No. 88 Cincinnati
Cincinnati football received a much-needed injection of enthusiasm in December with the resignation of Tommy Tuberville and arrival of Luke Fickell.
The longtime Ohio State assistant brought in an entirely new staff, is recruiting like a champion and has already changed the culture. Now it's time to rebuild one of the nation's worst offenses and retool an average defense that brings back more than a dozen key contributors.
2016 Record: 4-8 (1-7, AAC)
By Oct. 1, Cincinnati had already suffered two home losses by at least 24 points, barely edged Miami (OH) team and were struggling to do anything against good teams. It didn't get much better.
The Bearcats dropped seven of their final eight games, including four straight in which they scored three total touchdowns. Tommy Tuberville resigned a week after the season ended with an overtime loss at Tulsa.
Head Coach: Luke Fickell (1st year)
Six years after Luke Fickell was rushed into emergency duty at Ohio State, he'll get a chance to be a permanent head coach.
The Ohio native and former Buckeyes' nose tackle (seriously, Fickell was a nose tackle), spent 16 of his first 18 seasons as an assistant in Columbus, the last five as Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator.
"This city, this school and my family are all Ohio," the 43-year-old said of Cincinnati in December. "It's a tough blue-collar state with hard-working, blue-collar people that respect an honest and complete effort. That's what they will get from me personally and what they should expect from this football program. This team belongs to this city and we will make you proud."
Key Returning Offensive Players
Hayden Moore finished last season as the starter and barring an unforeseen charge from sophomore Ross Trail, will start Week 1. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound junior has been underwhelming in two years, failing to complete more than 60 percent of his passes and barely throwing more touchdowns (20) than interceptions (18). Fickell did caution the quarterback battle wasn't settled in the spring and it will take great summer from Moore to officially win the job.
"Whether you’ve got a guy that can throw for 400 yards and do whatever, the reality is it’s got to be a guy that can lead the team," Fickell said in May. "To lead, to get guys to rally behind you."
Cincinnati ranked 117th and 123rd nationally in scoring average and rushing offense in 2016, respectively, and though injuries and ineffectiveness elsewhere contributed to the misery, the onus is on Moore to facilitate for wideouts Kahlil Herbert and Devin Gray. Gray led the team in receiving as a junior, catching 58 passes for 860 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior running back Mike Boone is healthy after a foot injury limited him last year, as are two senior tackles in Ryan Stout and Korey Cunningham. That pair could anchor an all-senior offensive line.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Cortez Broughton, DT Marquise Copeland, DE Kimoni Fitz, LB Perry Young, LB Jaylyin Minor, LB Tyrell Gilbert, CB Linden Stephens, CB Grant Coleman, CB Alex Thomas, S Carter Jacobs
Cortez Broughton had a breakout sophomore campaign, registering five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, and is joined by Marquise Copeland, who led all defensive linemen with 59 tackles. Broughton suffered a foot injury during spring ball but should be ready for the season.
Despite losing Eric Wilson to graduation and Bryce Jenkinson to injury, a linebacker group led by senior Jaylyin Minor was praised by Fickell.
"The biggest glaring thing to me is, they tackle a hell of a lot better,” said Fickell, who noted the Bearcats missed 11-12 tackles per game in 2016. “If we can be a great tackling football team, we’ve got an opportunity to be really good.”
They return seven upperclassmen in the secondary, including corner Alex Thomas. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder had two interceptions in the spring game and said their defense is playing "different" under the new staff.
“It’s way, way different,” Thomas said. “If you don’t have the energy you’ve got to get the energy.”
Notable Player Losses
The losses of leading tackler Eric Wilson, disruptive Kevin Mouhon and Antonio Kinard (17 combined tackles for loss) and former freshman starter Bryce Jenkinson are big ones. Jenkinson is still on the roster but the middle linebacker is expected to miss the season after suffering a knee injury last year.
Though Cincinnati does return experience in the secondary, they're still losing three key defensive backs that led the team in passes defended. Mike Tyson's five interceptions were tops on the team.
Notable Player Additions
QB Torrance Gibson, RB Jerrid Doaks, DT Curtis Brooks, S R.J. Potts
Torrance Gibson is a former four-star quarterback in the 2015 class who switched to receiver at Ohio State but did not play. He transferred to Cincinnati in January and is awaiting a decision on his eligibility.
Redshirt freshman Jerrid Doaks and Curtis Brooks played well in the spring game, and true freshman safety R.J. Potts, a four-star prospect from Indianapolis, may be in line for immediate playing time.
Luke Fickell will navigate a strange schedule in his first season. After opening with Austin Peay, they play three-straight road games, followed by three-straight home games.
|Thursday, Aug. 31||vs. Austin Peay|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at Michigan|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||at Miami (OH)|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Navy|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. Marshall|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. UCF|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. SMU|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at USF|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at Tulane|
|Friday, Nov. 10||vs. Temple|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at East Carolina|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. UConn|