The football season starts in 66 days. If you aren't excited yet, you will be because Bearcats Blog is giving you 66 reasons to look forward to the 2013 football season. This list was a collaboration between myself, Scott, and Stuart Gilchrist. Be sure to follow Stuart on twitter. He's good people.
1) Bearcat football will be back. We haven't seen a Cincinnati athletic team on television since March 22. In 66 days, that agonizing drought will end. There are a lot of great things in this world. The University of Cincinnati Bearcats football season is one of them.
2) New coach Tommy Tuberville. Tommy Tuberville has put some energy into the Cincinnati football program. His track record has been mostly successful. His last job at Texas Tech didn't exactly go well. There are a number of reasons why things didn't work out the way Tubs intended in Lubbock, but he seems to have put the past behind him and turned the page quite vehemently. Coach has recruited pretty well, said a lot of the right things and most importantly, he's made people buy into Cincinnati. 3 games are close to selling out. Home attendance the past couple of years has been a major headache for Butch Jones. It's not looking like a year 1 problem from Tommy T. He's got people buying in. That's what you want with your new coach.
3) New offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. Eddie Gran has never been an offensive coordinator, but he's worked with Tuberville at Ole Miss and at Auburn. Gran has said he will run a pro style offense. Some of the offense has question marks and we get to see right away how Gran will go about installing his system. He has said that he plans on using a fullback or tight end in the backfield. He wants to throw the ball vertically. He recruited speed this offseason to help that out. We've seen a heavy dose of Tony Pike, heavy doses of Isaiah Pead and now we get to see what's next for the UC offense. I'm intrigued.
5) Among the sweeping changes for UC football is the start of a new league. Cincinnati will begin play in the American Athletic Conference, the American for short. The league will only look this way once, Louisville and Rutgers are set to leave after this season. It's a bridge year of sorts from the Big East to whatever the future holds in the American. The historic first game will be played Saturday, October 5 against the South Florida Bulls.
6) Not only do we have a new season, a new coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new league, we are also going to have new turf in Nippert Stadium. If it isn't new, UC doesn't want it.
7) After years of Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky and SE Missouri State twice, and Indiana State, the Bearcats open their home slate with a name opponent. Unlike last year, this one isn't a conference game. Cincinnati plays host to the Purdue Boilermakers. The Bearcats have played just two non-conference home openers against division 1 teams since 2002. They were Eastern Michigan and Miami. Purdue went 6-7 last season, but they bring something to the table, a respectable name.
8) The Purdue game is a white out. Speculation is running rampant on twitter, the best place for your rampant speculation, that Cincinnati will bust out white helmets. That was helped by Riddell sending UC white helmets. A photo was posted by the UC Equipment twitter account. Bing, bam, boom, the people want to see white helmets. A white helmet was present during the Tommy Tuberville press conference:
Let the anticipation continue.
8) Week 2 of the season brings more excitement to the table. The Bearcats go on the road to Illinois. This is significant for two reasons. 1, it is another Big 10 opponent to open the year. 2, Cincinnati hasn't beaten a decent team on the road in the non-conference slate since 2009. The only non-conference road win Butch Jones had was over Miami in 2011. UC lost to Fresno State, North Carolina State, Tennessee, and Toledo. Virginia Tech does not count because that was at a neutral site. Tommy Tuberville and the boys have a chance to snap the road futility of the past few seasons in week 2. It's a big opportunity in a very winnable game.
9) Something the Purdue and Illinois games have in common besides the chance for a hot start, is that they are both being played at noon. I have a feeling that noon games are going to be an early season thread through at least October. This isn't a bad thing, it's a good thing. Nothing is more important to UC fans than UC football. What better way to kick off the action than watching Cincinnati kick ass? I can't think of a better way to start a Saturday.
10) Brendan Kay will start a full season. This will be the first full year in the starting role for 6th year senior Brendan Kay. In 11 games last year, Kay went 87-138 for 1,298 yards with 10 TDs and 2 INTs. He also tallied 48 rushes for 306 yards with 2 TDs. Kay did not become the full time starter until after the Temple game, replacing Munchie Legaux. While the offense Kay will run this year will be different, Bearcat fans hope to see similar production from a player who seemed like a poised passer that can even scramble out of the pocket when necessary. Kay brings continuity to the QB position, which should ease the transition from Butch Jones to Tommy Tuberville.
11) Could Tion Green be the leading rusher? With the departure of George Winn, there will be space for Tion Green to show Bearcat fans what he is capable of this season. Last season as the 3rd/4th option at running back, Green had 16 rushes for 70 yards with 1 TD in 7 games. Those numbers will have an opportunity to grow with Green potentially becoming the 2nd running back option this year behind RDA IV depending on how he performs in summer camp.
12) Speaking of RDA IV, the gate is wide open for Abernathy to take the reins and become the starting back for UC. Abernathy has been a fan favorite due to his play making ability and watching him make moves with the ball in his hand is always fun to watch. He totaled 83 rushed for 403 yards and 3 TDs in his 2012 campaign. RDA IV also showed he was a capable receiver with 28 receptions for 341 yards and 4 TD. His increased role will give Kay another valuable passing option while he is in the game. UC seemed to be at their best with RDA getting significant touches last year. The different ways Gran plans on feeding him could make RDA a dangerous man for opposing defenses.
13) Along with his great offensive abilities, RDA gave us glimpses last year as to why he is also a valuable commodity on special teams as well. Last year, he averaged 25 yards a return with 801 return yards total. In his career at UC he has amassed almost 2000 return yards and a TD as well. Let’s hope that he can add to those numbers tremendously this year.
14) The same goes for Anthony McClung returning punts. The senior wide receiver spent a portion of his time as a punt returner along side Danny Thrilligan, er Milligan, last season. He fit into a role that was occupied by previous receivers Mardy Gilyard and DJ Woods. While not dazzling with 16 returns for 158 yards for a 9.9 yard average, McClung looks to become more Mardy than DJ this season.
15) Not just at returning punts, as the #1 returning receiver this year and the loss of what seemed like Kay’s favorite target in Travis Kelce, McClung will have the perfect opportunity to have a breakout season this year. As the #3 option behind Thompkins and Kelce last year, McClung tallied 34 receptions for 539 yards and 2 TDs which was lower statistically than the numbers he produced his sophomore year, 49-683-6. From all indications, McClung will remain as the slot receiver this year but should be Kay’s number one target. McClung is the leading returning receiver.
16) There is a lot of receiver turnover this year. Everyone remembers the fantastic catch by Damon Julian last year against Virginia Tech and his ability to come up with crucial catches at times in games. Kenbrell Thompkins was the second leading receiver with 34-541-2 TDs. They leave a void, but every void leads to opportunities. Who can step up?
17) One of the names that pops into the head is Chris Moore. Last year, Moore only had 2 TDs but one was a 65 yard reception against Temple and a 25 yard reception against Duke. The redshirt freshman also only had 4 receptions but a whopping average of 28.3 per catch. No matter how you look at it, when half of a receiver’s catches are for TDs that is a good thing. Hopefully Chris Moore can step up and contribute even more for his sophomore campaign.
18) Alex Chisum did not live up to expectations based on his freshman year. This was due to missing multiple practices over the summer and fall due to injuries. This allowed Damon Julian to jump his on the depth chart and Chisum only amassed 9 receptions for 140 yards. This year he can hopefully stay healthy and again become the player that we saw freshman year. With multiple receiver spots open, he should be a contender for a lot of playing time.
19) Will a wide receiver break 800 yards? UC hasn't had a wide receiver break 800 yards since 2010. You have to go back to 2005 and 2006 for the last time UC didn't have a receiver eclipse that number in back to back seasons. Travis Kelce finished with 722 last season. With the vertical passing game being something that's implemented, will we see someone take the leap?
20) Speaking of Travis Kelce, another open spot to keep an eye on is the starting tight end role. Travis Kelce played exceptionally during his time at UC and is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. This and Tommy Tuberville potentially using two tight end sets makes the race for starting tight end wide open. The obvious choice right now just due to experience is senior Blake Annen. He has 3 total receptions for 35 yards in his 3 years at UC. He should see plenty of playing time this year if he performs well in practices. We saw Kelce get his shot and run with it. Time to see if Annen take the ball.
21) Another tight end that should be looked at in high contention for the starting tight end job is Jake Golic, son of Mike Golic of Mike & Mike in the Morning and former Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Golic used the grad school rule to be able to play immediately at Cincinnati. He partially chose Cincinnati because of the opportunity to start for his final year of college football. He didn’t see much time due to him being behind two NFL tight ends in Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert so hopefully he will be able to contribute here at UC.
22) One of the main strengths this year for the Bearcats is the offensive line. There was not a single departure from the group meaning Kay will have nothing but experience protecting him this year. This is also a good thing for RDA IV having the same group of guys blocking for him as well. If everyone stays healthy this could pay huge dividends for the Bearcats this year. They gave up just 15 sacks last season and weren't heavily penalized. This should be one of the best groups in the league and maybe the country.
23) Will Bennie Coney Surpass Munchie as #2 on the Depth Chart? We all know Munchie Legaux lost his starting job to Brendan Kay last year, but will he become #3 on the depth chart this year? During spring practices, everyone expected the QB battle for the starting role to be heavily contested between Munchie and Brendan Kay. What actually happened was Kay looking far better than Munchie with 22 - 37 passing for 394 TDs with 6 TDs and 1 INT compared to Legaux’s stat-line of 19 – 42 passing for 310 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs. That would put Munchie even below Bennie Coney who had an exceptional spring with 26 – 42 passing for 394 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT. It will be interesting to see if at one point this season Coney will become the #2 QB.
24) In this past recruiting class, Tommy Tuberville added 2 JUCO running backs with Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams. The addition of these two players will add some depth to the running back core with Jameel Poteat transferring and will give RDA IV, Tion Green and Deionte Buckley some fierce competition in the rotation. While it seems almost certain that RDA will be the starter, it isn’t known how the rest of the rotation will look.
25) Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran let it be known that there will be packages where the fullback will be used. So far, a name that steps out to be in that position was Patrick Coyne, the quarterback-turned-fullback will have time to see the field this fall. How much and how often, though, remains to be seen. The addition of the fullback should be an interesting way to supplement the pass blocking, run game and be a nice way to get the tight ends or fullbacks out in routes. I
26) Ever since the news last year that the former #1 LB nationally would be transferring from Florida State to Cincinnati, Bearcat fans have been itching to see Jeff Luc on the field. Well this is his first of two years of eligibility. From what was seen in the spring, Luc appeared to be an absolute monster in size and speed and is slated to be a starter this year. Hopefully his first season as a Bearcat will go as well as the next man on this list.
27) Greg Blair. In his first year starting at UC, Greg Blair had a monster season and emerged as one of the leader on the defensive side of the ball. He totaled 104 tackles of which 9 were tackles for loss with 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. He received first team All-Big East selection and could have a shot at first team All-American this year. If he has another monster year, look for him to shoot up draft boards come next April. Some believe he's the top UC player on draft boards now.
28) The third starting linebacker should be Nick Temple. Last year he had a good year with 43 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 1 interception. He came on very strong as the season progressed. That was etched in stone with Temple's pick 6 to seal the Belk Bowl victory a year ago. Look for him to improve his numbers this year.
29) With the three previous linebackers listed, it is up for debate as to whether this group could be the best starting linebacker core in Cincinnati history. Any time you start talking about potentially historic units, that's something to be excited about.
30) Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano were two huge assets to the defensive line when they played together. Even with Stewart’s time cut short due to a spinal injury, Giordano did his job on the line well and they combined for 10 of the 31 Bearcat sacks. Replacing those two will not be easy but that’s the exact reason Tommy Tuberville brought in 2 JUCO defensive linemen in Jarrell Jordan and Terrell Hartsfield. As for players on the roster from last season, look for Silverberry Mouhon to fill one of the open roles.
31) Silverberry Mouhon gets his own number just because his name is awesome. No his siblings aren’t Goldberry and Bronzeberry, his dad named him that after his favorite author, AR Silverberry. His brother does have a semi-famous name though, as he is highly recruited 4 star linebacker Kevin Mouhon.
32) Due to the inexperience at the defensive line, the staff brought in two defensive ends to build depth at the position. The defensive line has been a strength of this team over the past few year and for this team to meet expectations this year, that needs to be a strength again. Hopefully there can be a balance in between the JUCOs living up to their potential and getting some current players into the rotation. The deeper the defensive line, the better.
33) Senior defensive back Deven Drane will be the only returning starter from last year’s corners. He will need to step up and be a leader to help out the new corners. Last year he had 35 total tackles with a fumble recovery and 2 interceptions. Drane led UC with 9 passes defensed and tied with 7 passes broken up. He will easily be matching up against the best wide receivers in every game and needs to continue his high level of play this year.
34) With the departures of Drew Frey and Dominique Battle, Chris Williams, Cam Cheatham and Malcolm Murray, there will be a serious need to fill in the ranks of the defensive secondary. The 5 departing seniors as a whole totaled 21 interceptions in their careers as Bearcats. Just like with the wide receivers, there are a ton of opportunities waiting.
35) To replace safety Drew Frey, look to JUCO in-comer Darren Dotson or Adrian Witty. Dotson is 6’2” and Witty is 5’10”. The size of Dotson may make him the most logical choice here but it all depends on how the staff evaluates the players in spring/fall practices. Witty has the experience edge in his favor. He had 25 tackles, 4.5 for loss and 3 sacks last year. In fact, Adrian Witty is the returning sack leader.
36) For the cornerback vacancies look again to Adrian Witty who is more of a cornerback size. Also look to Arryn Chenault who tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions last year. We may also see some underclassmen in Trainer Orr, Marcus Foster or Drake Bruns to also get a look to start or significant playing time. Orr made 18 tackles in 8 games.
37) How will this defense compare to last year’s? That is a question a lot of Bearcat fans have before the Purdue game. For this defense to be better, it will have to beat some pretty intimidating stats. Last year, the defense ranked 14th nationally only giving up 18.5 points per game with a defensive line that was near the top in the tackles for loss category. That is a pretty tall order for this defense to hold up to but the talent is there, they just need to execute.
38) Tony “Golden Toe” Miliano has shown improvement every year as a starter for the Bearcats. In his first year he went 17-25 on FG attempts and 51-53 on extra points. In his sophomore campaign Miliano improved his FG kicking to 17-22 while dropping slightly on his extra points (47-50). Miliano was especially crucial in keeping the Toledo game close. If he can keep his productivity up, it will be a great bonus for the Bearcats. Remember, Miliano isn't just the leading scorer on the field, he's the leading scorer off the field as well.
39) With the unexpected departure of Pat O’Donnell to Miami, to be closer to his family in Florida, the staff is now scrambling to find a suitable replacement for him. There are currently 3 kickers on the roster with Eric Ernst, John Lloyd with a new addition of Andrew Gantz as a kicker and a punter. There is also a walk-on addition with Johnny Colosimo to vie for the kicking duties. All of these kickers are unproven but one will have to be consistent enough to become the starter. There were several times where Pat dramatically changed the scope of a game with his punting abilities and hopefully we can get someone to somewhat replace him.
40) Every year there is a discussion on which freshman could see the most playing time or could make the biggest impact in the game. While it is hard to tell this early on, keep an eye on TE Travis Johnson, ATH Javon Harrison, WR Mark Barr and ATH Tshumbi Johnson along with the previous incoming kickers Andrew Gantz and Johnny Colosimo.
41) Continuing in that vain, who are the top backups that will earn playing time? Good question, glad you asked. The first logical place to look for playing time for backups are at linebacker if someone needs a quick breather. In this case, a Twitter favorite Solomon Tentman would be the logical player to put in. Also depending on certain packages, you could see lineman rotate in and out along with defensive secondary. These players may not be “backups” per say but they may be package specialists like Chris Williams was last year. The same can be said about the running back rotation with all the running backs already discussed. This may be shocking but Munchie Legaux will always have to be ready since the Bearcats haven’t had a single quarterback play through the whole year in about 5 years. Also with the wide receiver role players like Shaq Washington, Nate Cole, Jeremy Graves and Shakim Alonzo could also see the field.
42) Solomon Tentman has earned being in the mix at linebacker by busting his ass to even reach this point. Doctors thought his career was over before he ever played a game at Cincinnati. He worked so hard to come back in 2011, but managed just 5 games. Last season he played 9 games, making 20 tackles. He could be the healthiest he's ever been as a Bearcat. I hope that he is because not only is his story of hard work, deep belief in himself and dedication amazing, but Solomon seems like a great guy. He's a fan favorite on twitter. College sports are especially great because you can see someone's journey. We've seen Solomon Tentman's. It's not over yet, but it's heading the right direction.
43) Speaking of stories, one of the biggest offseason developments for the UC program was Gunner Kiel coming to Cincinnati. Kiel was once the #1 quarterback in the nation as ranked by rivals. When Vidal Hazelton was in his transfer year from USC, we heard reports that he was lighting up the practice squad. I'm curious to know if we'll hear things about Kiel this season. He's one of the best talents UC has brought in maybe ever. How he develops this year is pretty important.
44) Gunner Kiel is not the only transfer QB Cincinnati brought in this offseason. They also brought in Tucker Tuberville. You may be shocked to hear that Tucker transferred from Texas Tech. Tuberville was a redshirt last year, so he'll have 3 seasons left, just like Kiel. Tucker Tuberville has a very white sounding name, but don't let that fool you, his birth name is Thomas Tucker, which is more white. Tucker will probably be nothing more than a victory cigar, but there is a chance that Tommy could play the nepotism card and let his son become the starting quarterback. Hey, we don't know. What we don't know is exciting.
45) Cincinnati has rung the Victory Bell the last 7 seasons, something that should continue on September 21. The last two games have been historic. In 2011, Cincinnati shut out Miami in Oxford for the first time since 1898. Last season, UC hung 52 on the Redhawks, matching the series high. What's in store this season?
46) One of the biggest changes for UC football is the return of the mid-week game. Cincinnati plays at Memphis on Wednesday, October 30. They haven't played a Wednesday game since November 9, 2005, when they went to West Virginia. We have a while to think of the American equivalent of MACtion.
47) The Memphis game kicks off the first American game against a new conference opponent. The first 3 games are against USF, Temple and UConn. From Memphis, UC hosts SMU before going to Rutgers and Houston. This first season of league play is going to take some getting use to. The good news is that the schedule is in place for a 5-0 start in the league. I know a lot of people aren't looking forward to being in this league, but getting off to a great start would turn some heads.
48) Especially if UC were able to pull off the early season wins against the Big 10 schools. An undefeated into the middle of November would be awesome for a number of reasons. One of which is that UC would probably have a number next to their name. In a sport where rankings matter a whole lot, this would be a welcome accomplishment.
49) Another advantage of being in the American is that Cincinnati gets to end the season with a marquee game at home. Not just any marquee game, the Keg of Nails. The Keg of Nails in a Thursday night game on ESPN? Yes. The Keg of Nails between rivals that may not play for a while with a chance to spoil their season while potentially claiming a share of another conference title in a Thursday night game on ESPN? HELL YES.
50) The fact this could be the disruption of the Cincinnati/Louisville series is bittersweet. But if the series is going to end, having the Keg of Nails resting safely in Cincinnati most appropriate. It can sit next to that dopey trophy for the Pitt game. But unlike that trophy, the Keg of Nails will be sitting there being awesome.
51) To bring back the Keg of Nails, Cincinnati would have to beat Louisville of course. The Bearcats play a tricky game at Rutgers, which is by far the toughest game through the first 11 months of the calendar year. Louisville is expected to be undefeated when December 5 rolls around. Beating Louisville would bring bragging rights, but it would also bring in another share of a conference title. 4 of the last 5 years have ended with Cincinnati at the top of their league. Starting the American off with a ring would be pretty great.
52) With the new and exciting Nippert Stadium expansion and renovation
53) This could be the final season for the Bearcats at beautiful and historic Nippert Stadium until 2015. 6 chances to enjoy another season --
54) Full of Ring of Red games, Black Outs, and the aforementioned White Out for Purdue. What's better than wearing the same colored shirt as the person next to you? I don't know either. About the Ring of Red..
55) With the positive public reception to the helmets that the Bearcats used in the Belk Bowl last year, it has been reported that the helmets will be used again this year. This would look good with any combination of uniform that we wear and if the fans like them, why not use them?
56) To fully enjoy your UC football experience, be sure to tailgate on the grid.
57) They have dollar beers. That's exciting.
58) You can also watch the Cat Walk and support the team before they take the field.
59) Once in the stadium, watch the UC band run down the steps.
60) Hopefully one of them won't fall on their face again.
61) There is a new opening video this season to get you pumped for game action before the -
62) Bearcats take the field amid the fireworks and spectacle. Few things are cooler than a football team taking the field.
63) The band playing Down the Drive will get you into the football spirit and also get that song stuck in your head for days.
64) If you are near the bench, hell even if you aren't, yelling LEVITICUS PAYNE every time he takes the field, or simply walks on the sideline, will be entertaining to you. And you are the most important one.
65) One of the things that happens every home game is that the mascot crowd surfs. There has been some talk on twitter that UC's own lovable president Ono will join the mascot and crowd surf. If you love him, you can help him. If you are failing out, you can drop him. Don't drop him.
66) If all else fails and Tommy Tuberville's first season is like Butch Jones' first season, the mascot can get arrested again.