Bearcat Banana Skin?
After winning two consecutive Big East titles and making appearances in the Orange and Sugar Bowls, last season’s 4-and-8 record was like a cold-water bath for the Cincinnati Bearcat fans. Losing their head coach (Brian Kelly) right before their big moment in the limelight of their 2009 season (Sugar Bowl) was like a kick in the stomach. They took a 12-0 record and #4 national ranking (AP) to New Orleans, but went on to lose to Florida 51-24.
The replacement for 2010, Butch Jones, was hired from Central Michigan where he was 22-3 and won 2 MAC championships. He inherited a Cincy squad that did suffer some key graduation losses, but their 4-8 record hides some bright spots. For example, they nearly upset Oklahoma by scoring 29 points in a 31-29 loss. They scored 45 and 69 points against Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers. The Bearcats finished 2010 in the top third of the nation in total offense at 417 yards per game. For the most part, that offense returns for 2011 and a visit to Neyland Stadium Saturday.
Last Saturday, they scored 72 points in their season-opening pasting of lowly Austin Peay. Even against a Div II team, you still have to be able to function as a cohesive unit to score 72 points.
The offensive attack is led by QB Zach Collaros and TB Isaiah Pead (1,029 yds on 157 carries in 2010). Their MO is basically to widen the field with a West Coast style of offense. Don’t look for the vertical passing game of the Brian Kelly years. They lost 3 of their 4 starting WRs from 2010.
A bright spot for opponents is that only 2 starters from last year’s OL return.
What killed Cincinnati in 2010 was turnovers – 14 INTs and a bucket load of fumbles. They were minus 15 in turnover margin.
The Bearcat defense returns 10 starters. The problem with that from a Bearcat point of view is that the UC defense ranked dead last in the Big East last season. Reminiscent of the Vols struggles of recent years, the UC defense was led by their third defensive coordinator in 3 years. UC’s defense finished 88th in passing defense by allowing 234 yards per game through the air.
Now with a little stability and more experience, the Bearcat defense can’t do anything else but improve.
Cutting down the turnovers, improving their defense, and continuing to be a big-scoring threat on offense, Cincinnati looks to be a real threat to turn Tennessee’s fledgling season completely upside down.
Saturday’s matchup has all has the potential of being a big banana skin for the Vols.
A loss Saturday could have long lasting effects – Tennessee would have to defeat at least one team of real quality (Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, LSU, or Alabama) to make a return to the bowl game season.
A loss to the Bearcats will make the remaining 10 games feel like a steep uphill climb.
Cincinnati will likely not come anywhere near to winning the Big East, but Tennessee is probably even further away from an SEC crown this season.
A slippery Saturday awaits. Let’s hope the Vols bring the right dancing shoes.
On Thursday, I’ll let you know my predicted outcome…