After dropping the contest in USF, I have the Orange back down at .500 with a 4-4 record but a 1-3 record within the Big East. HCDM can't like this, but the team can improve on this mark and get one win closer to bowl eligibility with a strong performance against the Cincinnati Bearcats. I can't be too hard on UC; my aunt teaches there and I did like the campus when I toured... anyways, back to the stuff that matters!
Last season, behind Isaiah Pead, the Bearcats clawed their way to a 10-3 record with a tie for first in the conference. They defeated Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl to finish the year right, but this season doesn't hold the same expectations. The Bearcats have to replace Pead and Zack Collaros, one of the best quarterbacks in the Big East. Munchie Legaux filled in while Collaros was injured and offers a new dimension with his ability to run once plays break down. The defense was one of the best in the NCAA last season against the run thanks to the best front seven in the conference. While not all of the talent departed, most everyone agrees that this unit will take a step or two backwards. The secondary was weak last season but strengthens up this season with sixth year senior Drew Frey leading them. Overall, the Bearcats will probably have the second or third best defense in the conference while their offense searches for consistency and an identity.
How the Orange should attack the Bearcats:
The front seven of the Bearcats were scary last season. They allowed 96.2 yards a game on the ground, sixth best in the country. This year, Cincy returns their two ends but need Cameron Beard and Jordan Stepp to fill in the middle of their front four and replace an All American and an All Big East selection. They lost top linebacker JK Schaffer but return the two guys behind him so overall, the front seven should still be a top 25 unit, but not nearly as dominant as last season. The secondary has continually improved each of the last three years but this year the Bearcats are relying on two healed ACL's for success. Both Dominique Battle and Reuben Johnson failed to make it to the halfway point of the season before they wrecked their knees. If they are back at 100% and had some improvement, they should be better than average.
Even with Cincy's great front seven, bruiser Antwon Bailey and company managed to run for 4.5 yards a carry en route to a team 189 yard performance. With the two inexperienced tackles a hearty does of Jerome Smith and PTG right up the middle would be a great way to wear down Cincy and keep their offense off the field. If Ryan Nassib can establish the play action game, Syracuse could be looking at another very good offensive day...only with the points to show for it this year. If Adonis Ameen-Moore is looking like a promising back by this point in the season, it would be great to see him get involved in the offense.
How the Orange can defend the Bearcats:
The Bearcats don't exactly know what their strategy will be come the Syracuse game. The first few weeks will be used to figure out how effective their running game is without Pead. Jameel Poteat is the young future back of the Bearcats and they need him to start reaching his potential this year. Legaux will have some weapons to throw to, although they are not as proven as in years past. Anthony McClung is the true number one wide out on the team, but the slot spot will be filled by former quarterback Jordan Luallen, a recipe for trick plays. The offensive line will not be as strong as in past years as the Bearcats lost 3 starters who played in all 13 games last year.
If Poteat establishes himself as the premier back many think he will eventually be, this will be a tough offense to stop. While they don't have too many options at wide out, Legaux's versatility will keep defense on their toes. If the Bearcats turn into a rushing team, the Orange linebackers will have to use their speed to keep up. If the Bearcats are able to pass the ball with consistency rather than run, the Orange will have to use a complex zone to force Munchie into making mistakes because he'll have the staying power in the pocket with his legs.
Ryan Nassib. This is the toughest defensive test the Orange will face up to this point because of their balance. Nassib will need to be able to execute when the defense slips up and make big plays for the offense.
This game is so hard to predict because Cincinnati has the biggest question marks on offense while definitively taking steps backward on defense. If the Bearcats fail to find an offensive identity, then this is a winnable game. However, Cincy has a history of consistently living up to and exceeding expectations. Safe bet to say they pull together a decent season and are a solid Big East team and just a tad too much for the Orange to handle. Bearcats win 21-17.