Helping to hoist that optimism is the fact that Cincinnati boasted one of the five youngest rosters in the sport, meaning they are set to bring back a big chunk of the production from this past year. That includes, it would seem, their upstart head coach and his talented staff. The offense alone returns seven regular starters, as well as a handful of intriguing options and more opportunities for some of the vaunted 2018 recruiting class to flourish in year two. Here’s an early look at how the Bearcats’ offense projects for 2019.
As much as UCF is the “big name” on our schedule in league play, Cincy will probably be a better team considering that McKenzie Milton probably doesn’t play next year.
UCF is getting a grad transfer QB from Notre Dame, one who was the starter for the Irish in ‘17.
The Bearcats remain a frighteningly young team in spite of the 11-2 record, but they do suffer some significant defensive losses, especially up front. Fickell has been adamant about establishing the strength of his program on the offensive and defensive lines, and it showed in 2018. Senior defensive tackles Marquise Copeland, Cortez Broughton and defensive end Kimoni Fitz led the way, with all three earning either first- or second-team all-conference honors. Replacing and duplicating their performances will be the biggest key to Cincinnati maintaining its newfound identity in 2019. With recent rumors that Freeman turned down a return to his alma mater Ohio State to stay at the helm of the Bearcats’ defense, they’re off to a good start.
_Based on their Military Bowl depth chart, UC returns Trent Cloud, Rashad Medaris, Jerron Rollins, Thomas Geddis and Javan Hawes at receiver but will have to replace the 56 receptions and nine touchdowns from Khalil Lewis. Offensive linemen returning are left tackle Vincent McConnell, left guard Zach Bycznski, center Jakari Robinson (who started a few games), right guards Morgan James (starter) and Jeremy Cooper, right tackle (starter) Chris Ferguson. _
Michigan transfer James Hudson, a Toledo Central Catholic teammate of Warren II, will also be important in the offensive line mix. Hudson was able to participate in a few Military Bowl practices upon arrival to UC.
There were many impressive aspects of UC’s 11-2 breakout season in 2018 and one of the more striking elements was that they did it with the third-youngest roster in all of college football. Naturally, the majority of that squad is back this season, many still with years of college football ahead of them. But the team is also fortunate to have invaluable experience at a handful of positions.
Head coach : Fickell (15-10, third year)
2018 record and S&P+ ranking : 11-2 (50th)
Projected 2019 record and S&P+ ranking : 8-4 (44th)
Five key points :
1. Fickell’s second season at UC featured a freshman QB, a sophomore RB, a couple of key injuries … and a surge from four to 11 wins.
2. QB Desmond Ridder was a passing-downs magician, but inefficiency meant he had to pull a lot of rabbits out of hats. Is that sustainable?
3. Keeping Ridder out of passing downs will require more efficiency out of 1,300-yard rusher Michael Warren II and a rebuilt line. The potential is massive, though.
4. The defense combined aggressive on-ball pass defense and a dominant run front. The former will again be a strength, but attrition up front could threaten the latter.
5. The schedule, with three top-30 opponents and five more in the top 80, is full of both opportunity and peril. UC could improve but go 8-4.
### Biggest on-field question
There are actually two, one on either side of the ball: defensive tackle and wide receiver.
The Bearcats had a lot more roster questions at this time last year than they do now, but one of the few areas the 2018 team always felt good about was the interior defensive line, thanks to seniors Cortez Broughton and Marquise Copeland. Those two are gone, forcing a rotating collection of Curtis Brooks, Elijah Ponder, Marcus Brown and Jabari Taylor to replace the combined 101 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and constant strain on opposing offensive lines by two all-conference performers. It’s an admittedly gargantuan task, and one that keeps Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman up at night more often as the season draws closer.