If you missed it, the Big 12 cooled some of the expansion talk yesterday, when interim commissioner Chuck Neinas announced that the league is satisfied with 10 members. Interpret that however you want. I’m sure it’s not the last we’ve heard on the realignment front.
Now, back to the blog’s look at the Hokies’ 2012 opponents, finishing off Cincinnati. If you missed Part I, you can read it here.
To the questions …
AB: Quarterback Munchie Legaux took over when Zach Collaros was injured last year. What does he have to do to hold off any challenge from backup Brendon Kay? And will he have many play-makers to work with in the receiving game?
BK: “Munchie Legaux started three games in place of Collaros last year with mixed results. He’s a threat as a runner and has a strong arm, but his accuracy sometimes is not what it needs to be. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said at the end of spring practice that Kay was challenging Legaux for the starting job, but it’s hard to imagine Kay taking the starting job away from Legaux unless Legaux has a terrible fall camp. Kay has been injured frequently during his time at Cincinnati and has never had a real chance to show what he can do. He’s healthy now, but because he has only one year of eligibility remaining and has limited experience, it’s doubtful that he could supplant Legaux as the starter.
“Anthony McClung, who caught 49 passes in 2011, has emerged as the Bearcats’ best wide receiver and is one of the most productive receivers in the Big East, but he is not the deep threat that Cincinnati has had in recent years with Armon Binns and Mardy Gilyard. Running back Isaiah Pead was so good last year that he forced Jones to change a pass-oriented offense to one that was dominated by the running game. With Pead gone, the offense should be more balanced in 2012, which will create more opportunities for McClung and senior Kenbrell Thompkins.”
AB: After losing three starters on the offensive line and All-Big East running back Isaiah Pead, what is the Bearcats’ running game going to look like?
BK: “The leading returning rusher is senior George Winn, who served as Pead’s backup last year and rushed for 219 yards on 40 carries. But without a proven workhouse like Pead, Jones has chosen to use a running back-by-committee approach, with sophomores Jameel Poteat and Ralph David Abernathy IV also in the mix. Poteat, who originally committed to Pitt, was the more highly-rated back out of high school but Abernathy made an impact last year as a kick returner and has big-play ability. There are actually three starters returning on the offensive line if you count right tackle Sean Hooey, who was sidelined near the end of last season with an injury and replaced by Eric Lefeld, but the line will be a question mark, especially at center where the Bearcats will be using their third different center in three years.”
AB: How much of an effect on the defense does losing defensive coordinator Tim Banks to Illinois have? Will new coordinator John Jancek change much about how the Bearcats do things?
BK: “Jancek was the co-coordinator last year along with Banks and has been adamant about not changing Cincinnati’s defensive approach, so the players will be operating under the same system they’ve been in since Jones arrived three years ago to replace Brian Kelly. The defense wasn’t great last year – it ranked third in the Big East in scoring defense, but was seventh in pass defense. The good news is that the Bearcats forced a lot of turnovers, leading the Big East with a turnover margin of plus-12.”
AB: The strength of last year’s defense seemed to be in the middle with tackles John Hughes and Derek Wolfe and linebacker J.K. Schaffer. Who are candidates to fill those spots and who might stand out on the defense?
BK: “Sophomore Solomon Tentman, who has come back from a devastating knee injury he suffered as a freshman, showed great promise in the spring and will replace Schaffer at middle linebacker. Sophomore Camaron Beard and junior Jordan Stepp will man the inside spots on the defensive line. Stepp was a valuable member of the rotation last year and the coaching staff is high on Beard, but Wolfe’s intensity and ability to draw double-teams will be missed. Perhaps the top play-maker on defense will be end Walter Stewart (pictured), who had six sacks last year. Drew Frey, a sixth-year senior, returns at strong safety after a junior year that saw him earn first-team all-Big East honors.”
AB: Since Rick Minter was fired in 2003, Cincinnati has been a good proving ground for coaches on their way to bigger jobs (Mark Dantonio to Michigan State and Brian Kelly to Notre Dame). Butch Jones’ name was already in the rumor mill last offseason. Do you think he’ll be at Cincinnati for a while or will the Bearcats be repeating their search once a bigger program poaches their coach again sometime soon?
BK: “Jones signed an extension at the end of last season that keeps him under contract through the 2017 season. He has talked about staying for the long term and building something special at Cincinnati, proclaiming his love for the city and the school. But so did Dantonio and Kelly before him. As the least respected of the six BCS conferences, the Big East has become a revolving door for coaches in recent years. If UC has another successful season and the right job opens up, it’s hard to see Jones staying.”
Another preview in the books. Thanks to Bill for helping me out.
This is an interesting non-conference matchup. Not a world beater, but not a cupcake at the same time. And playing in FedEx Field in Landover, Md., where the Hokies have had some not-so-pleasant memories in years past against highly-regarded teams (Southern Cal in 2004, Boise State in 2010) adds another bit of intrigue to the game.
Cincinnati looks like it will take something of a step back from last year. As someone noted in the comments section of the first post on the Bearcats, you don’t lose six first- and second-team All-Big East player, including the league’s offensive and defensive players of the year, and not see significant effect on the field.
I think Jones is a good coach who has done a solid job in Cincinnati, where expectations were raised during Kelly’s tenure. This will only be the Bearcats’ third game this year, which is still pretty early in Legaux’s run as quarterback. Facing a defense like Virginia Tech’s won’t be an easy task. And doing so without a standout back like Pead to take the heat off you makes it all the more difficult. I’d expect the Hokies to win this one, but I don’t see the Bearcats being a pushover in any sense.