2012 Program Preview - Cincinnati

Maalik Bomar points to the star Canopus in the Carina/Argo Navis constellation. Bomar gets down with astronomy, yo.

Having capped off the ACC programs, we're moving on to the Big East. The West Virginia-less Big East. Mind your step.

Sticking with the alphabetical order mandated by adherence to stare decisis following U.S. v. Chip Kelly, Cincinnati proves the lead-in for the conference; it's a suitable program to do so.

The Bearcats were surprising overachievers in 2011, with two consecutive 3-point road wins over Pitt and South Florida and the following 3-point loss to West Virginia serving as the key stretch in the regular season. Of course the Liberty Bowl victory over Vanderbilt was a fitting cap to a season that saw Butch Jones steer Cincy back into successful waters.

With RB Isaiah Pead and DE Derek Wolfe (the Big East offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively) having left as well as QB Zach Collaros, Jones, himself the Big East coach of the year in 2011, has a tough task ahead in 2012.

Though there are suitable replacements in tow (RB Jameal Poteat and a pair of capable ends), the inexperience on the offensive line, the talent gap at DT and the unpredictability of QB Munchie Legaux (despite his nominal supremacy) all point toward a season that's tough to forecast.

After the jump, the prospects worth noting as well as some games and matchups to pencil into your calendar.

References

Down the Drive (SBN Cincinnati community), SB Nation team page, official team site, Bill Connelly's preview for SBN, CBS Sports preview

Notable offensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Sean Hooey
OT RS Sr. 7 (potential riser)
Travis Kelce
TE RS Sr. UD
Kenbrell Thompkins
WR Sr. UD
Anthony McClung WR Jr. UD


Notable defensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Drew Frey SS RS Sr. 5
Walter Stewart DE RS Sr. 6
Dominique Battle CB RS Sr. 7
Maalik Bomar LB Sr. 7
Dan Giordano
DE RS Sr. UD
Deven Drane
CB Jr. UD
Nick Temple OLB Soph. N/A


Summary

Nobody on the roster stands out like Wolfe, Pead or DT John Hughes last year. Still, with nearly a dozen qualified prospects at this point (with a likely handful to emerge throughout the season), Cincy's in position to deliver plenty of talent to the NFL in the 2013 NFL Draft. They're also on good terms of being able to compete in the Big East in 2012.

Key games

Pittsburgh (home) - Week 2 (Thu., Sep. 6 - 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Cincy starts their season a week after most other programs with a Thursday night contest that stands alone on the 6th. With the college football and NFL Draft worlds watching, this is a huge game for both teams. For the Bearcats, this is the first of five consecutive home games. Three of those games include Delaware State, Miami of Ohio and Fordham, so the Pitt game is even more meaningful. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, follows this game up with a Virginia Tech challenge. With the Hokies' defense, that proves to be a difficult out of conference match. Speaking of...

Virginia Tech (home) - Week 5 (Sat., Sept. 29 - TBD)

Cincinnati's out of conference slate is very easy, save for this Big East-ACC contest. You could argue it means more for Virginia Tech given their potential national aspirations. However, with Pitt and Cincy both with the Hokies on the schedule, it becomes a good barometer for both programs in terms of their caliber in 2012 but also for recruits. Pitt pulled in five recruits from Ohio in their 2012 class while Cincy nabbed a WR from Pittsburgh proper -- Shakim Alonso. With that in mind, this game will have some notable secondary effects.

Key matchups

LB Maalik Bomar v. Pitt RB Ray Graham*, Week 2 - Thu., Sep. 6

* - Anything related to Ray Graham needs to be marked with an asterisk. Graham was on course to replace former Pitt RB Dion Lewis in spectacular fashion last year, rushing for 939 yards in Pitt's first seven games. In unlucky number eight against Connecticut, Graham tore his ACL on the fourth play of the game. If he's healthy for this one, he's going to be a handful for the Bearcats' run defense. With their inexperience at DT, that effort could well rest on Bomar's shoulders.

RB Jameel Poteat v. South Florida LBs Sam Barrington, Michael Lanaris and DeDe Lattimore, Week 13 - Fri., Nov. 23

It's a somewhat similar situation in this matchup. Instead of an experienced RB coming off an injury after replacing a former standout, it's a relatively untested young talent replacing a RB who has moved on to the NFL. Isaiah Pead was selected by the Rams in the middle of the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, opening the door for Poteat. The Harrisburg, Pa., product got some playing time early in the season, but didn't feature by the time Cincy got into Big East play. We'll have a sense of how good Poteat really is by the time this game comes around, but with the production and experience of USF's linebacking corps, this might be the biggest challenge he faces all year.

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