It is time to take a last look back at how each Big East team fared in 2011 with season-ending report cards.
First up: Cincinnati
Offense: The Bearcats were a much different offense in 2011 than they were in 2010. Total offense was down by 31 yards, and so were total first downs and third-down conversions. But rushing offense was up, as Cincinnati tried to play to its strengths: running the football. Credit the Bearcats for having a solid offensive line and the Big East Offensive Player of the Year in Isaiah Pead. After starting quarterback Zach Collaros got hurt, it was much harder for the Bearcats to generate any offensive consistency with Munchie Legaux and Jordan Luallen behind center. Pead had his struggles as well. The receiving corps as a whole has also got a lot of growing up to do and that showed no matter who was throwing the passes. As much as I would like to give Cincinnati a pass for what happened with Collaros, that is indeed part of the season and part of the overall grade.
Defense: One of the biggest reasons the Bearcats won this season is because of their defensive turnaround. Total defense was right around the same as it was last year, but the biggest areas of improvement are among the most important to defensive success: rushing defense, sacks, tackles for loss and takeaways. Cincinnati ranked No. 1 in the Big East in sacks with 46 -- a whopping 20 more than last season. The Bearcats had 16 interceptions -- double what they had last year. Overall they had 33 takeaways -- 19 more than 2010. They also gave up an average of 40 yards fewer per game on the ground. Playing aggressive, opportunistic defense generally makes your team much better, and that is exactly what Cincinnati did in 2011. You can't overlook the contributions of Derek Wolfe and JK Schaffer, or the improvement of safety Drew Frey to this group.
Overall: Once again, Cincinnati was underestimated going into the season and once again the Bearcats proved their doubters wrong, finishing with a share of the Big East title, a 10-win season, a bowl win for the first time since 2007, Big East coach of the Year honors for Butch Jones, six players on the Big East first team, and a final AP ranking of No. 25. Whew! It is worth repeating that Cincinnati won 10 games for the fourth time in five seasons, an incredible standard to continue to uphold. Getting to double-digit victories is the sign of a great season and this one absolutely qualifies for Cincinnati.