Another season of Cincinnati Bearcats football is upon us...
...which means it's time for me to, yet again, annoy you with my inane crap. Gather round, because the guy who totally did not predict a winning record last season is back to tell you what is going to happen starting Saturday in Pasadena.
I sat down with local expert Chad Brendel of BearcatJournal.com to record an episode of The OhVarsity! Podcast, get his sense for the roster, and verify that none of my opinions were stupid. Now I'm here to pass my new knowledge along to you.
Hayden Moore is back for his final campaign in red and black and is coming off a career-best season in 2017 that saw the Alabama native rack up 24 total touchdowns against nine interceptions. While Moore's achilles heel a year ago was slow starts (gotta hit the ground running!), inopportune turnovers (red zone interceptions make me sad!), and spotty wide receiver play (catch the freaking ball!), I think consistency at offensive coordinator and a new QB coach in Gino Guidugli means Moore is poised to impress some people in 2018. He may not be Tony Pike 2.0, but I'm bullish on the senior putting a wealth of experience to good use. Startling statistic: A duplication of last season's passing TD total of 20 would move Moore into second in the Cincinnati record book, trailing only Coach Guidugli.
He'll be pushed by redshirt freshman Desmond Ridder, a great athlete with some wheels who will undoubtedly see plenty of playing time because of the way he brings the offense a different look. Ultimately I hope Moore does enough to hold off Ridder from stealing the starting job, but this could be a situation where having a second QB works. Think Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux in 2012.
The running backs:
It's an embarrassment of riches in the backfield. 2017 star Gerrid Doaks will return with his co-pilot Mike Warren, and those two will get the lion's share of carries this year. Doaks tends to be a bit more of a power back, but Warren balances him out a bit. Don't be fooled though, because each of these guys are bigger than what we were generally accustomed to during the Tommy Tuberville era.
The fun doesn't stop there, as true freshman Charles McClelland has been garnering rave reviews out of camp and fellow newcomer (and former Oklahoma commit) Tavion Thomas looks like the type to eat linebackers for breakfast at a listed 6'2" 235lbs. (!!!)
Also in the mix is junior Taylor Boose, here to provide some depth and insurance. The Bearcats have five running backs they can trust this season. Life is good.
The wide receivers:
Mainstay Kahlil Lewis is back for his final season, moving out of the slot and back to the outside, where Brendel thinks he fits more naturally as a deep threat. Lewis has been behind the eight ball for most of his career due to incredible depth during his freshman season and a virtual revolving door of quarterbacks since. The excuses are out the window in 2018, and things seem set up for Lewis to have a big year. I'm confident he'll make it happen.
Behind #1 are some question marks. Resident comedian Thomas Geddis seems to be getting every opportunity to play Robin to Lewis' Batman, but who's to say how he'll handle the opportunity just yet? I am. Good season for Geddis incoming. You heard it here first.
Junior Rashad Medaris will play in the slot this season, and freshman Jayshon Jackson was Brendel's pick for 2018 Offensive Breakout Star. I'll steal his take. Jackson will turn himself into a know commodity in Cincinnati over the next dozen games.
The tight ends:
Josiah Deguara is your guy here. Cincinnati has made a name for itself as Tight End U over the last decade or so, but it feels like most of the premiere talent on this year's team lies with two guys we won't see much of just yet— freshmen Josh Whyle and Leonard Taylor. Don't sleep on Deguara though. With some question marks at wideout, look for the quarterbacks to look his way plenty.
The offensive line:
Better than it's been recently! ... At least on paper. I'll take it. We'll need the front line to stay healthy, and Doaks, Warren, and Moore will reap the rewards. The starters on Brendel's projected two-deep clock in at 6'4" 300lbs. or better. That's good old fashioned football, folks.
The defensive line:
Fitz, Broughton, and Copeland; oh my! For all the flak The American gets, it's still a very tough place to play for defenses that don't prioritize making opposing quarterbacks sweat. The three I just mentioned should help in that area, and will be backed up by an athletic defense behind them.
Local product Malik Vann was arguably the crown jewel of the 2018 class and UC will have the luxury of giving him some time to learn. You'll hear his name called, but he doesn't have a full-time job as QB killer just yet.
Athletic freak Bryan Wright returns after an injury-shortened 2017 to bring his brand of swift strength to the middle of the defense. He'll be flanked by 2017 breakout star Perry Young and 2017 Victory Bell hero Malik Clements in the newly-branded sniper position.
These guys will play second fiddle to the talent on the defensive line, but this starting trio will make a boatload of big plays in 2018.
Sophomore duo Darrick Forrest Jr. and James Wiggins play the athletic anchors to a talented but shallow unit in the secondary. Wiggins made Bruce Feldman's "Freaks List" this summer because of the way he can bench 405lbs., squat 675lbs., and run a 4.40 40-yard dash. Those numbers are slightly better than what I can do as a superstar blogger.
Brendel is confident this unit will get the job done, but this is still a place where an injury could easily foul things up.
Me thinking about the cornerbacks recently: 😷
Me thinking about the cornerbacks this year: 🤔
This unit was put through the ringer in recent years because of the conference UC plays in, the lack of pressure by the defensive front, and, frankly, the lack of talent they had. No more.
Things (again, on paper) are better now. Senior Tyrell Gilbert is your star, backed up by sophomore Coby Bryant and Bowling Green graduate transfer Cam Jefferies. I won't go as far as saying the corners are a strength this year, but check back in a few weeks. They've got weapons I'm happy with.
The special teams:
Your punter is James Smith, The Thunder from Down Under (still workshopping nicknames). He made the 2018 Ray Guy Award watch list, which means nothing but seems like a good start. I don't want to do tons of punting, but having a good punter is a wonderful luxury, especially for a team trying to scrape out as many wins as possible.
The kicking battle has come down to veteran Ryan Jones and freshman Cole Smith. It sounds like Brendel likes Jones to win this battle because of his accuracy, but Smith and his horse leg are fast on his heels.
That's the motto.
I'm forever the optimist. When I asked Brendel whether or not the Bearcats will go bowling this winter, I expected at least a bit of pushback. It's what I normally have to deal with around these parts, and I've been calling for 6-6 since last season ended. Surprisingly, Chad didn't take much convincing and he thinks this is a 6-6 team, with 5-7 and 7-5 also being possible.
I don't have to tell anyone that a bowl game would be huge for this program. Rebuilds are typically a long process, and I wouldn't necessarily light Fickell's seat on fire if the team finishes the year with another losing record.
However, just because you have a long leash doesn't mean losing has no consequences. Even the best recruiters will have a hard time convincing great talent to come to a program that hasn't reached a bowl game since 2015 and hasn't won a bowl game since 2012. College football is a cutthroat business and you have to put a winner on the field.
I think Cincinnati has its first true shot at doing so since 2015. We'll be watching December football this year. I'm calling it.
@ UCLA - Loss
"@" Miami (OH) - Win
Alabama A&M - Win
Ohio - Loss
@ UConn - Win
Tulane - Win
@ Temple - Loss
@ SMU - Loss
Navy - Win
USF - Loss
@ UCF - Loss
ECU - Win
Final record: 6-6
Where the season will be decided: Miami OH, Ohio, Temple, Navy