Meanwhile, senior Anthony McClung headlines the receiving group as the AAC’s current leader in career receptions. He’ll be backed up primarily by junior Alex Chisum and sophomore Chris Moore.

Defense

Similar to the offense retaining much of its previous spread scheme, Tubervile will keep the 4-3 attack that has maximized Cincinnati’s defensive talent the last few years. Sixth-year player Greg Blair returns with an All-Big East first team honor on his resume and a shot at AAC defensive player of the year. Next to Blair will be Jeff Luc, a former top-30 recruit and Florida State transfer who is expected to make many plays from the weakside.

The unit is rather weak up front, leaving senior nose tackle Jordan Stepp responsible for eating up multiple blockers. He’ll be accompanied by fellow senior Mitch Meador and surrounded by junior college transfers on the ends. Back in the secondary, the cupboard is even barer with little depth behind lone returning first-stringers cornerback Deven Drane and safety Arryn Chenault. The senior pair combined for five interceptions a year ago.

Special Teams

Junior Tony Millano will place kick at Nippert Stadium for the third consecutive year. The Ohio native hit on 17 of 22 field goal attempts in 2012, with a long of 47 yards. The punting job is up for grabs after John Lloyd transferred to Miami, but both the returning gigs are safely in the hands of Abernathy IV.

Final Season Prediction

9-4 (4-2), 2nd in the AAC

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