Cincinnati football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Bearcats, best players and season prediction.
Cincinnati is coming off just its second six-loss season in the last decade. Was it an anomaly or an indication that Tommy Tuberville is struggling to advance the program?
Ever so discreetly, the Bearcats have been one of college football’s most consistent programs for much of this century. Coaching staffs have changed, yet the results have largely remained the same. However, 2015 was a disappointing exception, with the squad drifting from American contender to an afterthought that shrunk behind the likes of Temple, Houston, Memphis and South Florida in the conference spotlight.
Tuberville understands the significance of bouncing back from 7-6, particularly as the athletic department makes its pitch for possible inclusion in the Big 12. His staff will have a new look, including the hiring of offensive coordinator Zac Taylor from the pros. Taylor is installing a more balanced playbook that’ll exploit the talents of both QB Gunner Kiel and backs Mike Boone and Tion Green. Above all else, the Bearcats want to be more physical and less prone to turnovers in 2016.
Taylor’s offense ought to be fine, even if the new wide receivers and offensive tackles take time adjusting to starting roles. It’s the defense—again—that could marginalize the program’s ceiling.
The Cincinnati D is largely a collection of two-star recruits who weren’t Big Ten-caliber. And that’s okay, as long as those Bearcats are able to fly around the field and create havoc. Temple has done just fine with second-tier defensive prospects. Ditto Connecticut and Houston and Memphis.
Cincy, though, just stopped making big defensive plays a year ago, which too often negated all that Kiel & Co. were able to generate on offense. The Bearcats are in desperate need for someone other than LB Eric Wilson and S Zach Edwards to rise up and do something that sparks defensive momentum.
Cincinnati and its fans have grown accustomed to nine and 10-win seasons. That’s the good news. The bad? When the team flirts with mediocrity, the frowns are a little longer than they are on other campuses. The Bearcats still have the talent to win the East Division and compete for an American championship. With the Big 12 paying closer attention, titles are a top priority for Tuberville, who must prove there’s been no sideline decline for the school that’s recently employed Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones.
Biggest Key To The Cincinnati Offense
A pro-style attack plan. With the arrival of new offensive coordinator Zac Taylor from the Miami Dolphins comes an edict to play a far more physical style than in recent seasons. The Bearcats are determined to hammer the ball with a hard-nosed mentality that accentuates the skills of backs Mike Boone and Tion Green, makes greater use of the tight ends and seeks more balance. While QB Gunner Kiel is arguably Cincy’s best player, he could be deemphasized in 2016, assuming he’s able to first hold off the challenge of up-and-coming Hayden Moore.
Biggest Key To The Cincinnati Defense
The pass rush to again be feeble. The Bearcats managed just 13 sacks last season, which was more than only four teams in the entire FBS. Yeah, there might be improvement, but don’t bank on it being significant. First, Cincinnati will be without last year’s best pass rusher, DE Silverberry Mouhon, and his successors are unproven. Second, as long as the cornerbacks are a liability in coverage, the rest of the D must operate in containment mode to help mitigate big plays over the top.
Cincinnati Will Be Far Better If…
addresses last year’s enormous turnover problem. In 2015, the Bearcats were next to last in the American with just 14 takeaways, and dead last with 33 turnovers. The only schools with a worse turnover margin were UCF and Hawaii, which combined to go 3-22. Cincinnati, on the other hand, somehow still finished above .500. Escaping mediocrity, though, will require this team to cut down on its mistakes while simultaneously generating more momentum-building plays on defense.
Best Cincinnati Offensive Player
Senior QB Gunner Kiel. Kiel is the Bearcats’ top overall player entering 2016, including in terms of pro potential. Now, he still needs to officially shake free from sophomore Hayden Moore and prove that personal issues that kept him out of the Hawaii Bowl and the shoulder problems that shelved him in the spring game have been resolved. Still, a healthy and focused Kiel, especially in a salary run year, is a bonus for an offense moving forward without last season’s top six receivers.
Best Cincinnati Defensive Player
Senior LB Eric Wilson. There’s not a preponderance of big-time talent on the defensive side of the ball. Wilson is an exception. In his first season as a starter, the Northwestern transfer led the Bearcats in tackles to land a spot on the All-AAC Second Team. And he’s an elite all-around athlete who sets the tone for Cincinnati on the field and in the weight room. Wilson is lean and strong, with a shot to play on Sundays if he can pack on a few more good pounds.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Junior DE Mark Wilson. A year after getting to the quarterback a mere 13 times in 13 games, Cincinnati must now replace its premier pass rusher, Silverberry Mouhon. True, tackles Alex Pace and Cortez Broughton will get a push, but the defensive backfield is in trouble if there’s no pressure off the edge. The Bearcats are hoping that Wilson, and to a lesser extent Kimoni Fitz, can provide the spark that missing a season ago.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Bearcats win the East Division of the American. Defending East champ Temple should be down from a year ago, and no other program in the division has noticeably more talent than Cincinnati, particularly in the backfield. Plus, Houston and South Florida must travel to Nippert Stadium in the fall. There’s absolutely no reason why this squad shouldn’t feel the Week 3 game with the Cougars will be the first of two 2016 matchups.
Oct. 1 vs. South Florida. If the Bearcats aren’t bouncing off the locker room walls before this game, they might need a heart transplant. The Bulls embarrassed Cincinnati in Tampa last season, 65-27, in a rout that shined a bright floodlight on Cincy’s defensive softness. Not only will the Bearcats be looking for respect and redemption, but this meeting could also go a long way to determining who earns a berth in the second American Championship Game.
2015 Fun Stats
– Passing first downs: Cincinnati 215 – Opponents 125
– Passing yards per game: Cincinnati 359.9 – Opponents 216.5
– Sacks: Cincinnati 13 – Opponents 26