The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 43 Cincinnati.
Previewing Cincinnati's Offense for 2014:
Gunner Kiel was rated the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect while in high school, and the Notre Dame transfer is expected to be the Cincinnati starter this season.
Kiel sat out 2013 as a transfer and has three years of eligibility remaining. Scouts like Kiel’s big arm, precision and mobility. He shows a nice touch on the deep ball but needs to improve while throwing on the run. Kiel will be challenged in camp by junior college transfer Jarred Evans. Former starting quarterback Munchie Legaux returns for a fifth season after tearing knee ligaments in 2013, and anything he contributes would be a bonus.
UC returns its top three rushers in seniors Hosey Williams and Ralph David Abernathy IV and junior Tion Green. Abernathy is too small (5'7", 161) to be an every-down back, so he also worked at slot receiver in the spring.
Shaq Washington, a senior who had a team-high 78 receptions last season, headlines what should be a strong corps of wide receivers. Junior Chris Moore is among several returning wideouts, and highly regarded junior college transfer Casey Gladney enters the mix.
Left tackle Eric Lefeld was a unanimous first-team All-AAC choice last year. Center Deyshawn Bond and Parker Ehinger also are returning starters, with Ehinger moving from right tackle to right guard.
Previewing Cincinnati's Defense for 2014:
The Bearcats finished No. 9 nationally in total defense (315.6 ypg), but head coach Tommy Tuberville did not retain defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. Tuberville wanted to upgrade recruiting and hire coaches with more regional connections, so he tapped former Connecticut coordinator Hank Hughes to run the defense. Hughes will retain the 4-3 front that UC played last year.
Linebackers Nick Temple and Jeff Luc, defensive end Silverberry Mouhon (9.5 sacks), safety Zach Edwards and cornerback Howard Wilder are among key returnees. Mouhon became a real force last year. His brother, true freshman linebacker Kevin Mouhon, is the Bearcats’ highest-rated 2014 recruit.
Linebacker is again a strength, with Northwestern transfer Eric Wilson joining Temple and Luc in the starting lineup. Luc, who began his career at Florida State, shifts inside to middle linebacker.
Gone are defensive tackle Jordan Stepp, linebacker Greg Blair and cornerback Deven Drane, who each earned all-league honors in ’13.
Tuberville favors speed over size, and he says the Bearcats have more speed this year. UC compiled good defensive stats against relatively mild AAC opposition, but the speed issue was a problem in blowout losses to Illinois and North Carolina.
Previewing Cincinnati's Specialists for 2014:
Special teams were a disaster in 2013. Veteran placekicker Tony Miliano slumped to 7-for-17 on field goals after hitting 34-of-47 in his first two seasons. UC ranked No. 121 nationally in net punting (33.0), had a long kickoff return of only 38 yards and a long punt return of only 35 yards. The punt return team allowed a TD in the Belk Bowl. There is a new special teams coach, however, with former grad assistant Marc Nudelberg.
Much depends on the development of Kiel at quarterback. Kiel has the physical tools and has been a commanding presence at practice, but the test will be how he handles inevitable on-field adversity. UC started slowly last year (3–2) as the players adjusted to Tuberville and his staff. The coaches are entrenched now, but the lack of quarterback experience is an issue.
The non-league schedule includes trips to Ohio State and Miami (Fla.), but the Bearcats should contend for another upper-echelon finish in the AAC. With talent at the skill positions and improved speed on defense, a fourth consecutive bowl game seems reasonable.