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2016 Fierce 40 Previews: #40 Cincinnati

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 4, 2016

#40 Cincinnati Bearcats

2015 Recap:
After a pair of successive 9-4 campaigns, the Bearcats dropped to 7-6 overall following an embarrasing 42-7 defeat to San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl. The interesting part of the 7-6 record was that the Bearcats improved defensively and on offense they set nearly every team record imaginable.


Coaching:
Tommy Tuberville enters his 4th year with a 25-14 career mark. While the Bearcats have a proven commodity at head coach, the same can not be said for the men leading the respective offensive and defensive units. Eddie Gran led an offense that ranked #6 nationally in passing and total offense. Gran is now at Kentucky while Zac Taylor takes over coming from the NFL ranks. Robert Prunty will be the new defensive coordinator as we await to see how Cincinnati will adjust to the new leadership.


Offense

An offense often starts at the quarterback position and Cincinnati may have the best senior quarterback at the NCAA level. Gunner Kiel has thrown for over 6,000 yards and 49 touchdowns in his two seasons piloting the Bearcats. Kiel has all the tools and was an All-American coming out of Indiana in high school. The biggest problem with Kiel seems to be staying on the football field. During Kiel's 31 touchdown sophomore season he had to leave a total of four games due to injury, including a game against Ohio State when he was making the Buckeye defense look pedestrian and had found the end zone on four seperate occasions. Kiel will need to cut down on the interceptions after throwing 11 last season, a mark duplicated by backup Hayden Moore. In fact, it was turnovers that ultimately did in the record setting offense as Cincinnati finished the season at -19 in turnover margin, third worst in the entire FBS. While Kiel is back, his top five targets will not be as they have all moved on. Nate Cole and his 19 catches last season mark the most for any returning pass-catcher. Throw in tight end D.J. Dowdy who registered three touchdowns and you have only a pair of proven commodities catching the football. Kahlil Lewis and Avery Peterson will be counted on at wideout as Cincinnati employs a three wide receiver set in most packages. Tion Green logged over 700 yards as a backup last season and he will start the season #1 on the depth chart. Don't be surprised if junior Mike Booke unseats Green at some point during the year but both will see their share of carries. Despite losing tackle/guard Parker Ehringer to the NFL, the offensive line will be the strength of the offensive attack. The Bearcats will be led by senior center Deshawn Bond who is a draft prospect himself.
 

Best Draft Prospects: Gunner Kiel QB 2nd Round 2017.

                                       Deyshawn Bond C 6th Round 2017.


Defense

Cincinnati seemed to change defensive philosophy during the middle of last season opting for smaller speedier prospects vice larger and proven veterans. The change resulted in Cincinnati placing 78th overall nationally in total defense. While this number will not leave opposing offenses shaking in their boots, it did represent the third consecutive year Cincinnati saw it's overall ranking improve. Tuberville will run the defense with input from new coordinator Robert Prunty. Cincinnati runs a 4-3 base in most of it's formations and will be led up front by defensive tackle Alex Pace. The biggest challenge facing the Bearcats will be consistency getting to the quarterback as the Bearcats were one of the worst in the country at bringing down opposing quarterbacks registering only 13 sacks.. Silverberry Mouhon and his 4.5 sacks led the team but he has moved on to the NFL. Mouhon was a legitimate sack artist but with the lack of a threat around him Mouhon was doubled teamed on approximately 60% of his snaps last year. Landon Brazile will be counted on to give the front a charge getting to the passer with starters Mark Wilson and Kimoni Fitz.

Eric Wilson and Bryce Jenksinson are back at linebacker as the middle of the defense looks to be the most stabile position overall as far as from a starting standpoint as well as improved depth. Senior safety Zach Edwards will garner some NFL attention and his 106 tackles actually led the team in 2015. Linden Stephens is back at corner but he will have to improve his pass defense as he seemed to be beaten with quick moves to the outside or double moves by opposing receivers with regularity. Stephens and fellow corner Grant Coleman are very solid in helping defend the run and Cincinnati will need that after finishing a disappointing 90th overall nationally stopping the running game.

Best Draft Prospects: Zach Edwards S 7th Round 2017.

                                       Bryce Jenkinson LB UFA 2019.

Special Teams:

Cincinnati placekicker Andrew Gantz has been a starter since he arrived on campus and the junior hit 21 field goals last season including a respectable 2-5 from 50 yards and beyond. Gantz has an NFL leg and punter Sam Geraci is back after averaging over 46 yards per punt last year. The duo looks to be the best in the AAC. The rest of the special teams has been an adventure during the Tommy Tuberville era as Cincinnati has routinely finished near the bottom of the conference in return average and kick coverage.


Schedule:

Houston and South Florida look to be the toughest opponents for Cincinnati in conference on their schedule. The good news is the Bearcats have home contests with both rather early in the season with their 3rd and 5th games respectivly. Cincinnati will get BYU late at home followed by a road game with Central Florida. Overall this is a favorable schedule for the Bearcats.


Draft and Overall Outlook:

There is a lot of change at Cincinnati but if Kiel is closer to his 2014 form and stays healthy, this is a team that could surprise. Kiel is the highest regraded draft prospect but his spotty attitude and health makes him far from a sure thing for the next level. Now that Cincinnati is no longer an overwhelming favorite in the AAC (that will be Houston) they could fly under the radar and get to double digits in the win column. If Cincinnati continues to make make a rash of turnovers and innopportune penalties, then languishing around .500 is also in the cards and threatens to derail the progress made by the University during their 2013 and 2014 campaigns.

DJ Boyer