Brian Kelly may be gone but the Bearcats remain serious contenders for the Big East title and a third straight trip to the BCS.
The schedule As one might expect from a Big East team, Cincinnati’s non-conference slate is a mixed bag. The Bearcats open with a decent test on the road to Fresno State before welcoming Indiana State, a FCS team, to Nippert Stadium. NC State could prove a banana skin on the road but the first real test of 2010 will come on September 25 when the Oklahoma Sooners come to town.
Butch Jones’ first season coaching in the Big East promises to be interesting as the Bearcats have a back-loaded schedule. Rutgers visits Nippert Stadium on November 20; Cincinnati travels to Connecticut a week later before finishing at home to Pittsburgh. It promises to be a baptism of fire for Jones, who won two MAC titles at Central Michigan.
The players Zach Collaros showed he was ready to start under center for a contender last season when he filled in for Tony Pike. Collaros is joined by 7 returning starters on offense, including most of the offensive line that won last year’s Big East championship. The big College Football betting question is what Cincinnati will do to replace star wideout and return man Mardy Gilyard. Making up for that loss of production will be at the center of Jones’ efforts to re-energize this offense.
The defense has just 5 returning starters from 2009 but that lack of experience won’t doom the Bearcats. Cincinnati found itself in plenty of shootouts last year and still had a 12-1 final record because its offense could usually get the defense out of trouble. Remarkably this is actually a more experienced unit than last season’s defense which had just 1 returning starter. With this in mind, Jones should find himself in a better position to stop Pittsburgh’s Dion Lewis than it would initially appear on paper. Bettors should note that Jacob Rogers will once again double up as kicker and punter for the Bearcats.
The forecast It’s hard to see Cincinnati beating a rebounding Oklahoma team in 2010 but a strong start to conference play should ensure the Bearcats are at least in the discussion towards the end of the season. A 6-1 record would likely earn a share of the Big East and a 5-2 finish might even be enough. While I like Cincinnati to take care of Rutgers, I don’t see the Bearcats defying the College Football odds to do better than 5-2 in Big East play. There are still too many holes on this defense for the Bearcats to make it a threepeat of conference titles. I like Cincinnati to go 9-3 in the regular season.