|Butch Jones was showered with Gatorade by DL Dan Giordano after Cincinnati clinched a share of the Big East title. |
Over the past several seasons, Cincinnati has been a model of consistency in Big East football. Heading into 2012, the Bearcats either won or shared the conference title in three of the last four seasons.
After the loss of 2011 Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead and Co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe, a drop-off might not have been expected but could have been excused. Instead, the Bearcats opened the season 5-0, rose to as high as No. 21 in the AP Top 25 and ended the regular season in a four-way tie for conference champion.
As a result, Cincinnati coach Butch Jones is CBSSports.com's Big East Coach of the Year. Jones narrowly receives the honor over Louisville coach Charlie Strong, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood and Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. The Cardinals, Scarlet Knights and Orange also earned a share of the title.
Cincinnati's top performance of the season may have come in a loss. In late October, then No. 16 Louisville needed several electrifying plays to rally from a 10-point second half deficit in a 34-31 overtime win over the Bearcats. With 125 rushing yards on 26 carries, RB George Winn was slippery on a rainy Friday night at Papa John's Cardinals Stadium. The dramatic contest may have been one of the top 10 in all of college football this season.
The Cardinals were led by Big East Offensive Player of the Year Teddy Bridgewater, who currently has a sterling 69.0 completion percentage and a league-high 25 passing TDs. With arguably less talent at quarterback, the Bearcats still ended the regular season tied with Louisville for the league's top scoring offense (31.0 points per game).
Following an ineffective performance by junior Munchie Legaux against Syracuse in early-November, Jones wisely made a quarterback change. A week later, senior Brendon Kay took over for Legaux and earned a spot on the Big East Weekly Honor Roll for his 315-yard, two touchdown performance against Temple.
Jones endeared himself to his players by running exciting, high-tempo practices throughout the year. The Bearcats ran plays in practice at such a high pace that Jones required the players to sprint back to the line on nearly every repetition, S Drew Frey said. The quick tempo helped the Bearcats' players become supremely conditioned for tight games in the fourth quarter.
In a 27-24 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 29, WR Damon Julian gained separation on a Hokies' defensive back and made a sliding 39-yard touchdown catch for the game-winning score. Legaux delivered the touchdown pass with just 13 seconds left.
The Bearcats third-year coach's ability to relate to his players may be one of the primary reasons he's been so coveted over the last week. Jones has reportedly been considered for head coaching vacancies at Colorado, Purdue and Tennessee. Multiple outlets have reported that Jones has rejected a deal to become the coach at Colorado in a story first reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Earlier this week, Purdue hired former Kent State coach Darrell Hazell.
“He (Jones) is a players' coach,” Wolfe told reporters outside his Denver Broncos' locker on Wednesday. “He's approachable, there's never a time when I felt I couldn't go and talk to him. There was never a time where he didn't push me whenever I needed to be pushed.”
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Big East, follow bloggers Evan Hilbert and Matt Rybaltowski @CBSBigEast.