2013 Season Previews: Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati LB Greg Blair - US PRESSWIRE

Hopefully the Illini will be 1-0 before heading into their first test of the season against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Our second game of the season will come against a program that I feel doesn't get enough credit for what it's accomplished considering all the coaching turnover it has gone through. Before Brian Kelly showed up on campus there really wasn't a whole lot of success at Cincinnati.

Since Kelly showed up in 2006, though, Cincinnati has gone 57-20 with four conference titles. And they've done so even after switching from Kelly to Butch Jones.

Well, this year the Bearcats will break in another new coach as Jones left to take the job at Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville got the hell out of Texas Tech before the people of Lubbock could run him out of town.

So what shall we expect from this team when they come to Memorial Stadium on September 7?

Basics

Name: Cincinnati Bearcats
From: Cincinnati, Ohio
Conference: American Athletic
2012 Record: 10-3 (5-2) Co-conference champions
Returning Starters: Seven offense, Six defense, One specialist

Head Coach

As I mentioned, Tommy Tuberville somewhat surprisingly took over the program this year. He takes over a program that really doesn't need a lot of work, although unlike the Kelly to Jones transition, Tuberville prefers a more defensive approach than a spread offense. It's part of the reason he just wasn't working at Texas Tech.

It'll be interesting to see how the transition works at Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is Tuberville's fourth stop as a head coach, and he has a career record of 130-77 in 17 seasons at Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech. His ten seasons at Auburn were the best of his career, as the Tigers won (or tied for first in) the SEC West five times.

His Tigers also finished the 2004 season with a 13-0 record, and ranked #2 because they didn't even get a chance to play for the national title as the BCS selected USC and Oklahoma ahead of them. USC would win and later have the title vacated. If you ever want to possibly get punched in the face, ask an Auburn fan about it.

History With Illinois

There isn't a whole lot of it, as the two schools have only met on the football field once. That was in 2009 when the Illini went to Cincinnati and got beat 49-36. Though that loss was nothing to be ashamed of as Cincinnati would go on to finish the season 12-1, with its lone loss coming to Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

The Illini would finish the season 3-9, and you may remember that year as being the one time the Illini finished the regular season with two non-conference games. One of which was the Cincinnati loss, and then a loss to Fresno State as well. What the fuck was the deal with that schedule?

What Do We Know About The Offense?

As I mentioned earlier, it's hard to know for sure. I don't imagine Tuberville is going to completely overhaul the offense in his first season, but it may not be the same kind of spread we usually see from Cincinnati. Of course, what Cincinnati runs won't be anything the Illini haven't seen a hundred times before, the key will be stopping it. Over the last three years the Bearcats have averaged 31 points and 414.5 yards per game. They've also been a more balanced offense under Butch Jones than they were under Brian Kelly, running the ball more often.

Another thing we don't really know is who Cincinnati's starting quarterback will be, as Brendon Kay took over for Munchie Legaux last season, but with a new staff in town, it's hard to know which direction things will go. What we do know is that leading rusher George Winn is gone, but Cincinnati hasn't had a hard time finding good backs in recent years. Ralph David Abernathy should step right in to that role.

How About The Defense?

This was a defense that proved pretty stingy last season, but when it comes to Big East defenses I'm never quite sure what to make of them. Are they good because they're good defenses, or are they good because they're playing Big East offenses? Whatever the case, the unit allowed only 18.5 points per game last season.

The good news is that the two best pass rushers from a defense that finished with 31 sacks last year -- and had 46 the year before -- are both gone, as is half of last season's starting secondary.

Who On This Team Should I Be Aware Of?

While there are questions to be answered on both sides of the ball with the Bearcats, one question that doesn't need to be asked is who will be starting at middle linebacker. That would be Greg Blair's spot, and he's coming off a season in which he finished with 138 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and six passes defended.

He works well in both the run and pass defense, and he's capable of blowing up an offensive gameplan.

Can The Illini Win This Game?

I think the initial reaction to this question given both teams recent history is no, but while I'm not wholly optimistic, I don't think an Illini win in this game would be all that shocking either. Cincinnati is a team with a new coaching staff and a lot of questions on both sides of the ball.

This will also be their second game of the season. I'd be more optimistic if their first game was against an FCS opponent in which they weren't really tested, but instead they open the year with Purdue.

Still, while I wouldn't say the Illini are favorites in this game I'd still say there's a 40-45% chance they win it.

Follow The Champaign Room on Twitter at @Champaign_Room and Like us on Facebook. You can follow Tom Fornelli on Twitter at @TomFornelli.

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