The Bearcats rank No. 96 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018
According to the 247Sports Composite, Cincinnati has brought aboard 43 three- or four-star recruits in the last two signing periods. For a rebuilding program, that's reason to believe better days are ahead. The question is how fast the young talent can turn potential into results.
Previewing Cincinnati Football's Offense for 2018
Coach Luke Fickell saw his inaugural Bearcats team rank just 111th nationally in scoring offense last year. Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will retain his post but will now coach tight ends after handling quarterbacks last season. Former running backs coach Gino Guidugli, who still holds several UC passing records, is now coaching quarterbacks.
Senior quarterback Hayden Moore is the incumbent. The streaky Moore last season completed 239-of-424 passes (56.4 percent) for 2,562 yards, with 20 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
Running back Gerrid Doaks led UC in rushing with 513 yards on a healthy 5.9-yard average. Doaks missed the final few games with a shoulder injury but appears ready for 2018. Sophomore Michael Warren II showed some flash last year with 324 yards.
Top wide receiver Kahlil Lewis returns for his senior year. Lewis led UC last season with 61 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. No other returning receiver caught more than 29 passes.
The offensive line is a real concern, with only two returning starters and a shortage of upperclassmen.
Previewing Cincinnati Football's Defense for 2018
The Bearcats allowed at least 31 points eight times last year, losing each time. A lack of offense didn't help, but the UC defense often had trouble getting off the field. The Bearcats ranked 100th nationally in third-down conversion defense, allowing opponents to convert on 43.3 percent of their attempts.
UC does have two stalwart defensive tackles in seniors Marquise Copeland and Cortez Broughton. Copeland was honorable mention All-AAC last season, while Broughton earned second-team all-league honors in 2016.
The lack of a pass rush has been a problem for many years, as UC has been unable to find consistent edge rushers. UC ranked only 123rd nationally last year in sacks, with 1.0 per game. Copeland, an interior lineman, led the team with 3.5 sacks.
Junior Will linebacker Perry Young is UC's top returning tackler with 101 last year. UC will have some new faces in the secondary, which has lacked playmakers. The Bearcats intercepted only five passes last year, tied for 119th nationally. Senior safeties Chris Murphy and Tyrell Gilbert, both part-time starters last year, are among the top returnees.
Previewing Cincinnati Football's Specialists for 2018
Punter James Smith, a native of Australia, was Cincinnati's lone first-team All-AAC selection in 2017 as a true freshman. The Bearcats ranked 15th nationally with a net average of 41.0 yards per punt. Placekicking has been erratic and largely unproductive the past two years, with the job changing hands several times. Freshman Cole Smith is the frontrunner for that position. The coverage and return teams have been longtime issues for UC, which has had no special teams return touchdowns since 2011.
With a shortage of stars, and a coaching staff in Year 2 of a rebuilding project, a .500 record might be the best the Bearcats can hope for this season. UC has gone 8-16 during the past two years, but things appear brighter for the long term. Multiple recruiting services rated the 2018 UC class No. 1 in the AAC and tops among Group of 5 schools. "It shows us that we're recruiting in the right way," Fickell says. "You continue to take those swings and you see them pay off. They'll pay off for the next three, four or five years."