The return of the game week Q&A is at hand! later on today I will have my full game preview, with the Big Ten preview moved up to tomorrow because of the Thursday games. To begin today, however, Matt Opper of SBNation's Down the Drive answers my questions about Saturday's opener at Cincinnati:
T-Mill: Tommy Tuberville took over for Butch Jones, whom Purdue went after. After all that, what does it mean for Cincinnati and are we supposed to hate each other now?
Matt: Maybe? I don't have any particular ill will towards Purdue, just as I have no particular ill will towards Colorado. At this point the expectation is for every UC coach to pull the rip cord after three seasons. That is the history, but its also a trend that I fully expect Tommy Tuberville to buck. Tubs is 58, he has been a head coach for 17 years in the SEC and the Big 12. It is a game changing hire for UC because it goes against the typical hiring pattern of targeting a coordinator from an elite school, or plucking the hot name from the MAC at the moment.
Everyone in the country sat back and said wow when Tuberville took the job. The assumption is that he just wants to get back to the SEC, and a good way to do that would be to take over a program that has won big in recent years, with a upperclassman heavy roster, and a relatively easy conference. I see that line of thought, but I don't think it holds. Everything he has said publicly, and done privately (such as his 300K donation to revive scholarships cut by outgoing athletic director Mike Thomas), points to him being in Cincinnati for a while. I have no idea what that means in the long term in terms of results, but UC has had a ton of success without anything resembling stability. It will be weird to see what happens if the program can be given some stability by Tuberville staying for a while.
T-Mill: George Winn ran wild last year and Purdue often struggles with tough running games. Does he have a replacement?
Matt: Not really. The offensive line returns more or less intact, depending on what happens with Dan Sprague and his injury. So that continuity is very helpful, and there is no doubt that Winn benefited from the strength of he line a year ago. But there is no one who fits, exactly, the mold of Winn on this team. Winn was never the biggest, or the fastest, but he ran hard, always. If a hole was there, no matter how small, he was going to hit it as hard as he could.
This group of running backs is a little more athletic. Rodriguez Moore and Ralph David Abernathy IV are home run hitters who will do their damage outside the tackles. Hosey Williams and Tion Green are more traditional between the tackles runners, that doesn't mean that they don't have some dash to their games, they do Green in particular. But their role will be defined between the tackles.
One thing we do know about Eddie Gran is that he likes to play a lot of backs. Three running backs averaged 8 carries or more for the Noles a year ago, I expect to see a similar pattern with the Bearcats this year. RDA4 is the nominal starter, and probably will be all season, but there will be a lot of rotations going on with this group. The only way that doesn't happen is if one guy takes the reigns from game one and holds on for the rest of the year. It seems unlikely for that to happen.
T-Mill: Purdue has a lot of questions on offense and Cincinnati had a pretty good defense last year. Are most of those pieces back and should we be afraid?
Matt: I am expecting the defense to play at a similar level this year. Greg Blair is back in the middle, and he is the unquestioned leader of this team. He turned in a 138 tackles, 9 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 6 passes defended, 2 INT's in his first year of college football, and he did it playing 20 pounds over his ideal weight. If that is what Blair is capible of when he's out of shape, I want to see what he can do at his fighting weight. He's not along at the linebacker position either, FSU transfer and ex-mega recruti Jeff Luc is eligible and angry. Nick Temple is a forgotten man, but he has been a starter since the 3rd game of his freshman season. The linebackers will make this team go, but there is a ton of depth and talent in the secondary.
Aaryn Chenault is back at FS, Deven Drane at one corner the two of them have started something like 35 games. Leviticus Payne and Trenier Orr got a ton of game reps at corner a year ago and will play liberally this year behind Drane and JUCO newcomer Howard WIlder. Adrian Witty, the sternum breaker, is slotted in at the other safety spot. This is a deep and talented secondary, even though it is young.
Coming into camp the big question I had about the defense was up front. If this group could get consistent pressure on the passer the defense could be very good. That is still a question, because the games haven't started to give them the opportunity to answer it, but I am less concerned today than I was August 5th. By all accounts this defensive line gave a very talented offensive front all they could handle in camp. Silverberry Mouhon looks ready to make "the leap" in his junior year. Brad Harrah has been revelatory at the other end spot, and the Bearcats have a deep rotation at tackle and a couple of JUCO ends in Terrell Hartsfield and Jerrell Jordan that will make an impact as situational pass rushers.
The bottom line is that Art Kaufman took a dreadful Texas Tech defense from 2011 and turned it into a (mostly) competent outfit in 2012. At Cincinnati he has a much higher baseline of talent than he inherited in Lubbock. That doesn't mean their won't be some growing pains. But I just don't see the drop off that many of the pre season publications have been projecting.
T-Mill: Brendon Kay seems to have seized the QB position from Munchie Legaux. Will there be a short leash or will Kay be The Man?
Matt: There are a whole lot of basically unknowable variables in that question. Kay came into camp as the starting QB in all but name, but a combination of some lack luster play followed by an injury opened the door for Munchie. But was it the good play of Munchie that made it a battle, or was it the injury to Kay? I have no idea. I think that it is clear that the offense is in safer hands with Kay, for the simple reason that he is far less likely to make the catastrophic mistake than Munchie is. But by most accounts Munchie has looked great in camp, and is making better decisions. But its practice, and his ability to practice well kept him in the starting job last year long after his in game decision decision making veered from being problematic to disastrous.
If Kay is healthy, and stays healthy for the whole year, his leash is as long as he wants it to be. But it has been 8 years since a UC starting quarterback went an entire season with missing at least one start due to injury or ineffectiveness. So Munchie will play, probably, but I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where he wrests the job from Kay mid season. Eddie Gran is no Steve Spurrier, he doesn't want to play two QB's.
T-Mill: Even though Cincinnati had 10 wins last year, they had some ugly losses like Toledo. Was that the team losing focus or were there some definite red flags?
Matt: Week to week focus was never a strength of the Butch Jones era. For whatever reason he never had the ability to keep his team focused week in, week out. Last year the Bearcats lost a game in which they held one of the most consistently prolific offenses in the country without a TD. UC lost because Toledo had two non offensive TD's, a pick 6 and a kickoff return. The very next week the same defense that held Toledo down combusted against Louisville and Teddy Bridgewater. Both were three point losses, neither would be classified as bad, but they were games that UC was perfectly capible of winning. The Rutgers game is a different story, UC was down by a TD for much of the game, but that 7 point lead seemed insurmountable. Still, I will take a 10-3 season where the three losses are by a combined 13 points.
T-Mill: Finally, what is your prediction?
Matt: If this were anywhere but Nippert I might be inclined to go with Purdue. I think that Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell pose some problems for the Bearcats offensive line, particularly if Dan Sprague is out and red shirt freshman Deyshawn Bond gets the start between Gaston, Russell, Eric LeFeld, Austen Bujnoch and (possibly) Sam Longo that is five probable NFL lineman, that will be interesting. But, because it is in the Nip, I have to go with UC.