Luke Fickell's made Cincinnati into a regular contender for the New Year's Six bowl game, and the Bearcats are in the driver's seat in the AAC. With a target on their back, it won't be easy to retain the top spot. Many teams within the AAC as well as the rest of the G5 are gunning for them, but the good news is that Cincinnati has the talent to remains kings. Today we look at the depth chart predictions for a team that shouldn't have much trouble picking up where the left off last year.
3 Big Questions
1. Can the Bearcats retain their crown?
Luke Fickell continues turning down Power 5 jobs, and also brings in good recruiting classes to replenish talent. Ridder should keep the offense steady, and a new defensive coordinator gets to work with one of the best defenses in the country. So it’s tough to say no to this question.
2. Will the defense continue to thrive?
Mike Tressell takes over for Marcus Freeman, who left for Notre Dame, and there shouldn’t be a drop off with all of the talent returning. James Wiggins and Darrick Forrest are gone, but JaVon Hicks and Bryan Cook can be just as good. So Tressell doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but rather keep the ship steady.
3. What happens if Ridder gets hurt?
This is the biggest concern for the Bearcats. Ben Bryant transferred out, leaving Cincinnati with little experience behind their starter. If Cincinnati makes a run again this year, it’s because Ridder’s healthy. If not, this could get ugly offensively
Cincinnati’s back in business thanks largely to the return of Desmond Ridder, and the senior quarterback is getting NFL attention thanks to last year. The big question remains who steps in if he gets hurt. The loss of Ben Bryant hurts, and there’s not much experience behind him. Ridder gets a ton of talent in the passing game, but it’s a group that needs to be more explosive.
Alec Pierce is one of the most underrated pass catchers in college football, and his fellow receivers Tre Tucker and Michael Young Jr. showed promise last year. Tight end Josh Whyle has a future in the NFL, and backup Leonard Taylor brings great size and physicality to the run game. That run game loses running back Gerrid Doaks, but might be in better hands with former Alabama transfer Jerome Ford.
The offensive line lost a couple key pieces, but center Jake Renfro and guard Vincent McConnell return. Both tackle spots are up for grabs, so the competition will go well into the fall for both spots. John Williams and Stony Brook transfer James Tunstall have been battling for the left tackle spot, while Dylan O’Quinn has impressed since moving out from his guard position. Kobe McAllister (6-6, 300) and Cam Jones (6-8, 280) bring good size to the position, and incoming freshman Luke Collinsworth could jump into the mix as well.
Even without Marcus Freeman running the show, Cincinnati will be just fine with Mike Tressel. How could you not with the talent returning? Tressel mentioned that they would work around each player’s strengths, rather than force them into a scheme. Up front, there’s a ton of depth. Everyone knows Myjai Sanders, but Malik Vann showed some promise last year. If the Bearcats use four down linemen, the inside of Curtis Brooks and Marcus Brown will give everyone issues. They also get Virginia transfer Jowon Briggs, so there’s hardly a gap with the backups.
Linebackers Darrian Beavers and Joel Dublanko both used their extra year of eligibility. Brody Ingle, Daved Jones Jr., Wilson Huber, and Jaheim Thomas should all rotate in as well. Ty Van Fossen gets to play the Sniper position, and already showed his potential even in limited reps. Now, he’s the starter and should flourish. Then, we get to the stars of the defense.
The defensive secondary is loaded once again even with the losses of Darrick Forrest and James Wiggins. Ja’Von Hicks is a ball hawk who’s already proved he can fill one of the spots, and Bryan Cook thrived in his limited time when Wiggins was hurt. Corner Coby Bryant shocked everyone by returning, and he joins Ahmad Gardner to give Cincinnati two of the best cornerbacks in the country