With very little fanfare, the Tommy Tuberville era has ended with the Bearcats, and the program stayed in state to hire their new head man, former Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell. I am not certain how this will play out, as Fickell was just 6-6 in his lone season as interim head coach, and he inherits a roster that is essentially bare of any real talent. He does, however, get the benefit in coaching what should be a very watered down AAC East in 2017.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
One has to be excited about the prospect of having a healthy Hayden Moore back at QB in 2017, as he was limited to just seven games in 2016. If Moore can get it together and stay on the field, he could be due for a terrific fall, but if the health issues continue, all of the excitement goes down the drain, and the Bearcats fall from fourth in the East, which is where I have projected them, to last.
Khalil Lewis and Devin Gray both return at WR this fall after combining for 106 receptions and 1465 yards last fall. They should give Moore instant impact in the passing game, and that is a good thing for a team trying to erase the disaster that was 2016.
Three starters also return on the line in LT Ryan Stout, RG Will Steur, and RT Korey Cunningham, and all eight of the reserves from the three deep return to give the Bearcats a massive amount of depth up front.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Bearcats failed to score 20 points per contest in 2017, and much of that had to do with injuries or poor play at QB. Moore has got to remain healthy in 2017 for UC to get back to where they can be, an offensive juggernaut. Ross Trail is the only QB coming back behind Moore, and he was mostly terrible last fall.
Tion Greenis gone at RB, and even he was not great last fall. UC rushed for just eight total TDs last season, and that was a huge reason why they finished 1-7 in AAC play. I have got to think that rectifying a bad run game will be a huge top of the order issue with the new staff. As a team, UC finshed with just 118 yards rushing per game, good for just 117th in the nation.
Josh Pasley returns as the starting PK, but hit just 11/17 FG attempts in 2016.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
UC allowed 26.9 points per game last season, which is something that must be rectified as well. The good news is that three out of the front four return with a year of experience behind them. This unit was composed of all freshmen and sophomores a year ago, so one would expect improvement. Kevin Mouhan and Caleb Ashworth should both be starting at DE, while Cortez Broughton returns at DT. Five others return who saw reserve duty as well last fall, giving the Bearcats a luxury up front.
Three of the four members of the secondary also return. Grant Coleman and Alex Thomas will both be back at CB, while Tyrell Gilbert is back at Safety.Every major reserve returns in the secondary as well, including Carter Jacobs, who should get first shot at the open Safety spot.
Sam Geraci returns as well at Punter, where he averaged a shade over 40 yards per punt last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
UC allowed 2275 yards rushing last fall, and the entire LB corps must be replaced as far as starters are concerned. Antonio Kinard, Eric Wilson, and Mike Tyson all are gone, and that could be a very bad thing. The good news is that every major backup at LB returns, and they will all have to step into starting roles. Perry Young, Jaylylin Minor, and Chris Murphy should all get first shot at the starting jobs. With Alex Pace gone at DT, Marquise Copeland will get first shot at replacing him.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 Austin Peay, 9/9 at Michigan, 9/16 at Miami (Ohio), 9/23 at Navy, 9/30 Marshall, 10/7 UCF, 10/21 SMU, 10/28 USF, 11/4 at Tulane, 11/10 Temple, 11/18 at East Carolina, 11/25 U Conn
The schedule does not set up well for a successful first season for Luke Fickell and staff, and the roster needs some help as well. Tommy Tuberville really screwed this place up during his tenure, and so we are looking at a complete reset.
The schedule is fairly brutal for the most part, including three straight road trips in the first half of the season. I would place the over/under for wins at around four, but I would bet on the lower end of that for 2017.