The Bearcats will need to see fewer scenes like this to make the postseason in 2011.
Cincinnati didn’t have a real Spring game so I’m not going to read much into that event in this review. This is part four of the eight part BECB post-spring football series (South Florida was part one, Syracuse was part two, Louisville was part three).
Team Strength: The defense returns all 11 starters from last season. Wait, you ask, is that actually good thing? I certainly expect it to be a great thing for the Bearcats because I doubt all 11 will win their jobs back as Cincinnati has added some depth. Linebacker J.K. Schaffer is the focal point of the group and is coming off a 111 tackle, 3 sack, 1 INT season. The secondary took its lumps last year and the defense as a whole ended up ranked 102nd in the country in team defensive Positive Impact Factor (what’s this?) at a 54.6. As the rushing defense of Cincinnati was very good last year, you would expect that their Positive Impact Factor rating would have been better. However, quarterbacks only had sixty-five rushing attempts against the Bearcats (and 27 of those attempts were actually sacks taken). Cincinnati also only forced nine quarterback turnovers (only one was a fumble lost) in 2010 but allowed opposing quarterbacks to score a touchdown on 6.5% of their touches (101st in the FBS). The bad experiences of last year will no doubt help the defense as well the attitude adjustment Butch Jones wants to instill in the "Blackcats" defense. An improved offense will also help take the pressure off of the defense.
More after the jump...
Team Weakness: Cincinnati is only returning two of their starting offensive linemen from last year. However, maybe that won’t be such a bad thing. The offensive line was atrocious at pass blocking last season. Quarterback Zach Collaros was sacked thirty times at a rate of 6% of his total touches (93rd in FBS). That percentage increases to 7.3% if we are just looking at sacks/sacks+pass attempts. The line was seemingly much better at run blocking: Isiah Pead had a 1,000 yard rushing season and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. A concern, besides a fumble problem, is that Pead accumulated 724 yards out of his total of 1,029 yards in four games. The Bearcats lost all of the other six games that Pead didn’t reach 100 yards rushing. With the exception of the South Florida game, those were not close losses. Pead only had six rushing touchdowns last season and four of those came in one game against Rutgers. How much the line can improve from last year will be a big factor in determining the success of this year's Bearcats.
Emerging: Redshirt Junior Danny Milligan has a chance to win the starting kicker job now that school record-holder Jacob Rodgers has graduated. During the Bearcat Bowl Milligan kicked a 52 yard field goal (which was the longest of the day) and caught two touchdown passes.
Opportunities for Impact Freshmen: After Pead, the backfield is a toss-up which means Jameel Poteat could come in the Fall and steal the backup spot. Other guys who might earn playing time: Shaquille Washington at slot receiver, Dwight Jackson and Nick Temple (both early enrollees) at linebacker.
Injuries: Backup quarterback Brendon Kay has been fighting a knee injury during the Spring but should be fine by the Fall. I’m not sure where he’ll be on the depth chart by then, however.
Post-Spring Expectations: The out of conference schedule is favorable for the Bearcats. The only game I don’t expect them to win is at Tennessee. That would give Cincinnati four wins before they even begin Big East play. How far they will go in conference depends on how much better the offensive line will be. For the moment, I’ll just say that Cincinnati is returning the bowl season in 2011.