New coach, new conference for Cincinnati, which tries to transfer its Big East success to AAC
CINCINNATI – Quarterback Brendon Kay is still getting used to Cincinnati's new home. The Bearcats are in the American Athletic Conference after trying and failing to join the exodus from the Big East to another conference last year.
Crosstown rival Xavier is the one playing in the basketball-only Big East now.
"It's different," the sixth-year senior said.
A lot is different in Cincinnati, with coach Tommy Tuberville bringing a new approach and new offense to a team that shared the final Big East football title last season. The Bearcats return an experienced offensive line and Kay, who took over for Munchie Legaux during the season and went 4-1 as a starter, including a dramatic 48-34 win over Duke that earned him the Belk Bowl MVP honor.
Kay got a sixth season from the NCAA because of so many injuries during his career. He's immersed in learning his third offense at Cincinnati.
"It's different, but I'm comfortable with it now," Kay said. "It's normal, it's natural to just go out and run this offense now."
The defense? That's another matter.
Five things to watch during the Bearcats' latest season of big change:
1. TOMMY'S TRANSITION: The last time the Bearcats changed coaches, they had a very rough time. Butch Jones won only four games in his first season, then got the Bearcats back to title contention. "My job is to pick it up and keep it going, make it better," Tuberville said. Having an experienced quarterback helps a lot. Early games at home against Purdue and at Illinois will provide a hint of how it will go.
2. KAY IN CHARGE: The NCAA granted Kay an extra season because of injuries in 2008 and 2011. He was first on the depth chart during camp and gets to work behind an experienced offensive line that will be one of UC's strengths. Kay completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,298 yards and 10 touchdowns with only two interceptions after taking over for Legaux, who completed only 52 percent and had nine interceptions with 13 touchdowns. "The big thing is the players respect him for what he's done, how he's done it, how he's persevered," Tuberville said. "I judge a quarterback by the respect other players have for him, and he's earned that." Legaux is expected to be the backup.
3. NO WINN: Running back George Winn was a strength of the offense last season, a power runner who picked up 1,370 yards with 13 touchdowns. Winn is gone, and there's not much experience left. Ralph David Abernathy IV is the starter, but he's only 5-foot-7 and 161 pounds. The junior carried 69 times for 394 yards and three touchdowns last season. "Ralph is the No. 1, but he's not an every-down back," Tuberville said. Sophomore Tion Green is his backup after gaining only 70 yards on 16 carries as a freshman.
4. OH THAT D: Tuberville notes that he's a "defensive guy," but that's the part of the team that will give him the most worries. The Bearcats have little experience in their secondary — they'll have a sophomore at one cornerback spot and a redshirt freshman at safety backed up by another redshirt freshman safety. The linebackers are solid, but there are concerns about the ends. The main point is to avoid breakdowns caused by the inexperience. "We'll keep it simple," Tuberville said. "As I told them, we're not going to do anything where they're not going to know what to do. If we've just got to run one front and a couple of coverages, that's what we'll do."
5. WHO'S WATCHING: The Bearcats had trouble filling 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium even during their most successful seasons under Brian Kelly. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night last season. With them now in a conference with an even lower profile than the Big East, it'll be interesting to see how many fans they draw in the final season before Nippert gets an overhaul. Small crowds not only cut into revenues but make the football program less attractive as a major program.
Predicted finish in conference: 2nd.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/