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NCAA Football

Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Previews: No. 47 Cincinnati Bearcats

The countdown to the 2012 college football season marches on.  Today we preview the No. 47 team on the Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football preview series, the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Cincinnati will head into the 2012 campaign with their third-year coach, Butch Jones, hoping to ride the momentum from the 2011 effort. Last year, the Bearcats shared the Big East title with the Louisville Cardinals and West Virginia Mountaineers, ending the regular season 9-3 (5-2 in conference play). West Virginia got the BCS Bowl bid due to having the highest BCS rankings, but Cincy prevailed in the Liberty Bowl, defeating RS No. 62 Vanderbilt Commodores 31-24.

With 11 total starters returning, and four top-100 positional players coming in, Cincy will hope to benefit from the Mountaineers exit to the Big 12 and capture the Big East BCS bid.

Impact Players

Offense

The Bearcats are losing QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead, WR D.J. Woods, TE Adrien Robinson, OT Alex Hoffman, OG Randy Martinez, and C Evan Davis, which makes for an inexperienced offensive line.

However, junior QB Munchie Legaux saw action in 11 games last year passing for 749 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions to Collaros’ 1,940 yards, 15 TDs and 10 INTs.

The toughest player to replace on offense will be Pead. As a senior, Pead ran for 1,259 yards and 12 touchdowns while catching 39 receptions for 319 yards and three scores. This season, the Bearcats could be using a running back-by-committee approach with senior George Winn who had 219 yards on 40 attempts in 2011, sophomore Jameel Poteat who was a four-star recruit according to Scout.com but didn’t see a lot of playing time last year, and sophomore Ralph David Abernathy IV who returned kicks last season.

Cincinnati has a pair of wide outs returning in junior Anthony McClung and senior Kenbrell Thompkins who were the Bearcats top two receiving leaders in 2011. McClung led the squad with 49 receptions for 683 yards and six touchdowns, while Thompkins caught 44 passes for 536 yards and two scores.

Last year Cincy was third in the conference in total offense averaging 386.2 yards per game and second in scoring with an average of 33.3 points per contest, but next to last in passing with 207.6 ypg. If they want to repeat as Big East champs, Legaux will have to improve on his accuracy and the running-back-by-committee will have to be successful enough to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Defense

Last year’s defense was one of the biggest reasons for the Bearcats turnaround from 2010, despite being sixth in the Big East in total (356.4 ypg allowed) and seventh in passing defense (261.1 ypg allowed). Against the run Cincinnati held opponents to an average of 95.3 yards per game and 20.3 points per game, good for third in the conference (UofL was second with 20.1 ppg).

Cincy lost four starters from last season, most notably DT Derek Wolfe, but have solid pass rushers at defensive end in seniors Dan Giordano and Walter Stewart. The duo combined for 78 tackles and 11 sacks in 2011.

Safety Drew Frey enters his senior campaign coming off a strong 2011, recording 73 tackles, two interceptions, and eight pass breakups on his way to a first team All-Big East selection.  He will be joined in the secondary with seniors Chris Williams (FS) and Camerron Cheatham and junior CB Deven Drane. Unfortunately after the experienced starters, the Bearcats lack in depth.

Schedule

Cincinnati begins the season with their first of two off weeks, and then has their opener Sept. 8 at home against RS No. 58 Pittsburgh Panthers. The second off date comes in week four followed by a contest against the Virginia Tech Hokies at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

The non-conference schedule will also see Cincy hosting the Delaware State Hornets, the Miami (OH) Redhawks, and Fordham Rams while going on the road against RS No. 92 Toledo Rockets.

In Big East matchups, the Bearcats will play RS No. 64 Syracuse Orange, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and USF Bulls at home and Louisville Cardinals, RS No. 96 Temple Owls, and RS No. 75 Connecticut Huskies away.