We continue our look at Big East title chances for each team in the league. Up today: Cincinnati. The Bearcats had a year to forget in 2010, going 4-8 after their terrific undefeated regular season in 2009. Can they rebound in a major way and win the league again?
Why Cincinnati will win the Big East
1. Talkin' about offense. There is no question the talent is there on offense for Cincinnati to put up video-game numbers. All-Big East first-team quarterback Zach Collaros returns, and so does Isaiah Pead at running back. Armon Binns and his 1,101 yards are gone, but D.J. Woods should be able to step in and fill the void. There also are unproven players in Dyjuan Lewis, Kenbrell Thompkins and Shaq Washington ready to emerge. Let's not forget about incoming running backs Jameel Poteat and Akise Teague, too. The skill positions are essentially set.
2. Better defense. Every starter returns, which means this defense will be vastly more experienced than it was last season. So the unit should be better, right? Moving Walter Stewart down to defensive end should help the defense be more aggressive, and JK Schaffer should once again help lead this defense. Every position group is as experienced as it has been in years, and that could mean huge things for the Bearcats.
3. Year 2. Coach Butch Jones may have been familiar with the way Brian Kelly did things, but there still is an adjustment period when you take over a program and become head coach. Kelly didn't exactly leave the cupboard fully stocked, which helped contribute to the subpar season. But with another year at Cincinnati, expectations should be raised.
Why Cincinnati won't win the Big East
1. How much better is the defense? No question the unit will be more experienced, but how much better will that make the Bearcats? There also are depth questions at linebacker and in the secondary. Cincinnati no doubt will be relying on true freshmen at linebacker. Junior college transfer Malcolm Murray could push for playing time in the defensive backfield as well. Many of you wondered why I picked Dominique Battle as a potential impact player. He is listed as a co-starter on the depth chart following spring practice, and hopes are high for him to return to form following a knee injury. But the knee remains a question, and so does the secondary.
2. Schedule. The Bearcats have a brutal four-game conference stretch that could make or break their season. They open against Louisville before playing at USF, at Pittsburgh and then home to West Virginia. Not exactly the ideal way to start conference play. Luckily for the Bearcats, there is a bye squeezed in between USF and Pitt.
3. Special teams. Place kicker Jacob Rogers is gone, leaving big questions in the kicking game. Nobody solidified the job in the spring, leaving Tony Miliano, Danny Milligan and punter Pat O'Donnell to battle in the fall. Jones also expects to have some incoming players challenge for the job as well. This position is going to be up in the air until the first week of the season.