Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
2015 Record: 7-6
2015 Bowl: 42-7 Loss to San Diego State at Hawaii Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 4 Offense, 6 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +300000
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +560
Regular Season over/under: 7.5 wins
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The Cincinnati Bearcats were offensive powerhouses last season. The Bearcats set 18 program records on the offensive end of the ball last year, and entering the season with a new offensive coordinator should do little to disrupt that. Zac Taylor interned with the Miami Dolphins in 2015 and will look to implement a lot of fast offense, though pro-style offenses will be featured heavily, too.
What should make it all work regardless of formation is the strength of QB Gunner Kiel. He missed last year’s bowl game for undisclosed reasons, however, and he must earn his job back according to head coach Tommy Tuberville. Kiel threw for 2,777 yard and 19 TDs last season, but he did throw 11 picks in just 10 games. Behind Kiel there is not an overwhelming amount of talent, either. Freshman QB Hayden Moore was inaccurate and inconsistent and redshirt freshman Ross Trail has a lot of potential but has proven little.
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What may hurt even more than the questions marks at QB is the fact that Cincy has to replace its top-five receivers, including Shaq Washington. Nate Cole is the top returning WR with 19 catches last season. The Bearcats do have a strong backfield with Mike Boone and Tion Green. They combined for nearly 1,500 yards last season. The OL is strong and deep, with center Deshawn Bond being the key fixture in a unit that should be plenty sufficient to block for the backfield while also providing Kiel (or whomever) with sufficient time to launch it.
The Bearcats have been less stable on the defensive end of the ball. The team has cycled through three DCs in three seasons, and Steve Clinkscale left for Kentucky after the Bearcats underwhelmed defensively again last season. Cincy allowed 31.2 points per game while giving up 408.6 yards per game (No. 78 in the nation).
Tuberville had to take some pride in the fact that last season did constitute an improvement. The Bearcats moved up from No. 96 in the nation to No. 78, but obviously further improvement is still requisite if the Bearcats are to contend in the AAC. The defense was quicker last year, but the secondary sustained a lot of injuries and depth was not sufficient to replace it.
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The top two tacklers return in OLB Eric Wilson and S Zach Edwards. MLB Bryce Jenkinson is also in the mix, and he had 59 tackles last year as a true freshman. DTs Alex Pace and Cortez Broughton will be the key on the line, but it has to improve on its run-stopping. Tuberville needs a lot more from his defensive teams this year, and the hope is that continued improvement helps to supplement the strong offense Cincy continually displays.
Andrew Gantz is entering his third season as starter at placekicker, and he hit 37 of 47 FGA last year. Punter Sam Geraci averaged 46.3 yards per punt last season. The Bearcats will look for better returns—there has not been a single punt or kickoff returned for TD in the past five seasons.
The Bearcats open the season Sept. 1 against Tenn-Martin and follow that with a Week 2 matchup against Purdue. Conference play begins Sept. 15 against Houston, and the biggest matchup of the season will be on Oct. 1 when it hosts South Florida. A trip to Temple on Oct. 29 will be vital, too.
The Bearcats were favored to win the AAC in 2015, but the defense just was not there. Will it be this season? It’s dubious. The Bearcats have not reeled in the top recruits and Tuberville is having to overcompensate with even better coaching. That is not to say Cincy will not be right there, however. It really is just difficult to imagine the perfect storm that allows them to win the AAC, though. Kiel is a huge question mark, and we do not even know why, and offense is Cincy’s strongpoint.
Prediction: 8 wins
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