Low expectations are nothing new for the University of Cincinnati football program. In three of the past five years UC was picked to finish third or worst in the Big East Conference and won at least a share of the league title. Last season, UC was picked fifth in the preseason but managed to go 10-3, shared the Big East title with West Virginia and Louisville, and beat Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl to earn a top 25 ranking. It has worked the other way too. In 2010 the Bearcats stumbled to a 4-8 mark in Butch Jones' first season as head coach after being picked second.
Recently the Bearcats have played their best football with a chip on their shoulder. If they aren't expected to do much this season, that's fine by Jones. "We're still working on gaining respect," he says.
Jones, in his third season at UC, certainly isn't blaming the pundits for picking his team to finish in the middle of the pack this year, especially after losing starting quarterback Zach Collaros, linebacker JK Schaffer, Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead, and co-defensive player of the year Derek Wolfe.
But Jones has drawn praise for his ability to recruit well, particularly in the fertile football state of Florida, and sell his program. The depth he's managed to build during his first two seasons at UC will need to pay dividends this year. And that starts with the quarterback position.
Although Jones wouldn't name the starting quarterback during spring practice, one indication could be that Munchie Legaux took more spring snaps than any other player. And with Jordan Luallen switching to receiver, Legaux is the logical starter with senior Brendan Kay and redshirt freshman Patrick Coyne behind him.
Last season Legaux passed for 749 yards and 5 touchdowns and rushed for 185 yards and two TDs, mostly during three starts he made while Collaros was injured. That experience could prove invaluable for Legaux.
It will take more than one individual to replace Pead. Senior George Winn appears poised for a breakout season. Winn was named the starting tailback late in camp, but he'll share carries with sophomores Jameel Poteat and Ralph David Abernathy IV who might be the most electric kick returner in the Big East.
How the defense fares without Schaffer, its emotional leader and on-field captain, will be among the season's top storylines. But there's some depth there too with senior linebacker Maalik Bomar and senior defensive end Walter Stewart poised to step into leadership roles.
Bearcats players report on Aug. 7. Practice begins on Aug. 8.
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