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The big 2014 Cincinnati football preview: Don't bother setting expectations

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Tuberville teams have a tendency to surprise, for better or worse, and now he's in charge of perhaps the most hard-to-figure team in a hard-to-figure conference. 11-1? 4-8? It's all on the table for the Bearcats.

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1. Tuberville'd

Tommy Tuberville has been an FBS head coach for 18 seasons -- four at Ole Miss, 10 at Auburn, three at Texas Tech, and one at Cincinnati. Through these nearly two decades, the 59-year-old Southern Arkansas grad has thoroughly, systematically taken apart any possible way to get a read on him. His teams start slow and finish fast one year, then start fast and finish slow the next. They enter a season with no expectations and surge up the rankings, then they start a season with elite expectations and crumble.

At Auburn, his Tigers twice began the season unranked and finished in the top 20. They also twice began the season in the top 10 and finished unranked. In 2003, they collapsed from No. 6 in the preseason to 8-5; in 2004, they began the season 17th and went 13-0.

At Texas Tech, his Red Raiders went to Norman and upset No. 3 Oklahoma, ending a long conference home winning streak for the Sooners; the next week, Tech lost at home to Iowa State by 34.

Tuberville is 6-3 all-time against top-five opponents but loses (or nearly loses) at least one completely dumbfounding game per year. Recent highlights: USF 26, Cincinnati 20 in 2013; Iowa State 41, Texas Tech 7 in 2011; Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2 in 2008 (a "win," but...).

He openly defies all expectations, good or bad. It's best to not have any expectations at all, but in my chosen field of work, that's hard to do. By nature, I set bars. Still, I should have known better than to call a Tuberville team "the country's most underrated program" in last year's preview. Despite his Tubervillian tendencies, and despite his offensive coordinator's non-committal approach to offensive style in the offseason (pro-style! tempo! spread! multiple!), I dived in and predicted that Cincinnati would challenge, and perhaps even surpass, conference favorite Louisville in 2013.

Predictably, then, Cincinnati absolutely tanked at the beginning of the season. The Bearcats got romped by Illinois, barely inched by a dreadful Miami (Ohio) team, and figured out a way to allow 20 points and lose to a USF team that couldn't score in 2013. As Louisville began to look more and more dominant, I began to feel dumber and dumber.

And then, of course, as soon as any semblance of expectations were off the table, the Bearcats actually became a pretty good team. They destroyed the AAC's lesser teams as one is supposed to do (and as other heavyweights like UCF routinely couldn't) -- average score against Temple, UConn, Memphis, and Rutgers: Cincy 41, Opponent 19. They won at Houston as the Cougars were seemingly peaking. And then they almost felled one-loss Louisville in the regular season finale.

And then they got destroyed by 6-6 North Carolina in the Belk Bowl, because of course they did.

The 2013 season was seemingly all of Tuberville's career in a 13-game package, from the lapses to the out-of-nowhere elite play. And even the final result was strange: a nine-win season from a team ranked 64th in the F/+ rankings (for reference, 7-5 Toledo was 62nd, 5-7 Indiana 56th).

There's just enough potential on Tuberville's second Cincy squad that you can talk yourself into the Bearcats winning nine or 10 games again if you're so inclined, especially against a schedule that features only one team projected higher than 37th. Meanwhile, there are just enough question marks -- quarterback, to name one -- to make you extremely queasy if you get a little too bullish. Good luck picking a side.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 64
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Purdue 114 42-7 W 26.3 - 24.3 W
7-Sep at Illinois 71 17-45 L 23.1 - 35.1 L
14-Sep Northwestern State N/A 66-9 W 43.4 - 21.5 W
21-Sep at Miami (Ohio) 123 14-0 W 15.7 - 5.6 W
5-Oct at South Florida 99 20-26 L 26.7 - 28.8 L 4.0
11-Oct Temple 98 38-20 W 32.2 - 30.8 W 3.9
19-Oct Connecticut 93 41-16 W 47.0 - 34.1 W 8.8
30-Oct at Memphis 83 34-21 W 34.9 - 21.4 W 7.2
9-Nov SMU 84 28-25 W 34.2 - 40.8 L 3.8
16-Nov at Rutgers 91 52-17 W 48.7 - 23.2 W 9.3
23-Nov at Houston 46 24-17 W 34.2 - 12.9 W 13.3
5-Dec Louisville 12 24-31 L 44.7 - 23.3 W 15.0
28-Dec vs. North Carolina 38 17-39 L 26.8 - 22.8 W 13.1
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +2.3% 53 +2.0% 52 -5.7% 123
Points Per Game 32.1 47 21.0 14
Adj. Points Per Game 33.7 27 25.0 36

2. Peaking after it mattered

Despite the clunkers, there were at least a few encouraging early signs in 2013. The offense dominated Northwestern State as an upper-half FBS offense should, and the defense played at an above-average (or much better) level for three of the first four games. Still, Cincinnati was at best average over the first two-thirds of the year. And as the offense got its bearings, the defense lapsed.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): Cincinnati 27.0, Opponent 23.1 (plus-3.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Cincinnati 37.1, Opponent 31.8 (plus-5.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Cincinnati 38.6, Opponent 20.6 (plus-18.0)

Even including the miserable bowl performance (which looked worse than it probably was, because of special teams), Cincinnati was a very good team over the final third of the season. That the Bearcats managed to look great while still going just 2-2 down the stretch may have been a bit Tubervillian, but there are certainly some signs of sustainable growth, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.09 89 IsoPPP+ 100.1 60
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.5% 20 Succ. Rt. + 100.0 63
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.3 19 Def. FP+ 98.4 76
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.3 66 Redzone S&P+ 95.6 81
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.5 ACTUAL 28 +6.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 23 58 64 48
RUSHING 67 84 67 76
PASSING 18 44 54 31
Standard Downs 79 77 95
Passing Downs 25 41 18
Q1 Rk 76 1st Down Rk 77
Q2 Rk 57 2nd Down Rk 28
Q3 Rk 68 3rd Down Rk 32
Q4 Rk 11

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brendon Kay 260 393 3289 22 12 66.2% 15 3.7% 7.7
Munchie Legaux 6'5, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 30 51 382 2 3 58.8% 2 3.8% 7.0
Jordan Luallen 8 11 129 2 1 72.7% 0 0.0% 11.7
Jarred Evans 6'2, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Gunner Kiel 6'4, 208 So. 5 stars (6.1)
Hayden Moore 6'3, 193 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

3. Remember me?

At one point or another last offseason, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran proclaimed to be willing to dabble in basically every offensive style this side of the flexbone. It was hard to get a read on what his true intentions were, but when quarterback Munchie Legaux was injured and lost for the year against Illinois and Brendon Kay officially took over as the starter, Gran leaned on what made Kay the most comfortable. For the season, Cincinnati's was a slightly pass-first offense with a reasonably high pace. This made sense, not only because of Kay's capabilities but because Cincy's passing game was pretty far ahead of its running game.

Kay ended up putting together a pretty decent senior campaign, but he's gone now. Legaux got an extra year of eligibility and could be completely healthy by fall, but it appears he might struggle to surpass an old name looking to become Cincy's new starter.

Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel, who has thus far been known primarily because of his recruitment -- a five-star signal caller from Columbus, Ind., he committed to Indiana and new coach Kevin Wilson, then switched to LSU, then enrolled at Notre Dame. Facing years of serving as Everett Golson's backup, however, he transferred. It's been nearly three years since he first committed to Indiana, and he has yet to take a snap on the field, but the time could be coming. His first spring at Cincinnati wasn't amazing, but he finished it on a high note: 17-for-22 for 300 yards in the spring game.

With Kiel in the backfield, Gran could shift a bit away from pace and spread and more toward a "pro-style" attack (from now on, I'm putting "pro-style" in quotes, because it's impossible to figure out what it means anymore) with more reads and, in theory, a more plodding tempo. But there's no question that if Kiel begins to live up to five-star hype, Cincinnati's ceiling gets much, much higher.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
RD Abernathy IV RB 5'7, 161 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 132 511 5 3.9 3.7 32.6%
Hosey Williams RB 5'9, 199 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 115 655 4 5.7 5.7 41.7%
Tion Green RB 6'0, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 91 413 7 4.5 3.4 38.5%
Brendon Kay QB 57 267 6 4.7 3.1 40.4%
Jordan Luallen QB 47 220 3 4.7 3.5 38.3%
Munchie Legaux QB 6'5, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 15 118 1 7.9 6.8 53.3%
Anthony King RB 6 34 0 5.7 1.0 83.3%
Shaq Washington WR 5'9, 174 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 6 65 1 10.8 16.8 50.0%
Rob Rice RB 5'10, 178 Jr. NR 4 18 1 4.5 1.8 50.0%
Rodriguez Moore RB 5'10, 176 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 4 13 0 3.3 1.7 25.0%
EJ Junior RB 6'0, 222 So. 3 stars (5.5)

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Shaq Washington WR 5'9, 174 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 100 77 791 77.0% 22.5% 70.5% 7.9 -64 8.3 99.5
Anthony McClung WR 94 72 933 76.6% 21.1% 59.5% 9.9 131 10.1 117.3
Chris Moore WR 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 73 45 645 61.6% 16.4% 50.8% 8.8 88 7.5 81.1
Max Morrison WR 6'1, 173 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 51 29 447 56.9% 11.5% 54.8% 8.8 72 8.8 56.2
Mekale McKay WR 6'6, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 34 16 485 47.1% 7.6% 59.3% 14.3 255 14.2 61.0
RD Abernathy IV RB 5'7, 161 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 31 24 177 77.4% 7.0% 40.0% 5.7 -89 4.9 22.3
Alex Chisum (2012) WR 6'3, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 31 9 140 29.0% 8.7% 54.8% 4.5 N/A 4.3 20.7
Blake Annen TE 21 16 183 76.2% 4.7% 63.2% 8.7 4 9.4 23.0
Jeremy Graves WR 6'2, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 6 47 60.0% 2.2% 33.3% 4.7 -28 5.4 5.9
Hosey Williams RB 5'9, 199 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 5 4 21 80.0% 1.1% 50.0% 4.2 -23 3.9 2.6
Tion Green RB 6'0, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 5 2 12 40.0% 1.1% 0.0% 2.4 -20 1.1 1.5
Shai Alonzo TE 6'4, 218 So. 2 stars (5.3) 4 3 81 75.0% 0.9% N/A 20.3 47 0.0 10.2
Nate Cole WR 6'1, 193 So. 3 stars (5.7) 4 4 39 100.0% 0.9% 0.0% 9.8 -1 5.3 4.9
DJ Dowdy TE 6'4, 223 So. 3 stars (5.7) 2 2 6 100.0% 0.4% 0.0% 3.0 -14 2.7 0.8
Johnny Holton WR 6'3, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)
Chris Burton TE 6'3, 272 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Tyler Cogswell TE 6'4, 248 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Tshumbi Johnson WR 5'11, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Javon Harrison WR 6'1, 200 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Mark Barr WR 6'1, 163 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Casey Gladney WR 6'2, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Frank Labady WR 5'7, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

4. Gunner's got options

In theory, you've got everything you could want in Cincy's skill position roster. Shaq Washington is a stellar possession receiver who caught more than three-quarters of his targets last year. Chris Moore, Max Morrison, and Mekale McKay are potentially great deep threats who combined to average 17.5 yards per catch and 10.0 yards per target in 2013. Ralph David Abernathy IV is the quintessential jitterbug back (albeit one whose averages have in no way matched his perceived potential), and Hosey Williams is a late-bloomer and a perfect vertical complement to Abernathy's more bouncy, horizontal threat. Throw in a batch of interesting youngsters (running back E.J. Junior, tight end Tyler Cogswell, three three-star redshirt freshman receivers, etc.), and this is a potentially loaded unit.

Of course, most of these players were involved last year, too, and the offense ranked only 53rd in Off. F/+. And that was with a more experienced line than Cincy will boast this time around. (The line should be fine, by the way. Three-year starting tackle Eric Lefeld is back, as are two other 2013 starters.) There is more potential than proven production here, and that becomes even more true if Kiel takes the reins.

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 100.3 2.84 3.59 38.8% 66.1% 19.8% 143.3 3.9% 3.8%
Rank 71 79 35 71 76 74 25 43 17
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Eric Lefeld LT 6'6, 309 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 32 1st All-AAC
Sam Longo RG 23 2nd All-AAC
Austen Bujnoch LG 35
Parker Ehinger RG 6'7, 292 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 25
Deyshawn Bond C 6'2, 287 So. 2 stars (5.3) 13
Andre Cureton RG 6
Cory Keebler RT 6'7, 294 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0
Kevin Schloemer LG 6'7, 312 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Dominic Mainello C 6'3, 280 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0
Justin Murray RT 6'5, 294 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Tyreek Burwell OL 6'5, 286 Sr. NR 0
Ryan Leahy OL 6'6, 282 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Luke Callahan OL 6'5, 278 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.02 8 IsoPPP+ 107.8 27
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.5% 26 Succ. Rt. + 95.9 71
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.2 24 Off. FP+ 101.5 44
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.0 49 Redzone S&P+ 90.6 87
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.0 ACTUAL 21.0 -1.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 9 68 71 59
RUSHING 6 60 58 84
PASSING 29 80 86 33
Standard Downs 46 58 30
Passing Downs 98 105 30
Q1 Rk 76 1st Down Rk 77
Q2 Rk 57 2nd Down Rk 72
Q3 Rk 54 3rd Down Rk 65
Q4 Rk 103

5. Dominating bad run games

Cincinnati ranked sixth in the country in rushing yards allowed per game. The Bearcats allowed 112 or fewer rushing yards nine times in 2013. Without taking opponent into account, they had one of the most stout run fronts in the country.

Of course, then you take opponent into account, and the shine wears off. Cincy played against one of the weakest sets of run offenses in the country. (Plus, the Bearcats benefited from having a pretty good blitz, and as we know, sacks count against rushing yards. But I've gone on that rant plenty of times.) Decent running teams found room -- Illinois and Temple rushed for a combined 5.5 yards per carry, and North Carolina and Louisville managed to go over 170 yards as well. Adjusting for pace, sacks, and opponent, Cincinnati's run defense was decent (60th in Rushing S&P+) but far from elite.

Whether Cincy can rank even in the top 60 this year could depend on a brand new set of tackles. Last year's top four are gone, including two (Jordan Stepp and Adam Dempsey) who combined for 16 tackles for loss in 2013.

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 101.7 2.24 3.50 36.3% 60.0% 19.8% 101 3.9% 9.9%
Rank 53 1 84 36 24 52 60 77 14
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan Stepp DT 13 30.5 4.5% 8.0 6.0 0 0 0 0
Silverberry Mouhon DE 6'4, 248 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 30.0 4.5% 12.5 9.5 0 1 2 0
Adam Dempsey DT 13 23.0 3.4% 8.0 3.5 0 1 0 0
Brad Harrah DE 6'5, 258 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 19.0 2.8% 10.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
Terrell Hartsfield DE 6'3, 246 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 18.0 2.7% 4.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
Marques Aiken DT 13 15.0 2.2% 3.0 0.5 0 2 0 0
Mitch Meador DT 13 9.5 1.4% 2.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Jerrell Jordan DE 6'3, 248 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 4.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Chad West DE 6'6, 262 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Mitchell DT 6'2, 308 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 9 3.0 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Camaron Beard DT 6'5, 287 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 2.5 0.4% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Mark Wilson DE 6'3, 225 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Alex Pace DT 6'2, 282 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Hakeem Allonce DT 6'5, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Ja'Merez Brown DT 6'4, 270 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Landon Brazile DE 6'6, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

6. Play-makers on the outside...

On the edges of the defense, Tuberville and co-coordinators Hank Hughes and Robert Prunty have quite a bit to play with. Ends Silverberry Mouton, Brad Harrah, and Terrell Hartsfield combined for 15 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss in 2013. Strongside linebacker Nick Temple added 5.5 and 13.5, respectively. And three of last year's top four corners return as well and are joined by an interesting crop of freshmen.

Cincy was pretty good in attack mode last fall (14th in passing downs sack rate, first in standard downs line yards per carry; yes, those are both unadjusted for opponent), and especially with Mouton and Temple back, that should be the case again.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Greg Blair MLB 13 77.0 11.5% 7.0 1.0 0 3 1 1
Nick Temple SLB 5'10, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 60.5 9.0% 13.5 5.5 1 1 0 0
Jeff Luc MLB 6'1, 251 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 13 35.0 5.2% 6.5 1.5 0 2 3 0
Clemente Casseus WLB 6'1, 227 Sr. NR 13 18.0 2.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Solomon Tentman MLB 6'2, 237 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 16.5 2.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Corey Mason SLB 13 16.0 2.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Kevin Brown LB 6'1, 206 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 6.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mason Antoun LB 6'1, 225 Jr. NR 9 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Hyland LB 6'2, 230 Jr. NR 10 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Eric Wilson WLB 6'2, 205 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Marcus Tappan LB 6'2, 235 So. NR
Kevin Mouhon LB 6'2, 225 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

7. ...and a rebuild up the middle

The backbone of the defense, however, is a serious concern. The leading returning tackles (Brandon Mitchell, Camaron Beard) combined for 6.0 tackles last year. Middle linebacker Greg Blair, the heartbeat of the D, is gone. And safety Arryn Chenault, a reasonably sure tackler on a defense pretty good at preventing big plays, has graduated as well.

There is some rebuilding to be done here, and we'll see if Tuberville has the pieces he needs yet. It's hard to worry too much about a Tuberville defense, but this one has some concerns.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zach Edwards S 5'11, 186 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13 58.0 8.6% 2.5 0 2 7 1 0
Arryn Chenault S 13 47.0 7.0% 1 0 1 6 0 0
Adrian Witty CB 5'10, 187 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 13 36.5 5.4% 2 0 1 4 0 0
Howard Wilder CB 5'11, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 27.0 4.0% 0 0 2 4 1 0
Deven Drane CB 12 25.5 3.8% 1 0 3 5 0 0
Leviticus Payne CB 5'9, 183 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 19.5 2.9% 1 0 1 1 0 0
Andre Jones S 6'1, 197 So. 3 stars (5.6) 13 15.0 2.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Tyson S 6'2, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5) 9 13.0 1.9% 0.5 0 2 1 0 0
Grant Coleman CB 5'11, 162 So. NR 6 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Marcus Foster S 6'1, 204 So. 3 stars (5.6) 6 3.0 0.4% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Trenier Orr CB 2 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darren Doston S 6'2, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.6)
J.J. Pinckney CB 6'3, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Carter Jacobs S 6'1, 193 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Odell Spencer CB 6'0, 160 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Linden Stephens CB 6'0, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.2)

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
John Lloyd 6'2, 237 Sr. 33 42.7 3 6 9 45.5%
Brendon Kay 15 38.6 4 0 8 53.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Tony Miliano 6'2, 186 Sr. 75 61.9 23 2 30.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Tony Miliano 6'2, 186 Sr. 54-56 7-16 43.8% 1-7 14.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
RD Abernathy IV KR 5'7, 161 Sr. 16 21.9 0
Rodriguez Moore KR 5'10, 176 Sr. 14 21.1 0
Anthony McClung PR 19 4.1 0
Shaq Washington PR 5'9, 174 Jr. 10 8.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 123
Field Goal Efficiency 124
Punt Return Efficiency 117
Kick Return Efficiency 98
Punt Efficiency 120
Kickoff Efficiency 3
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 20

8. Disturbingly bad special teams

Cincinnati's special teams unit had major concerns even before it allowed two return touchdowns in the Belk Bowl. Kickoff efficiency had actually been the unit's only strength until that point. The Bearcats were among the nation's bottom 10 in field goal, punt, and punt return efficiency. That impacted their ability to finish drives (66th in Points Per Trip inside the 40) and, in terms of field position, negated the impact of a rather efficient overall offense.

They won nine games despite special teams, but with a few more questions on defense, the Bearcats cannot afford to be this awful in this regard, not if they have any illusions of a conference title.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
12-Sep Toledo 53
20-Sep Miami (Ohio) 121
27-Sep at Ohio State 10
4-Oct Memphis 95
11-Oct at Miami 37
18-Oct at SMU 74
24-Oct South Florida 77
31-Oct at Tulane 90
15-Nov East Carolina 72
22-Nov at Connecticut 86
29-Nov at Temple 87
6-Dec Houston 41
Five-Year F/+ Rk 9.3% (34)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 70
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -7 / 0.4
TO Luck/Game -2.8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (7, 6)

9. Win on the road

When you think of Gunner Kiel opening up the offense for a trio of downfield threats and Mouton and Blair harrassing quarterbacks, it's easy to talk yourself into Cincinnati. And when you remember last year's loss to USF (with a lot of these threats playing roles) and realize that almost the entire backbone of the defense needs replacing, it's easy to talk yourself right back out. This is a pretty hard team to grasp even before you realize it's being coached by Tommy Tuberville, the ultimate expectations destroyer.

I'm struggling with what to do with this team, but I know this: whatever the Bearcats' goals are for 2014, realizing those goals will require winning on the road. Never mind the trip to Columbus on September 27; I'm talking about trips to Miami, SMU, Tulane, UConn, and Temple. With only a little bit of variation in quality, Cincy could end up 5-1 or 0-6 away from Nippert Stadium. That's what happens when there's a large cluster of conference teams of similar quality.

My gut says Cincy does pretty well this year. The offense really could sustain last year's late-season goals, and Tuberville teams have certainly won big road games in the past. The Bearcats are a step behind UCF but might be as well-stocked as anybody else. But you might want to do yourself a favor and avoid setting expectations of any kind for this team. It's just easier that way.

10. AAC balance of power

At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.

Tier 1
1. UCF

The schedule is rough. Never mind the trips out of town to play Penn State and Missouri in non-conference; the Knights must play at the No. 2, 4, and 5 teams on the list below as well. This may preclude them from back-to-back AAC titles, but taking schedule out of the equation, this is still easily the most known quantity in the conference. They are built for the long haul.

Tier 2
2. ECU
3. Cincinnati
4. Houston

Houston was lucky but quite young in 2013, and the Cougars could be capable of just about anything. Meanwhile, I'm sticking Cincinnati in the middle of this tier as a cushion -- I'm scared of putting them too high or too low.

Tier 3
5. USF
6. Tulane
7. Tulsa
8. SMU
9. Memphis
10. UConn
11. Temple

The AAC in no way has a wealth of elite teams, but like the old Big East, this conference should be competitive as hell. You could make the case for any of these seven teams to not only reach fifth, but potentially break into the second tier. (Okay, fine, Temple's not breaking into the second tier.)

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