Tuna and I begin a series today handing out final grades for the 2012 season for each Big East team. First up: Cincinnati.
OFFENSE: The Bearcats' offense lost several playmakers at critical positions heading into 2012: starting quarterback Zach Collaros and Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead were the most high-profile guys that had to be replaced. But Cincinnati actually fared better offensively in 2012, despite a quarterback change midway through the season. The Bearcats ended up leading the Big East in scoring offense (32.3 ppg.) and rushing offense (201.5 ypg.), and ranked second in total offense (440.2 ypg.) thanks to George Winn, one of the best offensive lines in the Big East, more steady play from Brendon Kay, and the emergence of tight end Travis Kelce. Winn actually had a more productive season than Pead did, rushing for 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns. Cincinnati averaged 23 more rushing yards per game, and 54.5 more total yards per game than it did a year ago. The only big area that needs improvement is receiver play. The Bearcats have not been nearly as productive as they should be at that position, something that has hurt this team two seasons in a row. GRADE: A.
DEFENSE: This group had a lot of standouts it had to replace, but for the most part, the Bearcats held their own. Though they were not as productive at stopping the run, or accumulating sacks and tackles for loss, let's not forget this group was able to play on without their defensive leader, Walter Stewart. It's hard to replicate the success they had in 2012 with three starters gone. Still, Cincinnati did have 76 tackles for loss and ranked No. 2 in the Big East with 31 sacks, so they continued to be aggressive up front -- even with with players not as big as Derek Wolfe or John Hughes. Middle linebacker Greg Blair emerged after overcoming major injuries and led the Big East with 138 total tackles. The pass defense continued to have its problems, a continuing concern for years now. That is an area that must be improved moving forward. GRADE: B.
OVERALL: Cincinnati exceeded expectations once again, winning 10 games for the fifth time in six years and claiming yet another piece of the Big East title. The Bearcats ended up with five players on the Big East first team, including Kelce, Blair, defensive end Dan Giordano and offensive linemen Eric Lefeld and Austen Bujnoch. There was one big slip -- a road loss to Toledo that ended their 5-0 start. They also could not hold a lead and lost to cross-state rival Louisville for the first time in five years, and had an abysmal offensive performance in a loss to Rutgers. Still, it is hard to knock another 10-win season, even if every game on the schedule was completely winnable. GRADE: A.