Cincinnati has won at least a share of three of the past four Big East titles. Can the Bearcats make it four out of five in 2012? They kick things off in our series looking at why each conference school has reason to believe it can, and cannot, take home the conference championship this fall.
Three reasons why Cincinnati will win the Big East
1. Experienced front seven: The Bearcats led the nation in tackles for loss (8.9 per game) and sacks (3.6 per game) last season. Sure, things will be tougher without reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe, but end Walter Stewart had a strong spring and emerged as a leader, and it would be no surprise if his name is atop the conference sack list at season's end. The athletic duo of Camaron Beard and Jordan Stepp impressed in the middle this spring as well.
2. Special teams: Don't underestimate the impact of returning both specialists, especially with one being first-team All-Big East punter Pat O'Donnell. And, of course, there's Ralph David Abernathy IV, who averaged 26.5 yards per kick return last season and had a touchdown. The third phase of the game could be all the more important for the Bearcats, especially given the offensive production they have lost.
3. Schedule: Cincinnati will have to travel to preseason conference favorite Louisville, but its only other conference road contests are at UConn and at Temple, the preseason sixth- and eighth-place Big East teams, respectively. The Bearcats get Pitt, Rutgers and South Florida at home, and a Week 3 test against Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., should serve the team well before it gets into the meat of the conference schedule, regardless of result.
Three reasons why Cincinnati won't win the Big East
1. Quarterback: Coach Butch Jones is hoping to name a starter soon, and Brendon Kay made a strong push behind Munchie Legaux this spring. But whoever ends up as the starting signal-caller will have big shoes to fill, as Zach Collaros was a two-time all-conference pick and a three-year starter for the Bearcats.
2. Receiver depth: Who will the next quarterback be throwing to? Cincinnati returns two starting receivers in Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins, but the two will need some help behind them. A lot may hinge on how quickly Alex Chisum and converted quarterback Jordan Luallen live up to their potential.
3. Replacing Isaiah Pead: One guy isn't going to match the production of the reigning Big East offensive player of the year. As a unit, George Winn, Jameel Poteat and Abernathy will give it a collective try, but just how close they can come remains an unknown. They will be running behind an offensive line that has to replace three starters.