Last spring, one of the big stories to watch in Cincinnati focused on the running back position.
With Co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead gone, who would step up to replace his productivity? We had an idea that senior George Winn would take the reigns, especially after his performance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. But the truth is, it would have been hard to predict that Winn would be better than Pead in 2012.
He was, which makes his omission from the Big East first-team particularly galling. Look at the numbers:
Pead, 2011: 237 carries, 1,259 yards, 12 touchdowns, 5.3 yards per carry, six 100-yard games.
Winn, 2012: 243 carries, 1,334 yards, 13 touchdowns, 5.5 yards per carry, six 100-yard games.
Winn had better numbers than the Co-Big East Player of the Year in 2011, yet was overlooked by league coaches. Head-scratcher indeed. But the point of this post is not to go over an all-conference team that was released months ago. The point is that a similar scenario is set to unfold this spring.
One of the big stories to watch is what happens at the running back position. What happened with Winn last season illustrated that Cincinnati is perfectly capable of producing a 1,000-yard back to replace another 1,000-yard back. And a big reason why is its offensive line.
Cincinnati had one of the best offensive lines in the league last season, producing two first-team Big East selections in tackle Eric Lefeld and guard Austen Bujnoch, and FWAA Freshman All-American Parker Ehinger. All five starters return for 2013, which should help the Bearcats maintain their impressive ground game, no matter who gets the carries.
Among the contenders vying for the starting job, there are three guys to watch this spring: Ralph David Abernathy IV, Deionte Buckley and Tion Green. Jameel Poteat is no longer in the mix, after deciding to transfer. Abernathy is more of a change-of-pace back who can be used in a variety of ways. He probably won't be getting 20 carries a game. Buckley and Green are certainly intriguing players to watch, given their potential.
Cincinnati also expects two junior college transfers -- Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams -- to be added into the mix when they arrive in time for fall practice.
Having said all this, there are two factors that make 2013 different from 2012. First, there is no senior in this group. Though Winn had never been a starter, he had more experience than anybody currently in the mix for playing time. That experience proved to be invaluable.
Second is the coaching change. Will Cincinnati continue to focus on the run, the way it has the past two seasons, or will coach Tommy Tuberville opt to open up the pass game more? Does he prefer a workhorse back or to use a rotation featuring two to three players? How will he utilize Abernathy, the most dynamic playmaker the Bearcats have on the roster?
There are certainly questions that have to be answered, but if last season is any indication, Cincinnati is perfectly capable of reloading. Not rebuilding.