2013 Cincinnati football's 10 things to know: The country's most underrated program

Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

Cincinnati has been a top-30 team for six of the last seven years and gets Louisville at home to finish the season. Can the Bearcats kill the Cardinals' BCS dreams? And is Louisville even going to be the 11-0 team heading into that game? For more Cincy, visit Down the Drive.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. More to prove

Each year when the preseason polls are released, we find some variation of the same post: Which teams are most constantly overrated in the polls, and which are underrated? For a long time, Florida State was the king of over-estimation; the Seminoles started sixth in 2001 and finished 15th, started third in 2002 and finished 21st, started fifth in 2004 and finished 15th. It goes on, of course: from 14th to 23rd in 2005, from 11th to unranked in 2006, from 19th to unranked in 2007, and from 18th to unranked in 2009, Bobby Bowden's final season.

Apparently the new kings of the overrated world are Oklahoma and USC. The most underrated teams, on the other hand are Stanford, Cincinnati, TCU, Oregon, and Utah. And since Stanford has begun this season ranked fourth in the AP top 25, I'd say they're off the list.

Cincinnati has won 20 games in two seasons and shared each of the last two Big East titles. The Bearcats ranked 23rd and 26th, respectively, in the 2011-12 F/+ rankings and have finished in the top 30 five times in six years. They return a middle-of-the-road 12 starters, which suggests neither improvement nor regression. They received three votes in both the AP and USA Today preseason polls.

This is nothing new, of course. In 2007, Cincy went 10-3 and finished 17th in the polls. The next year, the Bearcats started 30th in the polls, won 11 more games, and finished 17th. The next year, they started 33rd in the polls, won 12 games, damn near reached the BCS title game, and finished eighth. They tumbled in 2010 after the departure of head coach Brian Kelly, quarterback Tony Pike, etc., but rebounded to 10-3 and 25th in 2011 … and started 38th the next year. For established powers, we assume a turnaround is right around the corner. For non-powers, we assume the same about the downfall.

Now, Cincinnati is not in any way elite. That's not the argument here. While the Bearcats have ranked in the F/+ top 30 six times, they've only ranked in the top 20 twice (and not since 2009). The UC defense was sketchy at best last year and will probably be the same again this fall, and the Bearcats' yards-per-point margin from last year (as seen at the bottom of this post, fourth-highest in the country) was almost unsustainably efficient. Plus, they'll be breaking in a new head coach after Tommy Tuberville replaced Tennessee-bound Butch Jones. There are plenty of reasons to doubt whether, say, Cincinnati can challenge Louisville for conference supremacy. But this program has proven its top-30 bona fides even though it can never seem to garner many top-25 votes.

It's a frustrating time to be a Cincinnati fan. The constant downgrade in the polls is a reminder of perceived fortunes, as is the fact that the Bearcats are probably the second-best football program (behind Boise State) to get left out of a major conference during conference realignment. All they can do is keep winning and keep making solid hires and hope that status changes at some point in the future. And claiming the scalp of a supposed national title contender in the season finale wouldn't hurt, either.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 26
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
6-Sep Pittsburgh 34-10 W 43.6 - 26.1 W
15-Sep Delaware State 23-7 W 25.0 - 35.6 L
29-Sep Virginia Tech 27-24 W 39.7 - 33.5 W
6-Oct Miami (Ohio) 52-14 W 25.2 - 24.6 W
13-Oct Fordham 49-17 W 31.1 - 39.1 L
20-Oct at Toledo 23-29 L 27.7 - 23.5 W
26-Oct at Louisville 31-34 L 23.9 - 30.0 L
3-Nov Syracuse 35-24 W 30.6 - 24.0 W
10-Nov at Temple 34-10 W 34.2 - 19.3 W
17-Nov Rutgers 3-10 L 38.0 - 39.3 L
23-Nov South Florida 27-10 W 28.2 - 20.1 W
1-Dec at Connecticut 34-17 W 42.7 - 25.3 W
27-Dec vs. Duke 48-34 W 41.7 - 39.4 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 32.3 39 18.5 14
Adj. Points Per Game 33.2 34 29.2 72

2. Kay d. Munchie

There are some serious questions to ask on the defensive side of the ball, and there are just as many questions to ask about what new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will actually try to build. We'll ask those below. But because of these pieces at hand, we know that the offense is probably going to be pretty damn good. And we know it will probably be even better if Brendon Kay is behind center. Kay took over for Munchie Legaux after eight games, and the Cincy offense went from solid to outstanding.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Cincinnati 30.9, Opponent 29.6 (plus-1.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Cincinnati 37.0, Opponent 28.7 (plus-8.3)

The Bearcats alternated between obliterating bad defenses (7.7 yards per play versus Temple, a hilarious 10.5 versus Duke) and dinging good ones (5.8 versus Rutgers, 5.7 versus UConn) as Kay brought a more high-percentage, low-mistake brand of football to the field. He has struggled with shoulder issues in practice recently (for one reason or another), and Tuberville has held off on naming a winner to this year's Kay vs. Munchie battle thus far, but in an admittedly small sample size, Kay certainly proved he was better in last year's offense.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 36 47 67 39
RUSHING 30 44 56 36
PASSING 55 51 82 44
Standard Downs 44 68 35
Passing Downs 53 77 41
Redzone 66 68 62
Q1 Rk 58 1st Down Rk 43
Q2 Rk 59 2nd Down Rk 69
Q3 Rk 36 3rd Down Rk 53
Q4 Rk 56

3. A mix of flavors

You know when you were a kid and thought mixing together every drink at the soda fountain sounded like fun? And what did you call that drink? Suicide? (Or was that just an Oklahoma thing?)

Last year, Eddie Gran was the running backs coach for a Florida State offense that was one of the most plodding, conservative units in the country. FSU protected its quarterback from tough decisions at all costs (passes on standard downs, runs on passing downs), operated at the slowest possible pace, and basically used its offense to win the field position game and occasionally score points.

Gran's résumé also includes lengthy time on Tommy Tuberville's Ole Miss and Auburn staffs, where he was, again, running backs coach for a run-happy, mostly pace-resistant attack.

A position coach for nearly 25 years, Gran has put in his time in earning an offensive coordinator position. And hey, each man has his own ideas for how to run an offense -- you're not limited by what your bosses have done. Still, it was a little bit confusing to see Gran's staff filled with assistants with spread and high-pace backgrounds. And it's going to be interesting to see Gran and his "pro-style" (again, whatever that means these days), methodical background pushing buttons for players recruited to run Butch Jones' version of the spread. Whatever we see from Cincinnati's offense in 2013 is going to be a blend of almost every offensive influence. And to be sure, if not everybody's committed to the same vision, then talent won't save the offense from ending up hopeless and directionless (see: Tuberville's and Gran's last Auburn offense). But I'm assuming that at the end of the day, we're going to see something similar to what we saw last year: typical run-pass rates, a slightly slower-than-normal pace, and a reasonably high level of quality.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Munchie Legaux 6'5, 200 Sr. *** (5.7) 120 230 1,716 52.2% 13 9 5 2.1% 7.1
Brendon Kay 6'4, 228 Sr. ** (5.3) 87 138 1,298 63.0% 10 2 10 6.8% 8.4
Bennie Coney 6'3, 216 RSFr. *** (5.7)







Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
George Winn RB 243 1,334 5.5 5.2 13 +9.0
Ralph David Abernathy IV RB 5'7, 161 Jr. *** (5.5) 69 366 5.3 8.3 3 +1.9
Munchie Legaux QB 6'5, 200 Sr. *** (5.7) 50 375 7.5 8.7 4 +10.2
Brendon Kay QB 6'4, 228 Sr. ** (5.3) 38 358 9.4 9.0 2 +13.7
Jameel Poteat RB 34 119 3.5 4.9 1 -4.4
Tion Green RB 6'0, 220 So. *** (5.7) 16 70 4.4 6.2 1 -1.9
Jordan Luallen FB 6'3, 240 Sr. *** (5.7) 15 51 3.4 3.0 1 -1.9

4. Every team needs a Ralph David Abernathy IV

Ralph David Abernathy IV is just fun. I mean, first of all, the name is just immaculate. But beyond that he is something every team needs: a jitterbug, a guy who is without a defined position or incredible technical skills but is blessed with the simple ability to dance around with the football and scare the hell out of an opponent and its fans.

Take, for example, his 14-yard touchdown run against Louisville. It featured a bad pitch and a bad block, and Abernathy did exactly what you're not supposed to do (retreat 10 yards), and it resulted in six points.

Abernathy is 5'7, 161 pounds; he runs like he is magnetized, careening off tackles as if he's of the opposite pole and proving impossible to wrap up. Of his 161 pounds, 154 are in his ab muscles. He doesn't necessarily have A-grade speed, but it would be unfair to the rest of college football if he did.

The question for 2013 is, how much of a load can he shoulder? Last year, he had George Winn to take on most of the rushing load and was the No. 4 pass target, and including kick returns and incomplete passes, he got 140 intended touches, just under 11 per game. This year, Winn's gone, as are star tight end Travis Kelce and No. 1 target Kenbrell ThompkinsThe DAT rule is in place here -- "You never wanna know the limit on carries your tailback can have, because that means they're hurt" -- but the more times RDA IV can touch the ball in 2013, the better Cincinnati's offense will be.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Kenbrell Thompkins WR 75 34 541 45.3% 7.2 21.1% 58.7% 7.2 79.8
Anthony McClung WR 6'0, 177 Sr. *** (5.5) 67 34 539 50.7% 8.0 18.8% 46.3% 8.8 79.5
Travis Kelce TE 64 45 722 70.3% 11.3 18.0% 62.5% 11.3 106.6
Ralph David Abernathy IV RB 5'7, 161 Jr. *** (5.5) 39 28 341 71.8% 8.7 11.0% 69.2% 9.0 50.3
Damon Julian WR 32 24 377 75.0% 11.8 9.0% 31.3% 13.8 55.6
Alex Chisum WR 6'3, 195 Jr. *** (5.6) 31 9 140 29.0% 4.5 8.7% 54.8% 4.3 20.7
George Winn RB 16 15 128 93.8% 8.0 4.5% 62.5% 8.0 18.9
Danny Milligan WR 15 8 116 53.3% 7.7 4.2% 40.0% 9.2 17.1
Chris Moore WR 6'1, 190 So. *** (5.6) 5 4 113 80.0% 22.6 1.4% 60.0% 22.7 16.7
Shaq Washington WR 5'9, 174 So. *** (5.7) 4 3 23 75.0% 5.8 1.1% 100.0% 3.5 3.4
Jeremy Graves WR 6'2, 190 So. *** (5.6)








Max Morrison WR 6'1, 173 So. ** (5.3)








Nate Cole WR 6'1, 193 RSFr. *** (5.7)








D.J. Dowdy TE 6'4, 223 RSFr. *** (5.7)








Travis Johnson TE 6'4, 249 Fr. *** (5.7)








Tyler Cogswell TE 6'4, 248 Fr. *** (5.7)








Tshumbi Johnson WR 5'11, 175 Fr. *** (5.6)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 107.5 3.14 3.68 38.4% 68.2% 16.8% 145.4 2.6% 5.0%
Rank 33 31 21 71 59 28 27 26 40
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Eric Lefeld LT 6'6, 309 Jr. ** (5.4) 20 career starts; 2012 1st All-Big East
Austen Bujnoch LG 6'5, 290 Sr. *** (5.6) 25 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big East
Dan Sprague C 6'3, 290 Sr. ** (5.3) 13 career starts
Sam Longo RG 6'5, 305 Sr. *** (5.7) 12 career starts
Parker Ehinger RT 6'7, 292 So. *** (5.5) 12 career starts
Sean Hooey RT 11 career starts
Andre Cureton RG 6'6, 310 Sr. ** (5.3)
Kevin Schloemer LG 6'7, 312 Jr. *** (5.7)
Cory Keebler LT 6'7, 294 Jr. ** (5.2)
Dominic Mainello C 6'3, 280 Jr. ** (5.2)
Justin Murray RT 6'5, 294 So. *** (5.6)
Ryan Leahy OL 6'6, 282 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Deyshawn Bond C 6'2, 287 RSFr. ** (5.3)

5. One of the best lines in the midwest

There are indeed question marks for this offense, and they go beyond what the heck Gran is going to build or how many touches Abernathy can handle. After Abernathy, Tion Green is the only running back with any experience, and while he showed some explosive potential, he only got 16 carries last year. Meanwhile, Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum are the only two returning members among the top six targets in last year's receiving corps (not including Abernathy, who was basically two-thirds running back, one-third receiver). The tight end position is devoid of experience, and while there are quite a few interesting, rather highly touted true and redshirt freshmen (D.J. Dowdy, Travis Johnson, Tyler Cogswell), they are freshmen. The skill position unit as a whole has a lot of potential and athleticism and almost no proven quantities.

We do know that Kay and Legaux will indeed have both Abernathy and McClung at their disposal, and that's a good thing. While Kenbrell Thompkins was the No. 1 target last year, he was disturbingly hit-or-miss; when Cincy had to complete a pass last year, it looked to McClung, who saw more than half of his targets on passing downs.

But the most known quantity in Cincinnati's favor comes up front. All five starters from a line that ranked around 30th in both run blocking and pass blocking return, including an all-conference left side (tackle Eric Lefeld, Austen Bujnoch). The line was mostly good in 2012 despite inexperience. This year there is no "despite." As long as Gran finds an identity and sticks to it, and as long as there's a healthy quarterback taking snaps, this offense should be pretty good even if freshmen are in the mix at the skill positions.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 55 76 113 84
RUSHING 31 110 119 85
PASSING 91 86 93 83
Standard Downs 114 122 95
Passing Downs 60 58 64
Redzone 70 90 53
Q1 Rk 83 1st Down Rk 117
Q2 Rk 78 2nd Down Rk 62
Q3 Rk 76 3rd Down Rk 56
Q4 Rk 116

6. Get better on first down

Cincinnati's defense was confusing last year. It featured a nice, aggressive front seven that struggled to generate a decent pass rush and an experienced secondary that made a lot of young-player errors, and it was weird enough that even the numbers couldn't get a consistent read on it. There are always going to be disagreements between my numbers and Brian Fremeau's, but the discrepancy in Cincy's numbers was jarring: the Bearcats ranked 76th in my play-by-play measure and 13th in his drive-based measure. The result was a top-30 Def. F/+ ranking for a defense that wasn't particularly great in any one area (other than stopping drives, one way or another, before points were scored).

Whether the Bearcats were mediocre or good on defense, though, we do know one thing: they were pretty awful on first downs. They were the third-least efficient defense in the country on standard downs, and while they tended to lock things down on passing downs (relatively speaking, anyway), when you're this awful early, you probably don't end up forcing as many passing downs as you should.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 84.0 2.96 3.67 38.1% 61.7% 19.3% 87.2 4.6% 6.2%
Rank 117 67 104 53 26 65 84 66 64
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dan Giordano DE 13 40.0 5.3% 6 5 0 1 1 2
John Williams NT 13 27.5 3.7% 5 2.5 0 1 0 2
Jordan Stepp NT 6'1, 285 Sr. *** (5.7) 13 27.0 3.6% 4 1.5 0 2 0 0
Brandon Mills DE 13 22.5 3.0% 3.5 1 0 1 1 1
Camaron Beard DT 6'5, 287 Jr. *** (5.5) 13 20.5 2.7% 5 0 0 1 1 1
Walter Stewart DE 5 16.0 2.1% 7 5 0 1 2 0
Silverberry Mouhon DE 6'4, 248 So. *** (5.5) 13 13.5 1.8% 1 1 0 1 1 0
Adam Dempsey NT 6'2, 285 Sr. NR 12 9.0 1.2% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Elijah Shuler DE 6'3, 257 Sr. ** (5.2) 10 7.5 1.0% 3 1 0 2 0 0
Mitch Meador DT 6'4, 290 Sr. ** (5.3) 13 4.5 0.6% 1 1 0 0 1 0
Josh Posley DE 6'1, 252 So. *** (5.5) 6 2.5 0.3% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Brad Harrah DE 6'5, 258 Jr. *** (5.5)

Brandon Mitchell DT 6'2, 308 So. *** (5.5)
Alex Pace DT 6'2, 282 RSFr. *** (5.6)


Jerrell Jordan DE 6'3, 248 Jr. *** (5.5)






7. A rebuild for a line that needed it

The secondary was passive and didn't necessarily play like a group of seasoned veterans, but the biggest problem came up front. Cincinnati's line was good at pushing back in short-yardage situations but allowed a ton of opportunities against lines that weren't necessarily good at creating opportunities. Star end Walter Stewart played only five games, but he wasn't necessarily fantastic in the running game. Tuberville has fielded a lot of good defensive lines in his time, but he and defensive coordinator Art Kaufman will struggle to figure out the right mix up front, especially considering four of the top six tacklers from this shaky line are gone.

It appears Cincinnati will be taking a by-committee approach up front. That makes sense, I guess, when you've got a lot of interesting players and no proven standouts.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Greg Blair MLB 6'2, 252 Sr. ** (5.2) 13 103.0 13.7% 9 2.5 2 6 2 1
Maalik Bomar WLB 13 68.0 9.1% 3.5 0 1 2 0 0
Nick Temple SLB 5'10, 218 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 43.0 5.7% 5.5 2.5 1 4 0 0
Solomon Tentman MLB 6'2, 237 Jr. *** (5.7) 9 14.5 1.9% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Luc
(2011 Florida State)
WLB 6'1, 251 Jr. **** (6.0) 11 11.0 1.6% 2 0 0 0 0 0
Clemente Casseus MLB 6'1, 227 Jr. NR 11 8.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Corey Mason SLB 6'3, 223 Jr. ** (5.4) 13 4.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ey'Shawn McClain LB 6'1, 234 RSFr. *** (5.6)






8. Few worries at LB

If the line can hold up, the linebackers should thrive. Unproven Greg Blair came out of nowhere in J.K. Schaffer's absence last year; he and the combination of Nick Temple and Florida State transfer Jeff Luc could make for one of the AAC's better linebacker units. And at the very least, the backups have wonderful names (Solomon, Clemente, Ey'Shawn).

The secondary is less-stocked, but compared to the line I can't necessarily worry much about it. Six of last year's top 10 tacklers are gone, but thanks to injuries and shuffling, 13 different players logged at least 7.5 tackles, and considering the experience level, players like Adrian Witty, Trenier Orr, and Kevin Brown did reasonably well with their opportunities. Combined with seniors Arryn Chenault and Deven Drane and some fun newcomers, this should be a decent, if thin, unit, one capable of making plays if it gets cooperation from the line.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Camerron Cheatham CB 13 47.0 6.3% 4 1 3 5 1 1
Arryn Chenault S 6'0, 208 Sr. *** (5.6) 12 40.5 5.4% 1.5 0 3 3 0 1
Drew Frey S 11 39.5 5.3% 2 0 2 7 0 0
Deven Drane CB 5'11, 187 Sr. ** (5.4) 12 34.0 4.5% 1 0 2 7 0 1
Adrian Witty NB 5'10, 187 Jr. ** (5.3) 11 20.5 2.7% 4.5 3 0 2 1 0
Dominique Battle S 11 17.5 2.3% 1 0 1 4 0 1
Malcolm Murray S 13 17.5 2.3% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Roberson NB 11 15.5 2.1% 2 1 0 1 1 0
Trenier Orr CB 5'11, 177 So. *** (5.5) 8 15.0 2.0% 0 0 0 4 0 0
Chris Williams NB 12 15.0 2.0% 3 1 1 3 1 0
Kevin Brown S 6'1, 206 So. ** (5.4) 9 8.5 1.1% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Leviticus Payne CB 5'9, 183 So. *** (5.6) 13 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Pat Lambert DB 13 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Andre Jones S 6'1, 197 RSFr. *** (5.6)

Marcus Foster S 6'1, 204 RSFr. *** (5.6)

Darren Doston CB 6'2, 198 Jr. *** (5.6)
Zach Edwards NB 5'11, 186 Fr. *** (5.5)




Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Pat O'Donnell 59 41.8 6 8 23 52.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Pat O'Donnell 75 63.4 36 48.0%
Tony Miliano 6'2, 186 Jr. 7 59.0 1 14.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Tony Miliano 6'2, 186 Jr. 51-53 10-11 90.9% 7-11 63.6%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Ralph David Abernathy IV KR 5'7, 161 Jr. 32 25.0 0
Jameel Poteat KR 1 16.0 0
Anthony McClung PR 6'0, 177 Sr. 16 9.9 0
Danny Milligan PR 10 9.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 60
Net Punting 81
Net Kickoffs 34
Touchback Pct 32
Field Goal Pct 37
Kick Returns Avg 15
Punt Returns Avg 49

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Purdue 80
7-Sep at Illinois 94
14-Sep Northwestern State NR
21-Sep at Miami (Ohio) 113
5-Oct at South Florida 67
11-Oct Temple 64
19-Oct Connecticut 53
30-Oct at Memphis 116
9-Nov SMU 91
16-Nov at Rutgers 48
23-Nov at Houston 58
5-Dec Louisville 31
Five-Year F/+ Rk 27
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 59
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +9 / +9.4
TO Luck/Game -0.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (7, 5)
Yds/Pt Margin** -7.4

9. A top-25 team might start 11-0 with this schedule

It does take a leap of faith to envision Cincinnati as a top-25 team (and as proven up top, poll voters are never willing to show faith toward UC). The Bearcats do have identity questions to answer on offense, quality issues at defensive line, and potential depth issues in both the offensive skill positions and secondary. Coaching changes are never a promising thing for continuity; hell, the only time Cincinnati did poorly in the last seven years was in the year after a coaching change. Still, Cincinnati won't have to be that good to post a good record.

A schedule that seems aggressive and rough on its face -- two Big Ten opponents and a trip to a historically solid MAC school -- actually isn't (the Big Ten opponents are Purdue and Illinois, and the MAC school is a directionless Miami program), and AAC home games versus Temple, UConn, and SMU are all safely in the likely win department. If Tuberville does push the right buttons and maintains Cincy's recent level of quality, the Bearcats could conceivably start between 9-2 and 11-0. I think trips to USF and Rutgers are a lot tougher than the numbers do, but regardless, a good record is in the works.

That, of course, leads us to the season finale. In Louisville's final AAC game before a move to the ACC, the Cardinals could very well be positioning themselves for either a BCS bowl game (if they haven't already wrapped up the title) or the BCS title game. I'm on the record saying that Louisville is a bit overrated, but the Cardinals' own schedule is easy enough to make a lavish record likely. Is Cincinnati (and its coach, a known giant-killer) going to be good enough to take down the Cards? Or will the Cards even be the undefeated team involved in the game in the first place?

Cincinnati has a lot to prove in 2013, but that's an every-year thing at Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats have gotten used to this.

10. AAC balance of power

As we've done at the end of every set of conference previews, let's talk tiers. These aren't predictions of finish -- this is just how I see the conference's balance of power taking shape on the eve of the season (!).

Tier 1
1. Louisville
2. Cincinnati

Louisville's better, but UL-UC is at Nippert, and it could have some high stakes.

Tier 2
3. South Florida
4. Rutgers

I've talked myself into USF being a potential top-30 or top-40 team, and I'm putting a lot of faith in Rutgers' ability to rebuild its defense on the fly.

Tier 3
5. Central Florida
6. Houston

UCF's a known quantity that is rebuilding its own steady defense, while Houston is the conference's second-biggest wildcard (behind RU).

Tier 4
7. UConn
8. SMU
9. Memphis
10. Temple

SMU's a year away, and UConn still has epic offensive issues.

I was originally going to create a fifth tier for Memphis and Temple, but Temple's not that far removed from success, and I really, really like the rebuilding job Justin Fuente is doing. So we'll show them some faith here. And yes, any of these four teams could end up in Tier 3 with a bowl bid.

And that's 125 previews in the books. Bring on the 2013 season.

More from SB Nation:

Bill Connelly’s 125-team preview series is done

Bama-Oregon title game, plus all 34 other bowl projections

Clowney, Manziel lead SB Nation’s preseason All-America team

Alabama, Oregon, Georgia, Stanford, A&M over Ohio State in simulated BCS standings

Projecting every 2013 college football conference race

Today’s college football news headlines

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